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Hello, my name is … Gabe Christie

Christie chats with the Early Bird about accessibility solutions, his lofty goal for the University and Japanese nouns.

By Lindsey Coulter

December 12, 2018

Gabe ChristieGabe Christie is both a pragmatist and a dreamer. As Metropolitan State University of Denver’s instructional-accessibility manager, he finds new ways to help students of all abilities succeed. His dream is to make MSU Denver the nation’s most accessible urban institution, which he declares can be accomplished within 10 years.

“I want us to be the model,” Christie said. “I want someone to say, ‘If you want to see how accessibility is done, call up MSU Denver.’”

Christie says all it will take is time, faculty buy-in, proactive thinking, creativity and a little marketing.

“I’ve been with the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design for about seven months, and I’m still meeting people who don’t know what I offer,” Christie said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s also refreshing. I see a lot of faculty looking for this resource and (who are) energized about coming to see me.”

Read on to learn more about Christie, then give him a call. He’s eager to help.

What does the day-to-day work of instructional accessibility look like?

Basically, I help faculty and administrators find ways to make instructional materials accessible to students with visual impairments, auditory and processing disorders, colorblindness, etc. I work one-on-one and host workshops where I encourage faculty and staff to bring me their materials and then teach them how to notice accessibility challenges and make simple fixes. After they find out how easy it is, we dive into captioning, integrating accessible third-party materials, etc., and how we can consider students of every ability level when building a course.

When we start out, there is sometimes fear, or the misperception that I’m going to reprimand them, but at the end of the day, I’m their resource. I want everyone to be successful. It’s not about being punitive.

Which materials are particularly difficult to make accessible?

Maps. To read a map, sight is required — unless we were to make a tactile map. Matching and drag-and-drop activities are also really difficult. Foreign films are hard to caption but not impossible.

How did you get into accessibility work?

I spent seven years at the University of Northern Colorado as a student, grad student and instructional-accessibility coordinator. I had worked in IT in undergrad, then transitioned into the disability-services area because I had always been passionate about disability rights. It’s great knowing a student who may not have been able to complete their education can now do so because of your help. I got to help level the playing field and give everyone the resources to succeed.

How are you leveling that playing field here at MSU Denver?

As one example, a chemistry faculty member recently asked how we would display molecular models to students who are blind. I suggested that 3D-printed models could be a solution. It could also make MSU Denver the first university to use this technology for this purpose and open up chemistry to a whole new group of students. Then we could do the same with physics, biology or industrial design. If you give me 20 minutes with an FAA regulator, I’m sure we could even find a way to apply it to aviation.

As a Denver native, is it good to be back?

It feels great to be home. My family has lived in Colorado since the 1840s, and we were the first family to cross the color line in Park Hill in the 1950s. So it feels good to be somewhere I care about so deeply. I’m very involved in the community and reorganizing Park Hill.

I would also say that MSU Denver is the best place I’ve ever worked. When I got here, I felt at home – and that feeling was very foreign. After living in Greeley, you know what it feels like when you don’t belong.

What keeps you busy outside of work?

I spend a lot of time in the mountains, like a good native. I like to hike; I don’t get to fish enough. Other than that, I read and spend time with my girlfriend, Karlett, and our cat, Roshi.

Sounds like a name with a story…

I watched Dragon Ball Z as a kid, and Master Roshi was the turtle master. I definitely thought “Roshi” meant “turtle” in Japanese; it means “filter paper.” The word for turtle is actually “kame.”

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