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Norm Coombs Recognition - 2021


In the past, ATHEN has recognized colleagues who go above and beyond in their field of work to share their knowledge and expertise regarding access, assistive technology, accessibility, etc. in the Higher Education environment. We have yet another colleague to celebrate and recognize for their contributions in our field. 

In honor of this recognition, ATHEN prepared a plaque which has been sent to Norm Coombs. Additionally, we requested ATHEN members share their stories regarding Norm which are shared below and provide a snapshot of Norm's contributions to the field of assistive technology over the years. The plaque reads: “Access Technology Higher Education Network (ATHEN) proudly presents a Lifetime Honorary Membership to Norm Coombs upon the occasion of the 24th Annual Accessing Higher Ground Conference. Norm is recognized as an individual of distinction based on his lifetime of outstanding and noteworthy service to the field of Access Technology in Higher Education.” 

Norm's Background

Dr. Norman (Norm) Coombs, may be best known for his role as the CEO of EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information) however he has many additional accomplishments and contributions to access in the technology environment. Norm’s career and awards include:

  • Man of the Year Award by the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)
  • Strache National Leadership Award from the CSUN Center on Disabilities
  • Francis Joseph Campbell Award of the American Library Association for work in helping libraries to meet the needs of customers with disabilities. 

Norm’s career has centered around teaching others. 

  • As a history professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Norm pioneered RIT’s distance learning program and ensured students with disabilities also had the opportunity to participate in these courses, thus his award for Zenith’s “Master of Innovation”.
  • Norm has also taught classes at San Diego State University, the New School for Social Research, the University of Washington, the University of Southern Maine, for Environment Canada and for EASI Corp.

As mentioned before, Norm is the CEO of EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information). 

  • EASI has been awarded several grants by the National Science Foundation to collect and disseminate information on providing access to the fields of science and math for students and professionals with disabilities.
  • Through EASI, Norm lectured on distance learning and making information systems accessible to students with disabilities across the US as well as in Canada, and many other countries around the world. 
  • Norm has served as a consultant regarding distance learning and adaptive computer technology for several colleges and universities.
  • Norm has co-authored and co-taught on-line workshops regarding adaptive technology, Universal Web Design and providing access to science and math for disabled students. 

We asked those who have worked with Norm to share memories. We received many stories of the impact and friendships Norm has created in our world of access technologists. All of the contributions can be viewed below and showcase Norm’s influence.  


Anne Carpenter

Coordinator Assistive Technology
The Evergreen State College

How do you know Norm?

I met Norm through many classes he hosted online. I was lucky to meet him in person at Accessing Higher Ground.

Share your stories and experiences with Norm:

I learned so much from the online programs about accessibility to be able to help my students. When I met Norm at Accessing Higher Ground he was very gracious and welcoming. Always answered my questions.

E.A. Draffan

University of Southampton

How do you know Norm?

From the early years of EASI and Dick Banks taking part in the first courses when there was nothing else to help us raise awareness in the need for training.

Share your stories and experiences with Norm:

Thank you Norm, for all the support you have given us over many years.  You, your family, Dick and other brave innovators were there when assistive technology was struggling to find its place in the world.  We all benefitted from the early online RIT and EASI courses, alongside your endless guidance and encouragement.  This comes with huge amounts of gratitude and best wishes from across the pond (Atlantic!).  E.A.

Jason Maseberg-Tomlinson

Director, Student Access Center
Kansas State University

How do you know Norm?

Norm came to Kansas State University in the early 2000's and we had supper together.

Share your stories and experiences with Norm:

I was a graduate student when Norm came to speak at Kansas State University.  I had the pleasure of being invited to meet Norm and attend a supper with some of our campus leadership.  We had a classic Kansas thunderstorm and lost power during our supper and Norm laughed and shared that he was now at an advantage since the rest of us could no longer see our meal.  Norm shared his experiences with technology that day.  I was not a very technical person at the time but I learned a great deal from Norm.  He lite a passion in me that I did not know I had.  It was at that moment that I knew that I wanted to work more with technology and improve accessibility in higher education for students.  I have been doing that for 20 years. Thank you, Norm, for being such an incredible teacher and sharing your knowledge and experiences. 

Dan Comden

ATC Manager
University of Washington

How do you know Norm?

Numerous meetings and collaborations over the years, going back to the 1990s

Share your stories and experiences with Norm:

I first met Norm in person in the 90s in Princeton NJ (of all places) during the announcement of a collaboration/project with RFB&D -- RFB at the time -- for a system to provide audio output of technical math by a grad student at Princeton. The ASTER software was really cool and ahead of its time. I don't recall all of the details of that project but I clearly remember meeting Norm for the first time at the hotel. We immediately had a great conversation over that dinner and I came to treasure his knowledge, passion, and good humor. Almost any conversation with Norm is delightful, I quickly learned.

Just one highlight of knowing Norm was his warm welcome and greeting at every conference and gathering over the years. He has always worked to make a difference for everyone, and his approach combines smarts, passion, and that key personal touch that makes the difference. Norm is a one-of-a-kind human and I'm glad to know him, both personally and professionally. He is the epitome of ATHEN's goals and deserves any award or honor from our organization.

Phillip White

Accessibility Consultant
East Carolina University

Share your stories and experiences with Norm:

I first meet Norm when he was a History professor with RIT at the CSUN conference.  This was back in the 1990's.  I moved out to California later and he became the head of Equal Access for Software for Instruction (EASI -- a spinoff from EDUCAUSE).  In southern California there were a non-formal group meeting with Cal Pol Pomono, Cal State Fullerton, CSULA, and Cal State Long Beach having quarterly meetings.  When Norm retire he came out to southern Cal, and we invited him to come give us updates on EASI.  He, of course, wrote a book on assistive technology.  We called our group even before he came out "West Coast EASI." 

Norm was always learning and bring ideas to the group and EASI .  We know that he provided great leadership to EASI, and he was a delight to have at our group meetings, which eventually expanded to most of the school in the SoCal area.

George Kerscher Ph.D

Chief Innovations Officer, DAISY Consortium
Senior Advisor, Global Literacy, Benetech

Share your stories and experiences with Norm:

I know Norm well! He always was keenly interested in publishing and document accessibility. We collaborated frequently on best practices for providing information to students. He visited Missoula about a decade ago, and we had a wonderful dinner here in my home. You could always depend on Norm to provide rock solid information. What a wonderful guy and career.

John Gardner


Share your stories and experiences with Norm:  

Norm and I met so long ago that I do not even remember the actual event. I only remember that we met and immediately became good friends. Norm was a mentor to me in the early 90's when I first started researching STEM accessibility.

One very clear memory was at an accessible math meeting at ETS in 1996 where I showed Norm one of the first printouts from a new device that one of my students had made. I only told him that I had something I wanted his opinion on and handed him an embossed page with a graph and some braille. Norm was enthusiastic about both. That device was the first prototype of the ViewPlus Tiger embossers, and Norm's appraisal was a big stimulus for the birth of both ViewPlus and Tiger.

I am resisting the temptation of writing a book here, because Norm has done so many great things - most notably as the head of EASI for so many years. So let me only say "Thanks Norm for your friendship and always-helpful advice for so many years. And congratulations on this award. Nobody could deserve it more."

Kathy Cahill

Associate Dean, Accessibility and Usability

How do you know Norm?

From EASI and CSUN

Share your stories and experiences with Norm:

When I started at MIT in assistive technology in 1996, an old boss (Joe Lazzaro at the Mass Commission for the Blind) told me that Norm Coombs was the go-to guy for assistive technology for college students with disabilities.  I'm so glad that Joe guided me to Norm, who was such a helpful resource for assistive technology and accessibility questions, especially STEM related topics. He patiently answered my many questions and he pioneered online webinars in the early days with EASI courses and webinars.  Norm and Dick Banks created a helpful community of assistive tech/accessibility providers who could share important and sometimes elusive information!  It has been so great over the years to catch up with Norm at CSUN and my greatest thanks to Norm for his pioneering work in accessibility and assistive technology.   

Darren Gabbert

Sr. Business Operations Associate 
University of Missouri - Columbia 

How do you know Norm?

Project EASI involvement with our newly formed Adaptive Computing Technology Center back in the late 1980's. 

Share your stories and experiences with Norm:

Norm and my first boss, Darola Hockley (now Bray), worked together in the early days of assistive technology programs in higher education. Darola would come back from national conferences charged with enthusiasm from her discussions with Norm. Frankly, Norm created a lot of work for this young chap fresh out of college that had to implement the vision. Norm indeed had the vision that moved assistive technology out of the medical model and into mainstream productivity. Thank you, Norm, for setting the course of our industry, and holding the course for these many years. 

Hadi Rangin

IT Accessibility Specialist
University of Washington

How do you know Norm?

Personally and professionally through his accessibility work from 25 years ago as well as EASI

Share your stories and experiences with Norm:

I have had the honor to know Norm for over 25 years, starting from the time I was at Oregon State University. He has been my mentor for all these years and I have learned tons of stuff about accessibility either directly from talking with him or through EASI - which was a great platform to connect accessibility experts with end-users for many years. I presented at EASI numerous times and every time it was a pleasure to be working with him. He and I have taught a 10-day workshop in web accessibility and online learning for the Sloan Consortium several times, all of which have been great experiences working with and learning from him.

I have known Norm as a friend for many years and he has always listened to me and supported me when I needed his help.

Now a personal story. Several years ago, when the CSUN conference was taking place in San Diego, per our usual tradition we went to a fish restaurant by the water. There were about 12-13 people and they accommodated us by seating our group on the outside deck, at a big round table. Some of you who know me might be able to guess what happened next. I talked to the waiter, told him that it was Norm’s birthday, and asked to arrange a small surprise birthday party for Norm. Shortly after we finished with the dinner, a group of employees from the restaurant approached us singing “Happy Birthday”. Norm had a big smile, and sang loudly until they got to “happy birthday to Norm” – which was when he stopped and was about to tell them that today was not his birthday. However, Beth, his daughter who was familiar with my usual joke, intervened and kicked him from under the table - telling him to be quiet and not to say anything. He then got a big birthday hat with a plate of cake, which he shared with all of us.

We still laugh about it today, remembering his unexpected birthday party.

Krista Greear

Senior Accessibility Strategist 

How do you know Norm?

EASI Webinars

Share your stories and experiences with Norm:

I was a young adaptive technologist & alt media specialist at the University of Washington. I was starved for any professional development opportunities I could get my hands on. Through an accessibility list, I came across EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information) and the monthly webinars and webinar series on various topics directly applicable to my work with students with disabilities. I became religiously devoted to attending whatever EASI webinars that I could fit in my schedule. These were cherished, fun, helpful, and valuable to my development and have contributed to staying in the accessibility community for over 13 years. I have deep appreciation for Norm and others who supported or presented the EASI webinars!

Image of Norm's Plaque