Alexandra Wong is no ordinary student as she has turned her disability into her greatest strength. She has forged an exceptional path around auditory accessibility, and more broadly, accessibility for people with disabilities. Her journey has seen her create computational methods to measure hearing loss in mice, address disparities in hearing healthcare, share her story on the TEDx stage, advise policymakers, and establish the NextGen Accessibility Initiative. With this extensive portfolio, she joins the 50 global finalists for the Varkey Foundation’s 2023 Global Student Prize. Today, Alexandra adds another string to her bow as she joins the ranks of the 2024 U.S. Rhodes Scholars. Let’s delve into another  LearningPlanet Youth Fellow inspiring story.

Tell us about yourself

I founded the NextGen Accessibility Initiative to teach youth and educators about the importance of digital accessibility and how they can implement accessibility features into their own lives.

I am an undergraduate senior at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland (USA) originally from Alexandria, Virginia. At Hopkins, I study public health and focus on creating a world where accessibility is universal and having a disability is celebrated. As part of the Johns Hopkins Neuroscience Scholars program, I have created computational methods to determine the level of hearing loss in mice and contextualized hearing healthcare disparities in Baltimore in the late 1900s. When I am not in the lab, I can be found sharing my story of growing up with hearing loss on the TEDx stage, with podcasts, and on industry panels to encourage acceptance of those with disabilities.

In the community, I am the founder of the NextGen Accessibility Initiative, where I partner with Gen Z organizations to make their digital content fully accessible for disabled youth. My work to improve digital accessibility within the NextGen Accessibility Initiative has reached over 200,000 youth in 119 countries. I also advised the U.S. Department of Labor and state policymakers on creating policies to help disabled youth transition into higher education and workplace environments as a member of the CAPE-Youth Working Group (Center for State Governments).

I was awarded the Heumann-Armstrong Award and named a Top 50 Global Finalist for the Varkey Foundation’s 2023 Global Student Prize in recognition of my disability advocacy and research. In my free time, I enjoy running, composing piano music, and scouting out the best pastries in Baltimore.

Check Alexandra’s TED talk! on how to positively reframe disability !

What is the NextGen Accessibility Initiative? Why did you create it?

The NextGen Accessibility Initiative is a youth-led volunteer group that collaborates with Generation Z youth educational and advocacy organizations to ensure that their digital content (social media posts, websites, etc.) is fully accessible for everyone, especially for youth with disabilities. This organization has helped over 200,000 youth in 119 countries gain access to accessible educational content. Some other exciting projects we’ve completed were creating an accessibility toolkit for the U.S. Department of Labor and accessible medical residents’ curriculum with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. I founded the NextGen Accessibility Initiative to teach youth and educators about the importance of digital accessibility and how they can implement accessibility features into their own lives.

You were one of 32 American students awarded a Rhodes Scholarship this year. What does this scholarship involve?

The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the most prestigious postgraduate scholarships globally. It funds two to three years of postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom for young scholars from around the world. It also provides a housing/living stipend and access to a global community of Rhodes Scholars and Alumni.

How did you feel when you received this scholarship? What opportunities does it offer you? What are your plans for the coming months/years?

Getting to the finalist stage of the Rhodes Scholarship was a huge accomplishment. I entered the Rhodes Finalist Interview weekend in Washington D.C. with immense gratitude for being part of it. I met fifteen other impressive finalists from various states, each with their unique stories and aspirations.

When they announced the winners in front of all sixteen finalists, I was in disbelief. I remember trembling and being in shock for the next hour as people came up to congratulate me. Weeks later, it still hasn’t fully sunk in, but I hope to represent Virginia, the disability community, and Johns Hopkins well as a Rhodes Scholar.

This scholarship provides the opportunity to build my accessibility/digital health and policymaking and analysis skills through two master’s degrees at the University of Oxford. I plan to pursue an MSc in Applied Digital Health and a Masters in Public Policy from Fall 2024 to 2026.

My goal is to connect with the disability community in the UK, collaborate with the WHO’s Global Disability Inclusion Hub, and contribute to the AT 2030 program. I intend to expand my disability advocacy and research on a global scale during my time at Oxford.

In the meantime, I am completing my public health degree at Johns Hopkins by May 2024 and enjoying quality time with family and friends.

Where do you see yourself after your studies?

After my time at Oxford, I will complete medical school and residency in the United States. Post-residency, I will become a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician and a policy advisor focused on serving older adults with disabilities to help improve their quality of life with rehabilitation services and technology through practice, research, and advocacy for broader access to accessible digital health interfaces, assistive technology, and home-based healthcare services. I hope to be a global leader in creating policies and programs to ensure that older people with disabilities can live independently with the support of technology and rehabilitative services.