Gatzert Child Welfare Fellowship for Reham Abuatiq

June 13, 2024

Congratulations to CREATE Ph.D. student Reham Abuatiq, who has received the 2024 Gatzert Child Welfare Fellowship, which will fully fund her for one quarter for her dissertation writing phase! 

Advised by CREATE associate director Heather Feldner, Abuatiq’s dissertation work is exploring the Healthcare Transition of Middle Eastern Youth with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and their Families. Using both qualitative and participatory methods, her specific goals are to understand the current healthcare access and transition landscape from the perspectives of Middle Eastern young adults with disabilities and their caregivers, understand the relationships between healthcare access and transition and the quality of life for Middle Eastern young adults with disabilities, and to co-create culturally appropriate healthcare transition strategies and resources in the Arabic language.

Abuatiq is currently working with one of CREATE’s community partners, Open Doors for Multicultural Families (ODMF), which provides grassroots community-based services and supports for immigrants and refugees in the WA area living with disabilities. ODMF plans to host a photo exhibition in autumn 2024 featuring the photo narratives that the families participating in Reham’s study will have completed.

At CREATE’s 2022 research showcase, Abuatiq presented “He Took Off…Fast!”: A Visual Journey of Modified Ride-On Car Use by Children and Families.

Congrats to CREATE’s Graduating Ph.D. Students 2024!

May 30, 2024

Four of CREATE’s influential and productive doctoral students are graduating this spring. Please join us in congratulating Avery Mack, Emma McDonnell, Venkatesh Potluri, Ather Sharif, and Rachel Franz and wishing them well.

Profiles

Avery Mack, a white, femme-presenting person with curly light brown hair shaved close on one side wearing a green blazer and grey top

Avery Mack will receive their Ph.D. from the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. Advised by CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff, their research focuses on representation of people with disabilities in digital technologies like avatars and generative AI tools. They recently have investigated how technology can support people with fluctuating access needs, like neurodiverse people and people with chronic or mental health conditions.

Mack has been an invaluable resource at CREATE, co-leading graduate seminars, presenting workshops on accessibility, and contributing to CREATE’s accessibility research. “CREATE has been a great place to meet other accessibility researchers and get in contact with disabled people in our community,” says Mack. “As someone who tries to align my researchers with community needs and desires, this connection to the Seattle disability community is invaluable.”

Mack, whose thesis is titled, Dissertation Title: Understanding, Designing, and Building Adaptable Technology for Fluctuating Accessibility Needs in Group Settings, is on the job market, interested in a research scientist position in industry.

Emma McDonnell, a white woman in her 20s with short red hair, freckles, and a warm smile. In the background: a lush landscape and the Colosseum.

Earning her Ph.D. from Human Centered Design and Engineering, Emma McDonnell is advised by CREATE associate director Leah Findlater. McDonnell’s research blends computer science, design, and disability studies to explore ways that technology can be designed to align with disability politics and social worlds.

Her dissertation research explores how communication technology, specifically captioning, could be redesigned to encourage mixed ability groups to take a collective approach to accessibility. Along with CREATE associate directors Leah Findlater and  Jon Froehlich, McDonnell studied captioning practices on TikTok and offered steps toward a standard for user-generated captioning. With fellow Ph.D. student, McDonnell presented a workshop on accessible presentations for CREATE’s GAAD Day 2024, contextualizing the importance of accessibility within the longer history of disability discrimination and activism.

Looking ahead

McDonnell is interested in postdoctoral opportunities to continue exploring new possibilities for technology design anchored in critical disability perspectives. 

Venkatesh Potluri leans toward the camera smiling with eyes cast downward

Advised by CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, Venkatesh Potluri’s research examines accessibility barriers experienced by blind or visually impaired (BVI) developers participating in professional programming domains such as user interface design, data science, and physical computing. His work contributes real-world systems to improve developer tools and new interaction techniques to address these access barriers. His thesis is titled, A Paradigm Shift in Nonvisual Programming.

While at the UW, Potluri has been selected as an Apple Scholar and a Google Lime Scholar, and contributed to the Accessibility Guide for Data Science and STEM Classes. He presented a paper on a large-scale analysis of the accessibility of Jupyter notebooks, a new tool that enables blind and visually impaired people to create their own data visualizations to explore streaming data.

Asked about his experience with CREATE, Potluri responded, "Since CREATE's founding, I've been thrilled by its mission to take a holistic approach to accessibility with disabled experts and stakeholders—from education to research to translation. I'm grateful to have been part of this beacon of high-quality research informed by a deep understanding of disability. I aspire to carry the torch forward and help make the world accessible!"

Future plans

Potluri will join the University of Michigan as an assistant professor in the Information School in Fall 2024.

 

Headshot of Ather Sharif outside on a sunny balcony with blue sky behind himGraduating with a Ph.D. from the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, Ather Sharif is co-advised by CREATE faculty Katharina Reinecke and CREATE associate director Jacob O. Wobbrock. Sharif’s research on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) focuses on making online data visualizations accessible to screen-reader users. He pioneered the first-of-its-kind system, VoxLens, that utilizes voice assistants for screen-reader users to extract information from online data visualizations. He also created UnlockedMaps, an open-data map that assists users with mobility disabilities to make informed decisions regarding their commute.

Sharif has garnered many awards while at the UW, including:

Sharif credits CREATE leaders, who include his advisors as well as Richard Ladner, Jennifer Mankoff, and Anat Caspi, to name a few, “who are not only prominent allies for disabled people but are always willing to advise and guide students to be the best researchers they can be.”

“I cannot begin to express how incredible it is to have CREATE as part of our ecosystem,” says Ather. “It advances the state of accessible technologies for people with disabilities through cutting-edge research. Personally, as someone with a disability, it means the world to me. As a researcher, CREATE has funded almost all of my research work at UW.”

After graduation, Sharif will be traveling on a 2024 UW Bonderman Fellowship. He plans to visit Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Costa Rica, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, and Thailand to learn about disability rights history and distinct physical infrastructure for wheelchair users and enhance his perspectives, challenge his viewpoints, and identify real-life barriers disabled people face. 

Graduating with a Ph.D. from the iSchool, Rachel Franz is advised by CREATE associate director Jacob O. Wobbrock. Franz' research thesis was titled, Supporting the Design, Selection, and Evaluation of Accessible Interaction Techniques for Virtual Reality.

A 2021 Apple Scholar in AI/ML, Franz' work seeks to improve accessibility in virtual reality (VR) technology. “My goal is to eventually design a recommender system that recommends interaction techniques based on people’s abilities, their preferences, [and] possibly the structure of the virtual environment,” Franz said upon receiving the award. Specifically, she is focused on using AI to make virtual reality more accessible to individuals with mobility limitations.
“I couldn't have found my participants without CREATE! It has been essential for connecting me with community partners, particularly the Here and Now Project,” says Franz.
Franz will be an assistant professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Guangzhou) starting in November.

With too many accomplishments amongst them to list here, these almost-minted Ph.D.s collaborated on projects that have contributed to CREATE’s growth and success. In addition to mentoring undergraduate students, publishing and presenting papers, and working in labs and with researchers, here are a few of the ways Sharif, Potluri, McDonnell and Mack have worked together:

  • Avery Mack and Venkatesh Potluri contributed to the Accessibility Guide for Data Science and STEM Classes, available via the CREATE website, A11y in Action resource link. They, with the other lead contributors, received the 2024 UW Digital Accessibility Team Award as part of UW Accessible Technology’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day celebration. 
  • Potluri and Mack also co-led 5 CREATE Accessibility Seminars to discuss relevant reading and share accessibility research.
  • Mack and Ather Sharif collaborated with Lucille Njoo to dispel common myths about students with disabilities in an article in the Winter 2024 Allen School DEIA newsletter.
  • McDonnell and Mack presented an accessible presentations workshop as part of UW’s 2024 Global Accessibility Awareness Day celebration.

Zhang is CREATE’s Newest Apple AIML fellow

March 18, 2024

Congratulations to Zhuohao (Jerry) Zhang – the most recent CREATE Ph.D. student to receive an Apple Scholars in AIML PhD fellowship. The prestigious award supports students through funding, internship opportunities, and mentorship with an Apple researcher. 

Zhang is a 3rd-year iSchool Ph.D. student advised by Prof. Jacob. O Wobbrock. His research focuses on using human-AI interactions to address real-world accessibility problems. He is particularly interested in designing and evaluating intelligent assistive technologies to make creativity tasks accessible.

Zhuohao (Jerry) Zhang standing in front of a poster, wearing a black sweater and a pair of black glasses, smiling.

Zhang joins previous CREATE-advised Apple AIML fellows:

Venkatesh Potluri (Apple AIML Ph.D. fellow 2022), advised by CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff in the Allen School. His research makes overlooked software engineering spaces such as IOT and user interface development accessible to developers who are blind or visually impaired. His work systematically understands the accessibility gaps in these spaces and addresses them by enhancing widely used programming tools.

Venkatesh Potluri leans toward the camera smiling with eyes cast downward

Rachel Franz (Apple AIML Ph.D. fellow 2021) is also advised by Wobbrock in the iSchool. Her research focuses on accessible technology design and evaluation for users with functional impairments and low digital literacy. Specifically, she is focused on using AI to make virtual reality more accessible to individuals with mobility limitations.

Rachel Franz, a woman with long blond hair and light skin, photographed in front of a rock wall.

New Book: Teaching Accessible Computing

March 14, 2024

A new, free, and community-sourced online book helps Computer Science educators integrate accessibility topics into their classes. Teaching Accessibility provides the foundations of accessibility relevant to computer science teaching and then presents teaching methods for integrating those topics into course designs.

From the first page of the book, a line drawing of a person hunched over a laptop with their face close to the screen which is populated by large, unreadable characters.

The editors are Alannah Oleson, a postdoctoral scholar and co-founder at the UW Center for Learning, Computing, and Imagination (LCI), CREATE and iSchool faculty Amy Ko, and Richard Ladner, CREATE Director of Education Emeritus. You may recognize many CREATE faculty members’ research referenced throughout the guide. CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff and CREATE Ph.D. student Avery Kelly Mack contributed a foundational chapter that advocates for teaching inclusively in addition to teaching about accessibility.

Letting the book speak for itself

“… we’ve designed this book as a freeopenlivingweb-first document. It’s free thanks to a National Science Foundation grant (NSF No. 2137312) that has funded our time to edit and publish the book. It’s open in that you can see and comment on the book at any time, creating community around its content. It’s living in that we expect it to regularly change and evolve as the community of people integrating accessibility into their CS courses grows and evolves. And it’s web-first in that the book is designed first and foremost as an accessible website to be read on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices, rather than as a print book or PDF. This ensures that everyone can read it, but also that it can be easily changed and updated as our understandings of how to teach accessibility in CS evolve.”

Introduction by Alannah Oleson, Amy J. Ko, Richard Ladner

“To write these chapters, we recruited some of the world’s experts on accessible computing and teaching accessible computing, giving them a platform to share both their content knowledge about how accessibility intersects with specific CS topics, but also their pedagogical content knowledge about how to teach those intersections in CS courses.”

Introduction by Alannah Oleson, Amy J. Ko, Richard Ladner

DUB hosts para.chi event

March 1, 2024

Para.chi is a worldwide parallel event to CHI ’24 for those unable or unwilling to join CHI ‘24. UW Design. Use. Build. (DUB) is hosting para.chi.dub with members of the DUB team–and maybe you.

  • Live session for accepted virtual papers
  • Networking opportunities
  • Accessibility for students and early career researchers locally and online

Wednesday, May 8, 2024 
Hybrid event: Seattle location to be announced and virtual info shared upon registration
Presenter applications due March 15 
Register to attend by Monday, April 1.

Do you have a virtual paper and wish to get feedback from a live audience? Perhaps you have a journal paper accepted to an HCI venue and wish to present it live? Then consider joining us!

Note that presenter space is somewhat limited. Decisions about how to distribute poster, presenter, and hybrid opportunities will be made after March 15.

Seattle and beyond

Each regional team is offering a different event, from mini-conferences to virtual paper sessions to mentoring and networking events. 

Learn more:

Three Myths and Three Actions: “Accommodating” Disabled Students

February 29, 2024

Excerpted from the Winter 2024 Allen School DEIA newsletter article contributed by CREATE Ph.D. students Kelly Avery Mack and Ather Sharif, with Lucille Njoo.

Completing graduate school is difficult for any student, but it’s especially difficult when you’re trying to learn at an institution that isn’t built for you. Students with disabilities at UW face extra challenges every day because our university doesn’t support equitable participation in educational activities like research and mentorship – those of us who don’t fit the mold face an uphill struggle to make ourselves heard in an academic culture that values maximum efficiency over unique perspectives. In this article, we share three common myths about students with disabilities, reveal the reality of our inequitable experience as grad students at UW, and propose a few potential solutions to begin ameliorating this reality, both at our university and beyond.

Myth 1: DRS (Disabilities Resources for Students) handles all accessibility accommodations.

This is an incorrect expectation of the role DRS serves in a campus ecosystem. The term “accommodations,” in the first place, frames us as outcasts, implying that someone needs to “review” and “approve” of our “requests” to simply exist equitably; but given that this is the term folks are most familiar with, we’ll continue referring to them as “accommodations” for ease of communication. While DRS can provide some assistance, they are outrageously under-staffed, and UW research has demonstrated that they are only part of the ecosystem. Instructors need to consider accessibility when building their courses and when teaching their classes. Accessibility, like computer security, works best when it is considered from the beginning, but it’s not too late to start repairing inaccessible PDFs or lecture slides for a future quarter. UW DO-IT has a great resource for accessible teaching.

Myth 2: Making my materials accessible is all I have to do
for disabled students, right?

Disability is highly individual, and no matter how much an instructor prepares, a student might need further accommodations than what was prepared ahead of time. Listen to and believe disabled students when they discuss the accessibility barriers they face. Questioning their disability or using language that makes them doubt their self-worth is a hard no. Then, work with the student to decide on a solution moving forward, and remember that students are the number-one experts on their own accessibility needs.

Myth 3: Advising a student with a disability is the same as advising a student without a disability.

Disabled students have very different experiences of grad school, and they need advisors who are informed, aware, and proactive about those differences. If you are taking on a disabled student, the best ways to prepare yourself are:

Educate yourself about disability.

Disabled students are tired of explaining the same basic accessibility practices over and over again. Be willing to listen if your student wants to educate you more about their experience with disability, and recognize action items from the conversation that you can incorporate to improve your methods.

Expect that timelines might look different.

Disabled students deal with all kinds of barriers, from inaccessible technology to multiple-week hospital stays, so they may do things faster or slower than other students (as is true for any student). This does not mean they are not as productive or deserving of research positions. Disabled students produce high-quality research and award-winning papers, and their unique perspectives have the potential to strengthen every field, not just those related to disability studies. And they are able to do their best work when they have an advisor who recognizes their intellectual merit and right to be a part of the program.

Be prepared to be your student’s number-one ally.

Since DRS cannot fulfill all accessibility needs, you might need to figure out how to solve them yourselves. Can you find $200 in a grant to purchase an OCR tool to help make PDFs accessible for a blind student? (Yes, you can.) Can you advocate for them if their instructor isn’t meeting accessibility requests? (Yes, you can.) Not only will this help them do their best work, but it also sets an example for the other students in your lab and establishes an academic culture that values students of all abilities.

Joshua Miele: Driving Accessibility through Open Source

February 15, 2024

Formally, Dr. Joshua Miele describes himself as a blind scientist, designer, performance artist and disability activist who is focused on the overlap of technology, disability, and equity. But in his personable and humorous lecture, he listed a few more identities: Interrupter. Pain in the ass. “CAOS” promoter.

The Allen School Distinguished Lecture took place earlier this month and is a worthwhile listen on YouTube.

Miele’s passions are right in line with CREATE’s work and he started his lecture, after being introduced by CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff, with a compliment we heartily accept: “This community at the University of Washington is one of the largest, one of the most vibrant communities of people thinking and working around disability, accessibility, and technology.”

Miele shared his enthusiasm for disability-inclusive design and its impact on global disability equity and inclusion. Drawing on examples and counterexamples from his own life and career, Dr. Miele described some of the friction the accessibility field has faced and speculated about what challenges may lie ahead, with particular emphasis on the centrality of user-centered practices, and the exhilarating potential of open source solutions and communities.

When he received the MacArthur grant, Miele had to decide what to do with the spotlight on his work. He shared his hopes for a Center for Accessibility and Open Source (CAOS, pronounced “chaos”) to promote global digital equity for people with disabilities through making low-cost accessible tools available to everyone, whether they have financial resources or not. He invited anyone interested in global equity, disability, direct action, performance art, and CAOS/chaos to reach out to work together on this incredibly important work.

More about Miele and the lecture

Alice Wong and Patty Berne: Two UW lectures moderated by CREATE researchers

January 29, 2024

Winter 2024 quarter kicked off with two outstanding conversations with women of color who are leaders in disability justice.

Alice Wong: Raising the visibility of disabled people

First, Alice Wong discussed topics important to her work in raising the visibility of disabled people. Wong’s book Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life was the topic of the Autumn 2023 CREATE Accessibility Seminar.

CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff started the conversation asking Wong about her experience as a disabled person in academia and what needs to change. Wong said her work in disability justice was inspired in part by the “incredible amount of emotion and physical labor to ask for equal access” in academic settings. She had to spend precious time, money and energy to gain the accommodations and access she needed to succeed. But she realized that as soon as she transitioned out, her efforts would be lost and the next student would have to start over to prove their need and request a new set of accommodations. Wong was doubtful that large academic institutions can support the goal of collective liberation. It’s the “dog-eat-dog world [of] academia where the competition is stiff and everyone is pushed to their limits to produce and be valuable.” She encouraged instructors to incorporate books about disability justice in their syllabi (see the reading list below). 

Wong, who spoke with a text-to-voice tool and added emphasis with her facial expressions on the screen, also addressed the value and the limitations of assistive technology. She noted that the text-to-speech app she uses does not convey her personality. She also discussed how ableism appears in activist discourse.

One of her examples was a debate over gig economy delivery services, which are enormously important for many people with disabilities and that also under-compensate delivery work. She noted that blaming disabled people for undermining efforts for better wages was not the solution; collective efforts to make corporations compensate workers is the solution. She also explained that hashtag activism, which has been disparaged in popular discourse, is a crucial method for disabled people to participate in social justice activism. And she discussed her outrage when, as she prepared to give a talk to a public health school, her own access needs were used to censor her. Throughout her talk, Wong returned again and again to the principles of disability justice, and encouraged attendees to engage in collective forms of change.

Wong’s responses embodied a key component of disability justice principles: citational practices that name fellow contributors to collective disability justice wisdom. Her long list of recommended reading for the audience inspired us to build our new RDT reading list. Wong referenced Patty Berne several times, calling Berne her introduction to disability justice.

Patty Berne on disability justice: Centering intersectionality and liberation

A week later, two CREATE Ph.D. students, Aashaka Desai and Aaleyah Lewis, moderated a conversation with Patty Berne. Berne, who identifies as a Japanese-Haitian queer disabled woman, co-founded Sins Invalid, a disability justice-based arts project focusing on disabled artists of color and queer and gender non-conforming artists with disabilities. Berne defined disability justice as advocating for each other, understanding access needs, and normalizing those needs. On the topic of climate justice, she noted that state-sponsored disaster planning often overlooks the needs of people with motor impairments or life-sustaining medical equipment. This is where intersectional communities do, and should, take care of each other when disaster strikes.

Berne addressed language justice within the disability community, noting that “we don’t ‘language’ like able-bodied people.” For example, the use of ventilators and augmented speech technology change the cadence of speech. Berne wants to normalize access needs for a more inclusive experience of everyday life. Watch the full conversation on YouTube.

Anat Caspi receives Human Rights Educator Award

Congratulations to Anat Caspi on receiving the 2023 Human Rights Education Award from the Seattle Human Rights Commission!

Caspi, a CREATE associate director and the founder and director of the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology, thanked the commission for recognition of her individual dedication and emphasized that it also celebrates the collective efforts of the Taskar Center community.

You can watch as Olivia Quesada accepts the award on Caspi’s behalf at the ceremony.

Olivia Quesada stands at a podium to accept the 2023 Human Rights Educator Award for Anat Caspi whose photo is shown on a large screen in the background.

CREATE Welcomes Dr. Olivia Banner!

January 2, 2024

Olivia Banner, a white woman with a warm smile and smiling eyes.

In her role as CREATE’s Director of Strategy and Operations, Olivia Banner, Ph.D., will help develop and oversee organizational strategy, design and implement new programs, manage center operations, and help ensure a sustainable trajectory of high quality work in service of the CREATE’s core mission. 

Banner is a disabled author and educator who has taught courses on disability, technology, and media. She comes to Seattle and the UW from the University of Texas at Dallas, where she was an associate professor of Critical Media Studies. She is the author of Communicative Biocapitalism: The Voice of the Patient in Digital Health and the Health Humanities. Her new book about technology, psychiatry, and practices of mutual care is forthcoming with Duke University Press. Her research has been published in Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, TechnoscienceLiterature and Medicine and is forthcoming in Disability Studies Quarterly.  

“Her principles and commitment to intersectional work caught our attention in our conversations about the new role. We are so lucky to have her joining CREATE!”

Jennifer Mankoff, CREATE Director

Banner says she looks forward to integrating disability principles into projects with tangible effects on disabled peoples’ lives, including AI + Accessibility, integrating disabled perspectives into projects, and race, technology, and disability—which align with Banner’s previous academic work. She is personally invested in fostering just technological futures through collaborative work and is very excited about the Center’s aim of expanding access through community partnerships.

CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff is equally excited about the vision Banner brings for CREATE’s future, her policy experience, her administrative skills, and her commitment to amplifying the voices of those she serves. “Her principles and commitment to intersectional work caught our attention in our conversations about the new role. We are so lucky to have her joining CREATE!” says Mankoff.

In her research, scholarship, and teaching, Banner has centered disability knowledge as a method for envisioning technological futures. Her work extends to multiple collaborative projects, including co-teaching a seminar on surveillance with a computer science professor, serving on a Lancet-sponsored commission developing policies for global digital health development, and co-directing Social Practice & Community Engagement Media, a lab that used low-tech methods to reimagine campus practices of care. Toward the goal of improving access on the UT Dallas campus, Banner conducted critical access mapping projects, led Teach-Ins and workshops on disability and equity and on accessible course design, and served on the University Accessibility Committee.

Having served as managing editor of an academic journal and as Associate Dean of Graduate Studies for her School, she also brings professional experience working with faculty, students, staff, and community members from varied disciplines and professions, and anticipates generative conversations on the horizon. She joins CREATE eager to support and enhance its visions of accessible and equitable technology.

ARTennis attempts to help low vision players

December 16, 2023

People with low vision (LV) have had fewer options for physical activity, particularly in competitive sports such as tennis and soccer that involve fast, continuously moving elements such as balls and players. A group of researchers from CREATE associate director Jon E. Froehlich‘s Makeability Lab hopes to overcome this challenge by enabling LV individuals to participate in ball-based sports using real-time computer vision (CV) and wearable augmented reality (AR) headsets. Their initial focus has been on tennis.

The team includes Jaewook Lee (Ph.D. student, UW CSE), Devesh P. Sarda (MS/Ph.D. student, University of Wisconsin), Eujean Lee (Research Assistant, UW Makeability Lab), Amy Seunghyun Lee (BS student, UC Davis), Jun Wang (BS student, UW CSE), Adrian Rodriguez (Ph.D. student, UW HCDE), and Jon Froehlich.

Their paper, Towards Real-time Computer Vision and Augmented Reality to Support Low Vision Sports: A Demonstration of ARTennis was published in the 2023 ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST).

ARTennis is their prototype system capable of tracking and enhancing the visual saliency of tennis balls from a first-person point-of-view (POV). Recent advancements in deep learning have led to models like TrackNet, a neural network capable of tracking tennis balls in third-person recordings of tennis games that is used to improve sports viewing for LV people. To enhance playability, the team first built a dataset of first-person POV images by having the authors wear an AR headset and play tennis. They then streamed video from a pair of AR glasses to a back-end server, analyzed the frames using a custom-trained deep learning model, and sent back the results for real-time overlaid visualization.

After a brainstorming session with an LV research team member, the team added visualization improvements to enhance the ball’s color contrast and add a crosshair in real-time.

Early evaluations have provided feedback that the prototype could help LV people enjoy ball-based sports but there’s plenty of further work to be done. A larger field-of-view (FOV) and audio cues would improve a player’s ability to track the ball. The weight and bulk of the headset, in addition to its expense are also factors the team expects to improve with time, as Lee noted in an interview on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

“Wearable AR devices such as the Microsoft HoloLens 2 hold immense potential in non-intrusively improving accessibility of everyday tasks. I view AR glasses as a technology that can enable continuous computer vision, which can empower BLV individuals to participate in day-to-day tasks, from sports to cooking. The Makeability Lab team and I hope to continue exploring this space to improve the accessibility of popular sports, such as tennis and basketball.”

Jaewook Lee, Ph.D. student and lead author

Ph.D. student Jaewook Lee presents a research poster, Makeability Lab Demos - GazePointAR & ARTennis.

UW News: How an assistive-feeding robot went from picking up fruit salads to whole meals

November, 2023

In tests with this set of actions, the robot picked up the foods more than 80% of the time, which is the user-specified benchmark for in-home use. The small set of actions allows the system to learn to pick up new foods during one meal. UW News talked with co-lead authors Gordon and Nanavati, both doctoral students in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, and with co-author Taylor Kessler Faulkner, a UW postdoctoral scholar in the Allen School, about the successes and challenges of robot-assisted feeding. The team presented its findings Nov. 7 at the 2023 Conference on Robotic Learning in Atlanta.

An assistive-feeding robotic arm attached to a wheelchair uses a fork to stab a piece of fruit on a plate among other fruits.

The Personal Robotics Lab has been working on robot-assisted feeding for several years. What is the advance of this paper?

Ethan K. Gordon: I joined the Personal Robotics Lab at the end of 2018 when Siddhartha Srinivasa, a professor in the Allen School and senior author of our new study, and his team had created the first iteration of its robot system for assistive applications. The system was mounted on a wheelchair and could pick up a variety of fruits and vegetables on a plate. It was designed to identify how a person was sitting and take the food straight to their mouth. Since then, there have been quite a few iterations, mostly involving identifying a wide variety of food items on the plate. Now, the user with their assistive device can click on an image in the app, a grape for example, and the system can identify and pick that up.

Taylor Kessler Faulkner: Also, we’ve expanded the interface. Whatever accessibility systems people use to interact with their phones — mostly voice or mouth control navigation — they can use to control the app.

EKG: In this paper we just presented, we’ve gotten to the point where we can pick up nearly everything a fork can handle. So we can’t pick up soup, for example. But the robot can handle everything from mashed potatoes or noodles to a fruit salad to an actual vegetable salad, as well as pre-cut pizza or a sandwich or pieces of meat.

In previous work with the fruit salad, we looked at which trajectory the robot should take if it’s given an image of the food, but the set of trajectories we gave it was pretty limited. We were just changing the pitch of the fork. If you want to pick up a grape, for example, the fork’s tines need to go straight down, but for a banana they need to be at an angle, otherwise it will slide off. Then we worked on how much force we needed to apply for different foods.

In this new paper, we looked at how people pick up food, and used that data to generate a set of trajectories. We found a small number of motions that people actually use to eat and settled on 11 trajectories. So rather than just the simple up-down or coming in at an angle, it’s using scooping motions, or it’s wiggling inside of the food item to increase the strength of the contact. This small number still had the coverage to pick up a much greater array of foods.

We think the system is now at a point where it can be deployed for testing on people outside the research group. We can invite a user to the UW, and put the robot either on a wheelchair, if they have the mounting apparatus ready, or a tripod next to their wheelchair, and run through an entire meal.

For you as researchers, what are the vital challenges ahead to make this something people could use in their homes every day?

EKG: We’ve so far been talking about the problem of picking up the food, and there are more improvements that can be made here. Then there’s the whole other problem of getting the food to a person’s mouth, as well as how the person interfaces with the robot, and how much control the person has over this at least partially autonomous system.

TKF: Over the next couple of years, we’re hoping to personalize the robot to different people. Everyone eats a little bit differently. Amal did some really cool work on social dining that highlighted how people’s preferences are based on many factors, such as their social and physical situations. So we’re asking: How can we get input from the people who are eating? And how can the robot use that input to better adapt to the way each person wants to eat?

Amal Nanavati: There are several different dimensions that we might want to personalize. One is the user’s needs: How far the user can move their neck impacts how close the fork has to get to them. Some people have differential strength on different sides of their mouth, so the robot might need to feed them from a particular side of their mouth. There’s also an aspect of the physical environment. Users already have a bunch of assistive technologies, often mounted around their face if that’s the main part of their body that’s mobile. These technologies might be used to control their wheelchair, to interact with their phone, etc. Of course, we don’t want the robot interfering with any of those assistive technologies as it approaches their mouth.

There are also social considerations. For example, if I’m having a conversation with someone or at home watching TV, I don’t want the robot arm to come right in front of my face. Finally, there are personal preferences. For example, among users who can turn their head a little bit, some prefer to have the robot come from the front so they can keep an eye on the robot as it’s coming in. Others feel like that’s scary or distracting and prefer to have the bite come at them from the side.

A key research direction is understanding how we can create intuitive and transparent ways for the user to customize the robot to their own needs. We’re considering trade-offs between customization methods where the user is doing the customization, versus more robot-centered forms where, for example, the robot tries something and says, “Did you like it? Yes or no.” The goal is to understand how users feel about these different customization methods and which ones result in more customized trajectories.

What should the public understand about robot-assisted feeding, both in general and specifically the work your lab is doing?

EKG: It’s important to look not just at the technical challenges, but at the emotional scale of the problem. It’s not a small number of people who need help eating. There are various figures out there, but it’s over a million people in the U.S. Eating has to happen every single day. And to require someone else every single time you need to do that intimate and very necessary act can make people feel like a burden or self-conscious. So the whole community working towards assistive devices is really trying to help foster a sense of independence for people who have these kinds of physical mobility limitations.

AN: Even these seven-digit numbers don’t capture everyone. There are permanent disabilities, such as a spinal cord injury, but there are also temporary disabilities such as breaking your arm. All of us might face disability at some time as we age and we want to make sure that we have the tools necessary to ensure that we can all live dignified lives and independent lives. Also, unfortunately, even though technologies like this greatly improve people’s quality of life, it’s incredibly difficult to get them covered by U.S. insurance companies. I think more people knowing about the potential quality of life improvement will hopefully open up greater access.

Additional co-authors on the paper were Ramya Challa, who completed this research as an undergraduate student in the Allen School and is now at Oregon State University, and Bernie Zhu, a UW doctoral student in the Allen School. This research was partially funded by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research and Amazon.

For more information, contact Gordon at ekgordon@cs.uw.edu, Nanavati at amaln@cs.uw.edu and Faulkner at taylorkf@cs.washington.edu.


Excerpted and adapted from the UW News story by Stefan Milne.

UW News: Can AI help boost accessibility? CREATE researchers tested it for themselves

November 2, 2023 | UW News

Generative artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT, an AI-powered language tool, and Midjourney, an AI-powered image generator, can potentially assist people with various disabilities. They could summarize content, compose messages, or describe images. Yet they also regularly spout inaccuracies and fail at basic reasoningperpetuating ableist biases.

This year, seven CREATE researchers conducted a three-month autoethnographic study — drawing on their own experiences as people with and without disabilities — to test AI tools’ utility for accessibility. Though researchers found cases in which the tools were helpful, they also found significant problems with AI tools in most use cases, whether they were generating images, writing Slack messages, summarizing writing or trying to improve the accessibility of documents.

Four AI-generated images show different interpretations of a doll-sized “crocheted lavender husky wearing ski goggles,” including two pictured outdoors and one against a white background.

The team presented its findings Oct. 22 at the ASSETS 2023 conference in New York.

“When technology changes rapidly, there’s always a risk that disabled people get left behind,” said senior author Jennifer Mankoff, CREATE’s director and a professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. “I’m a really strong believer in the value of first-person accounts to help us understand things. Because our group had a large number of folks who could experience AI as disabled people and see what worked and what didn’t, we thought we had a unique opportunity to tell a story and learn about this.”

The group presented its research in seven vignettes, often amalgamating experiences into single accounts to preserve anonymity. For instance, in the first account, “Mia,” who has intermittent brain fog, deployed ChatPDF.com, which summarizes PDFs, to help with work. While the tool was occasionally accurate, it often gave “completely incorrect answers.” In one case, the tool was both inaccurate and ableist, changing a paper’s argument to sound like researchers should talk to caregivers instead of to chronically ill people. “Mia” was able to catch this, since the researcher knew the paper well, but Mankoff said such subtle errors are some of the “most insidious” problems with using AI, since they can easily go unnoticed.

Yet in the same vignette, “Mia” used chatbots to create and format references for a paper they were working on while experiencing brain fog. The AI models still made mistakes, but the technology proved useful in this case.

“When technology changes rapidly, there’s always a risk that disabled people get left behind.”

Jennifer Mankoff, CREATE Director, professor in the Allen School

Mankoff, who’s spoken publicly about having Lyme disease, contributed to this account. “Using AI for this task still required work, but it lessened the cognitive load. By switching from a ‘generation’ task to a ‘verification’ task, I was able to avoid some of the accessibility issues I was facing,” Mankoff said.

The results of the other tests researchers selected were equally mixed:

  • One author, who is autistic, found AI helped to write Slack messages at work without spending too much time troubling over the wording. Peers found the messages “robotic,” yet the tool still made the author feel more confident in these interactions.
  • Three authors tried using AI tools to increase the accessibility of content such as tables for a research paper or a slideshow for a class. The AI programs were able to state accessibility rules but couldn’t apply them consistently when creating content.
  • Image-generating AI tools helped an author with aphantasia (an inability to visualize) interpret imagery from books. Yet when they used the AI tool to create an illustration of “people with a variety of disabilities looking happy but not at a party,” the program could conjure only fraught images of people at a party that included ableist incongruities, such as a disembodied hand resting on a disembodied prosthetic leg.

“I was surprised at just how dramatically the results and outcomes varied, depending on the task,” said lead author Kate Glazko, a UW doctoral student in the Allen School. “”n some cases, such as creating a picture of people with disabilities looking happy, even with specific prompting — can you make it this way? — the results didn’t achieve what the authors wanted.”

The researchers note that more work is needed to develop solutions to problems the study revealed. One particularly complex problem involves developing new ways for people with disabilities to validate the products of AI tools, because in many cases when AI is used for accessibility, either the source document or the AI-generated result is inaccessible. This happened in the ableist summary ChatPDF gave “Mia” and when “Jay,” who is legally blind, used an AI tool to generate code for a data visualization. He could not verify the result himself, but a colleague said it “didn’t make any sense at all.”  The frequency of AI-caused errors, Mankoff said, “makes research into accessible validation especially important.”

Mankoff also plans to research ways to document the kinds of ableism and inaccessibility present in AI-generated content, as well as investigate problems in other areas, such as AI-written code.

“Whenever software engineering practices change, there is a risk that apps and websites become less accessible if good defaults are not in place,” Glazko said. “For example, if AI-generated code were accessible by default, this could help developers to learn about and improve the accessibility of their apps and websites.”

Co-authors on this paper are Momona Yamagami, who completed this research as a UW postdoctoral scholar in the Allen School and is now at Rice University; Aashaka DesaiKelly Avery Mack and Venkatesh Potluri, all UW doctoral students in the Allen School; and Xuhai Xu, who completed this work as a UW doctoral student in the Information School and is now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This research was funded by Meta, Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences (CREATE), Google, an NIDILRR ARRT grant and the National Science Foundation.


For more information, contact Glazko at glazko@cs.washington.edu and Mankoff at jmankoff@cs.washington.edu.


This article was adapted from the UW News article by Stefan Milne.

CREATE’s Response to Proposed Update to Section 504 for Medical, Health

Updated November 30, 2023

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights published a proposed update to the HHS regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits disability discrimination by recipients of federal funding.

This is the first comprehensive update to the regulations since they were first put in place more than 40 years ago. The proposed rule includes new requirements prohibiting discrimination in the areas of:

  • Medical treatment
  • The use of value assessments
  • Web, mobile, and kiosk accessibility
  • Requirements for accessible medical equipment, so that persons with disabilities have an opportunity to participate in or benefit from health care programs and activities that is equal to the opportunity afforded others.

For 60 days starting on September 14, HHS will be seeking public comment on the proposed rule. Input from the disability and aging communities is essential!


Note that CREATE also provided a review guide and CREATE’s response in an accessible and tagged PDF document (53 pages) for a previous public comment invitation, specifically for the U.S. Department of Justice in the areas of digital accessibility.

Virtual Traffic Stop App Aims to Ease Tensions, Aid Communication

October 2, 2023

The designers of the Virtual Traffic Stop app aim to ease tensions and prevent misunderstandings between drivers and law enforcement during traffic stops. For Hard-of-Hearing or Deaf drivers, the app can be used to communicate with law enforcement via chat during the video. Users can add family members and invite them to the chat for additional assistance.

A Gainesville Florida K-12 school has announced their endorsement of Virtual Traffic Stop and has encouraged parents and their children to sign up and start using the app. Currently, the app is being used by the University of Florida and Gainesville Florida police departments.

If your community is interested in using the app, contact Dr. Juan E. Gilbert, a former CREATE Advisory Board member and Chair of the Human-Centered Computing Department at the University of Florida, by calling 352-392-1527 or emailing juan@ufl.edu.

People with Disabilities are a Population with Health Disparities

September 29, 2023

In September 2023, the Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities announced the designation of people with disabilities as a population with health disparities. The designation is one of several steps National Institutes of Health (NIH) is taking to address health disparities faced by people with disabilities and ensure their representation in NIH research.

Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, in consultation with Dr. Robert Otto Valdez, the Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality cited careful consideration of the National Advisory Council on Minority Health and Health Disparities final report, input from the disability community, and a review of the science and evidence.

As part of the effort to support research in this area, NIMHD also announced a funding opportunity to advance the science of disabilities research.

Read more

Your Review & Comments Wanted: Proposed Federal Accessibility Standards

August 11, 2023

A proposal for new digital accessibility guidelines for entities receiving federal funds was released for review by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on August 4, 2023.  Anyone affected by these guidelines has 60 days — through Tuesday, October 3, 2023 — to comment.

The DOJ is still trying to decide exactly what the rule should say, how quickly public entities should improve digital accessibility, and what exceptions to allow. For example, the current rule states that course content posted on a password-protected website (such as a learning management system (LMS) like Canvas) does not have to be made accessible until a student with a disability needs access to that content. If a student registers for the course, or transfers into it, then the course content has to be made fully accessible to all disabilities by the start of the term or within 5 days (if the term has already started). In addition, the course needs to stay accessible over time.

CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff summarizes some of the most important aspects of the proposed rule in a Guide to Reviewing and Commenting that includes many of the the questions posed by the DOJ, with additional questions to consider from Mankoff. This guide is not meant to direct your comments, rather to facilitate and encourage your review. Whatever your viewpoint on the questions raised, the DOJ should hear from you

We strongly urge you to review the guidelines and submit your comments. If you have any questions, reach out to CREATE at create-contact@uw.edu.

CREATE Open Source Projects Awarded at Web4All

July 6, 2023

CREATE researchers shone this spring at the 2023 Web4All 2023 conference that, in part, seeks to “make the internet more accessible to the more than one billion people who struggle to interact with digital content each day due to neurodivergence, disability or other impairments.” Two CREATE-funded open source projects won accolades.

Best Technical Paper award:
Understanding and Improving Drilled-Down Information Extraction from Online Data Visualizations for Screen-Reader Users

Authors: Ather Sharif, Andrew Mingwei Zhang, CREATE faculty member Katharina Reinecke, and CREATE Associate Director Jacob O. Wobbrock

Built on prior research to develop taxonomies of information sought by screen-reader users to interact with online data visualizations, the team’s research used these taxonomies to extend the functionality of VoxLens—an open-source multi-modal system that improves the accessibility of data visualizations—by supporting drilled-down information extraction. They assessed the performance of their VoxLens enhancements through task-based user studies with 10 screen-reader and 10 non-screen-reader users. Their enhancements “closed the gap” between the two groups by enabling screen-reader users to extract information with approximately the same accuracy as non-screen-reader users, reducing interaction time by 22% in the process.

Accessibility Challenge Delegates’ Award:
UnlockedMaps: A Web-Based Map for Visualizing the Real-Time Accessibility of Urban Rail Transit Stations

Authors: Ather Sharif, Aneesha Ramesh, Qianqian Yu, Trung-Anh H. Nguyen, and Xuhai Xu

Ather Sharif’s work on another project, UnlockedMaps, was honored with the Accessibility Challenge Delegates’ Award. The paper details a web-based map that allows users to see in real time how accessible rail transit stations are in six North American cities, including Seattle, Toronto, New York and the Bay Area. UnlockedMaps shows whether stations are accessible and if they are currently experiencing elevator outages. Their work includes a public website that enables users to make informed decisions regarding their commute and an open source API that can be used by developers, disability advocates, and policy makers for a variety of purposes, including shedding light on the frequency of elevator outages and their repair times to identify the disparities between neighborhoods in a given city.

Read more

Accessible Technology Research Showcase – Spring 2023

June 30, 2023

Poster session in progress, with 9 or so posters on easels in view and student presenters talking to attendees.

In June 2023, CREATE and HuskyADAPT co-hosted a showcase — and celebration — of outstanding UW research on accessible technology. The showcase featured poster presentations, live demonstrations by our faculty, students, and researchers and was altogether vibrant and exciting. Over 100 attendees viewed 25 projects, presentations, and posters.

Congratulations and appreciation to CREATE Engagement and Partnerships Manager Kathleen Quin Voss and HuskyAdapt Student Executive Chair Mia Hoffman for putting on an amazing research showcase!

View the Projects


Welcome Mark Harniss, CREATE’s New Director for Education

June 13, 2023

CREATE is thrilled to have Mark Harniss as our new Director for Education. Harniss is an associate professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and director of the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) and the Center for Technology and Disability. Until recently, he was the director of the Disability Studies Program but stepped down at the end of the 2023 academic year.

Mark Harniss a white man in his 50s with short brown hair and blue eyes wearing a dark polo shirt in front of fall-colored leaves.

Harniss’ professional background lies in special education and instructional technology, but his current focus revolves around knowledge translation, assistive technology, accessible information technology (IT), and disability law and policy.

In his role as CREATE Director for Education, Mark aims to foster collaboration and cooperation between UW “upper and lower campus,” particularly by forging connections between CREATE, the Disability Studies Program, the Institute on Human Development and Disability (IHDD), and the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine. Additionally, he intends to expand CREATE’s reach by establishing links with important external communities, ensuring that the innovations generated within CREATE are available to these communities. In turn, he envisions that these communities will provide valuable insights to CREATE researchers regarding their specific needs.