The Future of Assistive Technology: A Panel Discussion

Anat Caspi, CREATE’s Director for Translation, participated in a panel discussion on the future of assistive technology and how recent innovations are likely to affect the lives of people with disabilities.

Read on to find out what Caspi had to say about how industry and education can and should shape future AT. For the full Provail Assistive Technology Panel discussion, watch the video below.

On what’s the biggest recent game-changer, Caspi noted that larger companies have recognized the importance of inclusive design and the need for multi-modal platforms, data standards, and the ability of Android, iOS and Microsoft platforms to offer integrated access functionality, not just at the single application level but throughout the entire operating system. While speech generation technology is evolving to include natural language processing such as gesturing and inflection and interaction devices like eye-gaze and pupil tracking, Caspi looks forward to communication devices being used to manipulate 3-D interaction in physical space as well as VR/AR.

With increased accessibility to prototyping, organizations and educators need to be reaching out to high school students and introduce them to design thinking and inclusive design.

Anat Caspi, CREATE Director for Translation, Director of the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology 

Caspi noted that small-scale innovation, as encouraged by the maker and DIY movements, can be adopted by niche as well as large-scale markets thanks to a game-changing trend in consumer electronics markets: the availability of cheap sensing technologies and the popularity of what’s commonly known as Internet of Things. With increased accessibility to prototyping, organizations and educators need to be reaching out to high school students and introduce them to design thinking and inclusive design. Recently, there is a trend even among the larger technology organizations to create the introductory tools and educational materials at scale in order to gain a steadier audience and attract a more diverse group of future engineers and innovators.

Further, the future will see assistive technology designed for a team — not just the primary user but also their support network: caregivers, parents, and therapists.

The panel’s sponsor, PROVAIL, is a non-profit based in western Washington that provides therapy and active living services for people with mild to severe disabilities, for whom service options and resources are often limited.

Watch the full panel discussion

Accessible CS Education workshop focuses on inclusive experiences

Amid a global pandemic, innovative thinkers have been hard at work developing plans to improve equity in modern learning environments. The Accessible Computer Science Education Fall Workshop was held November 17-19, 2020, and jointly sponsored by Microsoft, The Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities, and CREATE.

Each day of the event focused on strategies to improve classroom experiences for students and faculty with disabilities. You can watch recorded sessions where speakers provided a wide range of perspectives on computer science pedagogy and how to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in computing disciplines.

Two students work together in a lab on a computer screen using accessibility tools

Two students work together on a computer screen using accessibility tools.

The event provided an intimate environment to share work and establish new collaborations. The most visible result, for now, is five white papers and action plans taken from the break-out group reports (CREATE faculty contributors noted):

The program resulted in more than conversations; each group developed formal white papers and action plans that will guide future research and collaboration.

Microsoft logo

Throughout the workshop, participants focused on four areas:

  1. Education for employment pathways
  2. Making K-12 computing education accessible
  3. Making higher education in computing accessible
  4. Building accessible hardware and systems.

Conversations generated ideas about technologies that can boost employment and assist people with disabilities who experience barriers in various learning environments.

The committee behind the event successfully cultivated a productive and inclusive atmosphere that sponsors hope will translate to future projects. Members of the committee include Andrew Begel, Heather Dowty, Cecily Morrison, Teddy Seyed, and Roy Zimmerman from Microsoft; Anat Caspi and Richard Ladner from UW CREATE; and Clayton Lewis from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Caspi to lead collaborative $11.45M Transportation Data Equity Initiative

Tools like Google Directions and OneBusAway give up-to-date travel and transit information to make regional transit easier for most. But mobility applications focus on efficiency and shortest paths, leaving out information critical to people with disabilities, older adults, and anybody needing more support.

The Taskar Center for Accessible Technology, led by CREATE Associate Director for Translation Anat Caspi, and the UW’s Washington State Transportation Center will work with Microsoft, Google, the Washington Department of Transportation and other public and private partners to develop transit mobility technology as part of the Transportation Data Equity Initiative.

A bright pink placard with a wheelchair user icon and the words Step Free Route planted in bright green grass

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the project $11.45 million in January as part of a program focused on promoting independent mobility for all.

Anat Caspi, CREATE Director for Translation and Affiliate Assistant Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering

“Transportation and mobility play key roles in the struggle for civil rights and equal opportunity. Affordable and reliable transportation allows people access to important opportunities in education, employment, health care, housing and community life,” said project lead Anat Caspi.

“Our goal is to translate the UW’s accessible technology research and data science products into real-world use, building technology foundations for good and avoiding repetition of exclusion patterns of the past or creation of new travel barriers to individuals.”

This article was excerpted from the UW News. Read the full article.

New UW center bankrolled by Microsoft aims to make technology more accessible to disabled people

The Seattle Times | May 28, 2020

University of Washington professor Jacob Wobbrock figures the best way to make technology more accessible to disabled people is to anticipate their needs from the very beginning. “The world we live in is built on certain assumptions,’’ Wobbrock said. “If we question those assumptions right from the start when we design things, then suddenly things are accessible.’’

The Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experience (CREATE) is launching with a nine-member, interdisciplinary faculty led by Wobbrock and co-director Jennifer Mankoff. 

Read full Seattle Times article.

Microsoft invests $2.5M in CREATE, a new center for accessible tech at the University of Washington

GeekWire | May 28, 2020

Microsoft and the UW have long been aligned in a shared commitment to accessible technology and a world that is more accessible through technology. With a leadership team from six campus departments in three different colleges, CREATE will build upon the UW’s existing work in education, research and translation.

Read the full GeekWire article.

UW iSchool Ph.D. candidate Martez Mott works on Smart Touch technology with Ken Frye at Provail

$2.5 million inaugural investment from Microsoft launches CREATE

CREATE News | May 28, 2020
UW president Ana Mari Cauce, with Brad Smith, Tim Shriver and Jennifer Mankoff, announced the new center and Microsoft’s investment at the Microsoft Ability Summit on May 28.

With a mission to make technology accessible and to make the world accessible through technology, Microsoft’s support will build upon current projects in accessible transportation, augmenting abilities, inclusive design, and “do-it-yourself” technology.

The company’s endorsement of the UW’s accessibility work promises to catalyze additional investment, which, ultimately, could generate the full funding needed to provide long-term support for the Center. 

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