CREATE’s Newest Ph.D Graduates

June 9, 2023

We’re proud to see these talented, passionate students receive their Ph.D.s and excited to see how they continue their work in accessibility.

Alyssa Spomer, Ph.D. Mechanical Engineering

Dissertation: Evaluating multimodal biofeedback to target and improve motor control in cerebral palsy

Advisor: Kat Steele

Honors, awards and articles:

Current: Clinical Scientist at Gillette Children’s Hospital, leading research in the Gillette Rehabilitation Department to improve healthcare outcomes for children with complex movement conditions.

Elijah Kuska, Ph.D. Mechanical Engineering

Elijah Kuska smiling with a sunset in the background

Dissertation: In Silico Techniques to Improve Understanding of Gait in Cerebral Palsy

Advisor: Kat Steele

Honors, awards and articles:

Plans: Elija will start as an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Mines in the Mechanical Engineering Department in January 2024.

Megan Ebers, Ph.D. Mechanical Engineering

Headshot of Megan Ebers, a young woman with dark wavy hair, smiling broadly.

Dissertation: Machine learning for dynamical models of human movement

Advisors: Kat Steele and Nathan Kutz

Awards, honors and articles:

  • Dual Ph.D.s in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Math
  • NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Plans: Megan will join the UW AI Institute as a postdoc in Spring of 2023 to pursue clinical translation of her methods to evaluate digital biomarkers to support health and function from wearable data. 

Nicole Zaino, Ph.D. Mechanical Engineering

Headshot of Nicole Zaino, a young woman with wavy brown hair and teal eyeglasses.

Dissertation: Walking and rolling: Evaluating technology to support multimodal mobility for individuals with disabilities

Advisors: Kat Steele and Heather Feldner

Awards, honors and articles: 

  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, 2018 – Present
  • Gatzert Child Welfare Fellowship, University of Washington, 2022
  • Best Paper Award at the European Society of Movement Analysis for Adults and Children, 2019.
  • Finalist, International Society of Biomechanics David Winter Young Investigator Award, 2019

Plans: Nicole is headed to Bozeman Montana to join the Crosscut Elite Training team to work toward joining the national paralympic nordic ski team for Milano-Cortina 2026, while working part-time with academia and industry partners. 

Ricky Zhang

Headshot of Ricky Zhang, a young man with short hair, wearing black frame glasses and a gray business suit.

Dissertation: Pedestrian Path Network Mapping and Assessment with Scalable Machine Learning Approaches

Advisors: Anat Caspi and Linda Shapiro

Plans: Ricky will be a postdoc in Bill Howe’s lab at the University of Washington.

Kat Steele, who has been busy advising four out of five of these new PH.D.s, noted, “We have an amazing crew of graduate students continuing and expanding upon much of this work. We’re excited for new collaborations and translating these methods into the clinic and community.”

CREATE Ph.D. Student Emma McDonnell Wins Dennis Lang Award

June 6, 2023

Congratulations to Emma McDonnell on receiving a Dennis Lang Award from the UW Disability Studies program! McDonnell, a fourth year Ph.D. candidate in Human Centered Design & Engineering, is advised by CREATE associate director Leah Findlater.

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.

McDonnell’s research focuses on accessible communication technologies and explores how these tools could be designed to engage non-disabled people in making their communication approaches more accessible. She has studied how real-time captioning is used during videoconferencing and her current work is exploring how people caption their TikTok videos. 

The Dennis Lang Award recognizes undergraduate or graduate students across the UW who demonstrate academic excellence in disability studies and a commitment to social justice issues as they relate to people with disabilities.

This article is excerpted from Human Centered Design & Engineering news.

User-informed, robot-assisted social dining for people with motor impairments

June 1, 2023

A team of Allen School robotics researchers has published a paper on the finer aspects of robot-assisted dining with friends. “A meal should be memorable, and not for a potential faux pas from the machine,” notes co-author Patrícia Alves-Oliveira. Supported by a CREATE Student minigrant and in the spirit of “nothing about us without us,” they are working with the Tyler Schrenk Foundation to address the design of robot-assisted feeding systems that facilitate meaningful social dining experiences.

The team is led by Ph.D. student Amal Nanavati, postdoc Patrícia Alves-Oliveira and includes CREATE faculty member Maya Cakmak and community researcher Tyler Schrenk.

Teleconference screenshot of 4 people: Patrícia Alves-Oliveira (top left), Amal Nanavati (top right), Tyler Schrenk (bottom left), and an anonymous participant (bottom right)

Learn more:

Grant Opportunity for Disability Policy, Assistance

May 25, 2023

The U.S. Department of Labor has made available $2 million for the first year of a cooperative agreement for an employer-focused, disability policy development and technical assistance center. The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) helps employers, human resources professionals, and diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility staff find the resources they need to recruit, hire, retain and advance people with disabilities.

The deadline for application is June 23, 2023
Full announcement and application instructions

EARN’s work has received several awards, particularly for its popular Inclusion@Work Framework, a seven-part guide for building a disability-inclusive workplace.

The U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) aims to increase the number and quality of employment opportunities for people with disabilities by developing and influencing policies and practices.

Rethinking Disability and Advancing Access

UW CREATE collaborates toward a world with fewer problems and more solutions for people of all abilities.

The UW College of Engineering showcased CREATE’s mission, moonshots, and collaborative successes in a feature article, Rethinking disability and advancing access, written by Alice Skipton. The article is reproduced and reformatted here.

A person sitting in a wheelchair looking at a phone while two people are looking over her shoulder at the phone.
CREATE researchers and partners work on high-impact projects — such as those focused on mobility and on mobile device accessibility — advancing the inclusion and participation for people with disabilities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four people in the United States lives with a disability.

“The presence of disability is everywhere. But how disability has been constructed, as an individual problem that needs to be fixed, leads to exclusion and discrimination.”

Heather Feldner, UW Medicine assistant professor in Rehabilitation Medicine and a CREATE associate director

The construct also ignores the reality that people’s physical and mental abilities continually change. Examples include pregnancy, childbirth, illness, injuries, accidents and aging. Additionally, assuming that people all move, think or communicate in a certain way fails to recognize diverse bodies and minds. By ignoring this reality, technology and access solutions have traditionally been limited and limiting.

UW CREATE logo with icon of person with prosthetic arm holding a lightbulb and Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences, University of Washington

UW CREATE, a practical, applied research center, exists to counter this problem by making technology accessible and the world accessible through technology. Launched in early 2020 with support from Microsoft, the Center connects research to industry and the community.

On campus, it brings together accessibility experts and work-in-progress from across engineering, medicine, disability studies, computer science, information science and more, with the model always open to new collaborators. 

“Anyone interested in working in the area of accessible technology is invited to become part of CREATE,” says Jacob O. Wobbrock, a professor in the UW Information School and one of the founders and co-director of the Center.

Shooting for the moon

A toddler-aged child in a ride-on toy gaining mobility to explore other toys, accompanied by a researcher.
CREATE is partnering with UW I-LABS to explore how accessibility impacts young children’s development, identity and agency. Their study uses the only powered mobility device available in the U.S. designed for children one to three years old. Photo courtesy of UW CREATE.

“We have an amazing critical mass at UW of faculty doing accessibility research,” says Jennifer Mankoff, a professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and another founder and co-director of CREATE. “There’s also a lot of cross-talk with Microsoft, other technology leaders, and local and national community groups. CREATE wants to ensure people joining the workforce know about accessibility and technology and that the work they do while they are at UW directly and positively impacts the disability community.” The Center’s community and corporate partnerships approach increases creativity and real-world impact.

The concept of moonshots — technology breakthroughs resulting from advances in space exploration — offers a captivating way of thinking about the potential of CREATE’s research. The Center currently has four research moonshots for addressing technological accessibility problems. One focuses on how accessibility impacts young children’s development, identity and agency and includes a mobility and learning study with the UW Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) that employs the only powered mobility device available in the U.S. market specifically designed for children one to three years old. Another looks more broadly at mobility indoors and outdoors, such as sidewalk and transit accessibility. A third seeks ways to make mobile and wearable devices more accessible along with the apps people use every day to access such essentials as banking, gaming, transportation and more. A fourth works toward addressing access, equity and inclusion for multiply marginalized people.

“CREATE wants to ensure people joining the workforce know about accessibility and technology and that the work they do while they are at UW directly and positively impacts the disability community.”

— Jennifer Mankoff, founder and co-director of CREATE

For CREATE, advancing these moonshots isn’t just about areas where technologies already exist, like improving an interface to meet more people’s needs. It’s about asking questions and pushing research to address larger issues and inequities. “In certain spaces, disabled people are overrepresented, like in the unhoused or prison populations, or in health-care settings,” Mankoff says. “In others, they are underrepresented, such as in higher education, or simply overlooked. For example, disabled people are more likely to die in disaster situations because disaster response plans often don’t include them. We need to ask how technology contributes to these problems and how it can be part of the solution.”

Broader problem-solving abilities

For even greater impact, CREATE has situated these research moonshots within a practical framework for change that involves education initiatives, translation work and research funding. Seminars, conversations, courses, clubs and internship opportunities all advance the knowledge and expertise of the next generation of accessibility leaders. Translation work ensures that ideas get shaped and brought to life by community stakeholders and through collaborations with UW entities like the TASKAR Center for Accessible TechnologyHuskyADAPT and the UW Disability Studies Program, as well as through collaborations with industry leaders like Microsoft, Google and Meta. CREATE’s research funding adds momentum by supporting education, translation and direct involvement of people with disabilities.

Related story:
Sidewalk Equity

A person in wheelchair and another standing person at a city sidewalk

Engineering and computer science researchers seek to make digital wayfinding more equitable and accessible to more people.

Nicole Zaino, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student participating in CREATE’s early childhood mobility technology research, describes the immense benefits of having her education situated in the context of CREATE. “It’s broadened my research and made me a better engineer,” she says. She talks about the critical importance of end-user expertise, like the families participating in the mobility and learning study. Doing collaborative research and taking classes in other disciplines gives her more insights into intersecting issues. That knowledge and new vocabulary inform her work because she can search out research from different fields she otherwise wouldn’t have known about.

More equity advocates

At the same time, Zaino’s lived experience with her disability also broadens her perspective and enhances her research. She became interested in her current field when testing out new leg braces and seeing other assistive technology on the shelves at the clinic. For Mankoff, it was the reverse. She worked in the field and then experienced disability when diagnosed with Lyme disease, something she’s incorporated into her research. Wobbrock got a front-row seat to mobility and accessibility challenges when he severely herniated his L5-S1 disc and couldn’t sit down for two years. For Feldner, although she studied disability academically as a physical therapist and in disability studies, first-hand experiences came later in her career when she became a disability advocate for one of her children and a parent. At CREATE, more than 50% of those involved have some lived experience with disability. This strengthens the Center by bringing a diversity of perspectives and first-hand knowledge about how assumptions often get in the way of progress. 

closeup image of a smartphone with many small app icons.jpg

Seeking to push progress further on campus, CREATE has an initiative on research at the intersection of race, disability and technology with the Allen School, the Simpson Center for the Humanities, the Population Health Initiative, the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity, the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Office of the ADA Coordinator. 

CDC statistics show that the number of people experiencing a disability is higher when examined through the lens of race and ethnicity. With events and an open call for proposals, the initiative seeks increased research and institutional action in higher education, health care, artificial intelligence, biased institutions and more. 

“If we anticipate that people don’t conform to certain ability assumptions, we can think ahead,” says Wobbrock. “What would that mean for a particular technology design? It’s a longstanding tenant of accessibility research that better access for some people results in better access for all people.”


Make a gift

By supporting UW CREATE, you can help make technology accessible and make the world accessible through technology.

Donate to CREATE


A11yBoard Seeks to Make Digital Artboards Accessible to Blind and Low-Vision Users

Just about everybody in business, education, and artistic settings needs to use presentation software like Microsoft PowerPoint, Google Slides, and Adobe Illustrator. These tools use artboards to hold objects such as text, shapes, images, and diagrams. But for blind and low vision (BLV) people, using such software adds a new level of challenge beyond keeping our bullet points short and images meaningful. They experience:

  • High added cognitive load
  • Difficulty determining relationships between objects
  • Uncertainty if an operation has been successful

Screen readers, which were built for 1-D text information, don’t handle 2-D information spaces like artboards well.

For example, NVDA and Windows Narrator would only report artboard objects in their Z-order – regardless of where those objects are located or whether they are visually overlapping – and only report its shape name without any other useful information.

From A11yBoard video: still image of an artboard with different shapes and the unhelpful NVDA & Windows Narrator explanation as text.

To address these challenges Zhuohao (Jerry) Zhang, a CREATE Ph.D. student advised by Jacob O. Wobbrock at the ACE Lab, asked: 

  • Can digital artboards in presentation software be made accessible for blind and low-vision users to read and edit on their own?
  • Can we design interaction techniques to deliver rich 2-D information to screen reader users?

The answer is yes! 

They developed a multidevice, multimodal interaction system – A11yBoard – to mirror the desktop’s canvas on a mobile touchscreen device, and enabled rapid finger-driven screen reading via touch, gesture, and speech. 

Blind and low-vision users can explore the artboard by using a “reading finger” to move across objects and receive audio tone feedback. They can also use a second finger to “split-tap” on the screen to receive detailed information and select this object for further interactions.

From A11yBoard video: still image showing touch and gesture combos that help blind and low vision users lay out images and text.

“Walkie-talkie mode,” when turned on by dwelling a finger on the screen like turning on a switch, lets users “talk” to the application. 

Users can therefore access tons of details and properties of objects and their relationships. For example, they can ask for a number of closest objects to understand what objects are near to explore. As for some operations that are not easily manipulable using touch, gesture, and speech, we also designed an intelligent keyboard search interface to let blind and low-vision users perform all object-related tasks possible. 

Through a series of evaluations with blind users, A11yBoard was shown to provide intuitive spatial reasoning, multimodal access to objects’ properties and relationships, and eyes-free reading and editing experience of 2-D objects. 

Currently, much digital content has been made accessible for blind and low-vision people to read and “digest.” But few technologies have been introduced to make the creation process accessible to them so that blind and low-vision users can create visual content on their own. With A11yBoard, we have gained a step towards a bigger goal – to make heavily visual-based content creation accessible to blind and low-vision people.

Paper author Zhuohao (Jerry) Zhang is a second-year Ph.D. student at the UW iSchool. His work in HCI and accessibility focuses on designing assistive technologies for blind and low-vision people. Zhang has published and presented at CHI, UIST, and ASSETS conferences, receiving a CHI best paper honorable mention award, a UIST best poster honorable mention award, and a CHI Student Research Competition Winner, and featured by Microsoft New Future of Work Report 2022. He is advised by CREATE Co-Director Jacob O. Wobbrock.

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

Postdoc Research Spotlight: Making Biosignal Interfaces Accessible

The machines and devices we use every day – for example, touch screens, gas pedals, and computer track pads – interpret our actions and intentions via sensors. But these sensors are designed based on assumptions about our height, strength, dexterity, and abilities. When they aim for the average person (who does not actually exist), they aren’t usable or accessible. 

CREATE Post-doctoral student Momona Yamagami seeks to integrate personalization and customization into sensor design and the resulting algorithms baked into the products we use. Her research has shown that biosignal interfaces that use electromyography sensors, accelerometers, and other biosignals as inputs provide promise to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

In a recent presentation of her research as a CREATE postdoctoral scholar, she emphasizes that generalized models that are not personalized to the individual’s abilities, body sizes, and skin tones may not perform well.

Momona Yamagami presenting her biosignal research, with a slide noting that biosignals fluctuate and are higher on the neural circuitry.
Momona Yamagami presenting her biosignal research, with a slide noting that biosignals fluctuate and are higher on the neural circuitry and a smartwatch as an “always on” sensors for continuous health monitoring.

Individualized interfaces that are personalized to the individual and their abilities could significantly enhance accessibility. Continuous (i.e., 2-dimensional trajectory-tracking) and discrete (i.e., gesture) electromyography (EMG) interfaces can be personalized to the individual: 

  • For the continuous task, we used methods from game theory to iteratively optimize a linear model that mapped EMG input to cursor position.
  • For the discrete task, we developed a dataset of participants with and without disabilities performing gestures that are accessible to them.
  • As biosignal interfaces become more commonly available, it is important to ensure that such interfaces have high performance across a wide spectrum of users.

Momona Yamagami is completing her time as a CREATE postdoctoral scholar, advised by CREATE Co-director Jennifer Mankoff. Starting summer 2023, Yamagami will be an Assistant Professor at Rice University Electrical & Computer Engineering as part of the Digital Health Initiative.

Accessible eSports Showcase 2023: Event Recap

In April 2023, CREATE hosted its first ever Accessible eSports Showcase event, bringing together members of the CREATE community, local community organizations, tech and games Corporate Partners, and folks from all over the Seattle area looking to learn about and celebrate ongoing strides being made in making video games more inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities.

Zillow Commons in the Bill & Melinda Gates Center was transformed into a gamer’s playground with big-screen projections of racing and party games, a VR space, and stations where users could customize their own adaptive gaming tech.

UW CREATE Presents: Accessible eSports Showcase 2023 with a colorful digital background.

CREATE’s Community Partners had showcase tables, demoing the latest advances in accessible gaming technology. And UW graduate students, undergraduates, and postdocs highlighted the many creative ways they’ve worked to make games accessible:

  • Event co-organizers Jesse Martinez (Ph.D. student, CSE) and Momona Yamagami (Postdoc, UW CREATE) opened with an overview of the many accommodations and community access norms they established for the event.
  • Emma McDonnell (Ph.D. Student, HCDE) live-narrated a round of Jackbox Games’s Fibbage, followed by a competitive mixed-ability showdown in the Xbox racing game DiRT 5, in which Martinez, taking his turn as emcee/color commentator, highlighted the many techniques being used to make Xbox gameplay accessible.
  • Rachel Franz (Ph.D. Student, iSchool) let attendees try out her latest work in accessible VR research.
  • Jerry Cao (Ph.D. Student, CSE) showed attendees how to use custom 3D-printed input devices for computer accessibility.
  • A brilliant team of undergraduates from HuskyADAPT, including Mia Hoffman, Neha Arunkumar, Vivian Tu, Spencer Madrid, Simar Khanuja, Laura Oliveira, Selim Saridede, Noah Shalby, and Veronika Pon, demoed three fantastic projects working to bring improved switch access to video games.
Momona Yamagami and Jesse Martinez open the Accessible eSports Showcase in front of a large screen with a dedicated screen showing a sign language interpreter.

Corporate and Community Partners connected with the CREATE community and engage directly with our many attendees.

  • Solomon Romney, of Microsoft’s Inclusive Tech Lab, showcased the brilliant design of the Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC), the state-of-the-art tool in accessible controller design, and guided attendees through setting up and playing with their own XACs.
  • Amber Preston of Seattle Adaptive Sports described the work SAS does to make all sorts of games and recreational activities more accessible and inclusive in the Seattle area.
  • Other corporate and community partners, including researchers from Meta, Google, and Apple, were on hand to meet and connect with attendees around other exciting developments in the accessible gaming space.
Three student members at the HuskyADAPT table, sharing information and video about the program.
The Seattle Adaptive Sports table, with the different size balls used in games and a screen showing video of disabled athletes playing.

The organizers thank all attendees, partners, volunteers, and organizers for making the event such a success! As gaming accessibility continues to blossom, we’re looking forward to doing more events like in the future – we hope to see you at the next one! 

Pre-event announcement

Who should attend?

Anyone is welcome to attend this event! In particular, we extend the invitation to anyone who has an interest in video game accessibility, who works in the games industry, or who is a member of the Seattle-area disability community.

More information about the event will be available here soon! In the meantime, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to our event co-organizer Jesse Martinez at We hope to see you there!

Stipend and paid parking for non-UW-affiliated attendees

For our attendees with disabilities who are not affiliated with UW, we will have a $50 stipend to cover local travel and time spent at the event. You will receive a gift card link within 10 business days after the event. We will also pay for event parking. We hope that will be helpful in covering some of the costs of attending this event.


Mainstage gameplay

Attendees can go head-to-head in our accessible esports tournament that will include Forza Horizon 5 and Rocket League.

Spotlight tables

Engage with CREATE corporate and community partners around game accessibility, including Seattle Adaptive Sports, Microsoft XBox, HuskyADAPT, and UW CREATE. Participate in accessible gaming tech demos, and more!

Non-competitive gameplay

In addition to the mainstage gameplay, there will be various accessible video games available to play, ranging from cooperative games to streamed large-audience party games. We’ll also have a VR station available! Games will include

  • Jackbox Party Pack Games
  • Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
  • Beat Saber

Socializing, networking and food

We will also have designated spaces for attendees to socialize with each other and make new connections in the accessible gaming space. Dinner will be provided.

Accessibility & logistics

Wheelchair-accessible space & accommodations

The building entrance is level from Stevens Way and Zillow Commons is wheelchair-accessible via the elevator and wide doorways. A volunteer will be at the building entrance to help guide you to the event.

We will have the following accommodations in place:

  • Live gameplay commentary on Mainstage gameplay
  • Captions and ASL interpretation for all Mainstage content
  • Quiet room with ample seating and a silent livestream of Mainstage gameplay
  • Complimentary food and beverages
  • Screen reader-accessible online event program/guide

Adaptive devices

For those interested in playing games, we will have the following devices:

  • Xbox Adaptive Controllers with customizable switches, joysticks, and foot pedals
  • Additional specialty gaming equipment provided by industry partners (TBD)

If you have any additional accommodation requests, please include them in your event registration, or reach out to Jesse Martinez at

Considerations to keep in mind  

During the event, attendees can support each other with the following considerations:

  • Introduce yourself by name in a conversation.
  • Keep pathways clear, and be mindful of others when navigating the space.
  • DO NOT touch other attendees, their assistive devices, or their mobility devices without consent.
  • Please keep conversation family-friendly as there are children at the event.
  • Please wear a mask and keep your hands clean (hand sanitizer is available throughout the venue).


Please reach out to Jesse Martinez (event co-organizer) at with questions about this event.

International Disability Rights: Past, Present, & Future – A Must-See Public Lecture with Senator Floyd Morris

International Disability Rights: Past, Present, & Future
Public Lecture with Senator Floyd Morris

Wednesday, April 19, 2023, 2:30 p.m.
HUB 340
Free and open to the public

Floyd Morris, Ph.D., is the Director of the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of the West Indies, a current Member and Past President of the Senate of Jamaica – where he was also their first Blind member – and Special Rapporteur on Disability for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). He has researched inclusion of persons with disabilities in several aspects of Jamaican life and published numerous books and articles.

Senator Floyd Morris, a black man wearing a grey suit and red tie, seated in front of the Jamaican flag.

Senator Morris is a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is the treaty body charged with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation and interpretation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

Sponsored by the UW Center for Global Studies, UW Disability Studies, and Law, Societies, and Justice programs to welcome visiting lecturer Floyd Morris.

Advisory Board: Welcome ChrisTiana ObeySumner

CREATE welcomes our newest Advisory Board member, ChrisTiana ObeySumner.

ObeySumner (they/them) is the CEO and principal consultant of Epiphanies of Equity LLC (, a social equity consulting firm specializing in change management, social and organizational psychology, intersectional equity and liberation, and disability justice.

ChrisTiana ObeySumner: a Black, queer, non-binary, and multiply disabled researcher in front of a bright red background

For two decades, they’ve dedicated their life and career to exploring and practicing innovative approaches to achieving social equity – in other words, how to sustainably and effectively bring parity to areas of disparity so “humans can human with other humans” equitably, collectively, and intersectionally.

ObeySumner joins board members Mary Bellard, Amy Hurst (who also joined recently), and Jonathan Lazar. Rory A. Cooper and Juan E Gilbert are concluding their board memberships this spring; we thank them for their perspective and expertise over the past two years.

Faculty essay: Signs of Disability

By Stephanie Kerschbaum, CREATE faculty member, Associate Professor of English, and Director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric

I’ve just returned to Seattle from a trip to a conference in Chicago. On that trip, I pointed out to a friend a billboard in a downtown Chicago bus stop inviting viewers to learn to recognize the signs of a rare medical condition. And just a bit later, at my gate in O’Hare, I found myself sitting across from a large advertisement sorrowfully highlighting the signs of autism.

Headshot of Stephanie Kerschbaum, a white woman with short, red hair wearing a suit and pearls

I can’t go very far in my everyday experience without encountering scores of material signs that point in various ways to disability. They’re not always giant billboards trumpeting the signs of a particular disability, but collectively, despite the fact that these signs are often well-intentioned, they nevertheless reinforce problematic orientations to disability that circumscribe how, where, and when disability can be noticed.

Billboards like these signs had a great deal to do in motivating my work in Signs of Disability. One of the stories I tell in the book has to do with a yellow diamond-shaped “Deaf Person in Area” road sign that appeared in my neighborhood and which I subsequently spent a lot of time talking about with people around me. At first, when I pointed the sign out to my husband, we laughed about it. “Good thing we live in the neighborhood,” I joked to him, “so that there actually is a Deaf Person in the Area.” But when I shared this story with other people, they didn’t always think it was funny.

The tension I felt between my own sense that the Deaf Person in Area sign did very little to meaningfully support attention to deafness and other people’s strong defenses of the sign (and others like it) was key to helping me build one of the core conceptual terms in Signs of Disability. That term, dis-attention, is an intentionally clunky neologism that points to the ways that disability is simultaneously hyper-perceptible and invisible in everyday life. The Deaf Person in Area needed a bold yellow sign warning others about her presence, but of course no one passing the sign has any idea who this Deaf Person in Area actually is, nor would they likely be able to identify the Deaf Person in Area.

As a middle-aged white deaf cisgender woman in a heteronormative relationship, how deafness appeared on my body and became available for others to notice was a complicated question, and deafness was never legible outside of its entanglements with race, gender, sexuality, age, environment, and more. I started by pointing to my behind-the-ear hearing aids or the ways that others might interpret the sound of my voice or encounters where I am signing with other people or encounters where I announce or name my deafness in an interaction. But the list of ways that someone might identify cues pointing to deafness kept growing, and were interactionally contingent as well as tied up in others’ perceptual practices which are themselves shaped by and through cultural milieus often saturated with ableism and dominant orientations to disability that limit how and when it can be perceived.

Learning to recognize the signs of disability involves building a conceptual and practical vocabulary, to have embodied and en-minded experiences that make such signs available for noticing, and the central project of the book is to invite readers to consider not only how dis-attention shapes perception of disability, but also the ways that disabled ways of knowing and being can help change how disability comes to be noticed and to matter in the world.

CSE course sequence designed with “accessibility from the start”

The CSE 121, 122, and 123 introductory course sequence lets students choose their entry point into computer science and engineering studies, whatever their background, experience, or confidence level. And, as part of the effort to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA), the courses were designed with “accessibility from the start.”

A member of the course development team was a dedicated accessibility expert, tasked with developing guidelines for producing accessible materials: using HTML tags correctly, providing alt text for all images, and ensuring accurate captions on all videos. The team audited both content and platforms — including the course website — for accessibility concerns.

In CSE’s DEIA Newsletter article, author Brett Wortzman, Associate Teaching Faculty, points out that “many of the guidelines followed are good universal design, helping all students, not just those with disabilities, and at the same time reducing the work for instructors needing to comply with many DRS [Disability Resources for Students] accommodations.”

Excerpted from article by Brett Wortzman, Associate Teaching Faculty, in CSE’s DEIA Newsletter.

Honoring Judy Heumann’s outsized impact

Judy Heumann — disability activist and leader, presidential advisor to two administrations, polio survivor and quadriplegic — passed away on Saturday, March 4. Heumann’s family invited the community to honor her life at a memorial service and burial that is now available on video with ASL, captioning, and English interpretation of Yiddish included.

Who was Judy Heumann?

Judy Heumann fought for disabled rights and against segregation. She led the “longest nonviolent occupation of a federal building in American history,” according to the New York Times. When communications were cut off by the government, she passed messages to supporters using sign language and received support from the Black Panthers and the Mayor of San Francisco. The protest led to successful action on section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Heumann did not stop there. According to President Biden, “Her courage and fierce advocacy resulted in the Rehabilitation ActIndividuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act – landmark achievements that increased access to education, the workplace, housing, and more for people with disabilities.” Heumann talked in a 2020 article in Ability Magazine about the importance of “helping people to identify and understand the scope of disability that the ADA and other laws cover.” She believed in an expansive view of disability, and wanted to see more people included in the disability rights movement, stating “… I think it’s a combination of shame and fear that we may not be talking about if we have diabetes or epilepsy or cancer or anxiety or depression or bipolar or whatever. …I think expanding our circle is one of the big issues that we need to be dealing with over the next five to ten years.” Heumann went on to talk about the power of knowing that you have rights under the law, recognizing and fighting discrimination, and the importance of diversifying the disability movement by race, religion and sexual orientation: “We need to have an understanding, for example, of the fact that [disparities] may exist in various communities based on race and socio-economic status, how there are people within the U.S. who are not benefiting from laws because they don’t have the resources to hire an attorney or an advocate. The government, in my view, is not always enforcing laws as they should be.”

Heumann’s auto-biography, Being Heumann came out in 2020 (co-authored with Kristen Joiner). Crip Camp documents the 1970s birth of Heumann’s and other activists’ advocacy for people with disabilities. Ability Magazine inter-view touching on the ADA, the increasing diversity of the disability community, and the pandemic.

CREATE Co-director Jennifer Mankoff noted that, “Personally speaking, her influence on my career has been indirect but important. In my first years as a faculty member, at UC Berkeley, the Center for Independent Living (which Heumann founded and called “the first organization in the world to be run for and by the disabled” according to the NY Times) reached out to educate me about disability activism, through another leader, Scott Leubking. At the same time, I began to learn about disability studies work with the help of Berkeley’s nascent disability studies program and specifically academic and activist Devva Kasnitz. These early encounters directly influenced the direction of my research and advocacy and are visible today in CREATE’s emphasis on disability studies and disability justice and entwining them in its accessibility work.”

Learn more about Judy Heumann

Heumann’s auto-biography, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, published in 2020 and co-authored with Kristen Joiner. 
Crip Camp documents the 1970s birth of Heumann’s and other activists’ advocacy for people with disabilities.
Ability Magazine interview touching on the ADA, the increasing diversity of the disability community, and the pandemic.

UW and CREATE extended family shine in SIGCHI Awards

We’re so proud to have learned from and collaborated with these shining stars! UW and CREATE faculty and our extended family are prominent in the recently announced 2023 SIGCHI Awards. All three winners of the SIGCHI dissertation award, which recognizes “the most outstanding research contributions from recently graduated Ph.D. students within the HCI community” are associated with the UW, CREATE, and/or our campus partner, UW DUB (Design. Use. Build). 

Congratulations to all!

Screenshot from SIGCHI '23 awards page labeled "Outstanding Dissertation" with photos of Megan Hofmann, Dhruv Jain, and Kai Lukoff.

Dhruv Jain, ‘22 Ph.D. UW Computer Science & Engineering

Jain’s dissertation was honored for “advancing the design and evaluation of interactive systems to improve sound awareness for people who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH). This research, drawing on his own experience as a person who is hard of hearing, has two goals: first, to better understand how DHH people feel about technology-mediated sound awareness and how these feelings manifest across contexts; and second, to design, build, and study new technical solutions for sound using iterative, human-centered design.” Jain is now an Assistant Professor in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan.

Kai Lukoff, ‘22 Ph.D., UW Human Centered Design & Engineering

Lukoff’s dissertation Designing to Support Sense of Agency for Time Spent on Digital Interfaces addresses the problem that mobile devices are omnipresent in many people’s lives, and yet many people are dissatisfied with how much and when they use them. They adopt various devices and apps for their promise to connect with others, to accomplish tasks, and to be entertained, but may then find that their use–or others’ use–of those very same apps and devices gets in the way of connection, productivity, and meaningful entertainment. Lukoff is now an assistant professor in computer science and engineering at Santa Clara University, where he directs the Human-Computer Interaction Lab. Read more about Lukoff’s research on HCDE.

Megan Hofmann, ‘22 Ph.D. Human-Computer Interaction, Carnegie Mellon

  • CREATE and UW DUB alum

SIGCHI recognizes Hofmann’s research on “Optimizing Medical Making” for taking “a strong interdisciplinary approach, both with improved understanding of an important domain, and substantive technical contributions, using methodologies ranging from systems and programming language contributions, to ethnographic methods. This has allowed the work to make contributions in multiple areas such as accessibility, software tools, and digital fabrication.” Hofmann was advised by CREATE co-director Jennifer Mankoff at Carnegie Mellon University. Hofmann is currently an assistant professor of computer science and mechanical engineering at the Khoury College of Computer Sciences at Northeastern University.

Screenshot from SIGCHI '23 awards page labeled "Societal Impact" with photo of Nicola Dell.

Nicola Dell, ’15 Ph.D. UW Computer Science and Engineering

Dell received a Societal Impact Award, cited for exemplary work that represents an unusually ‘full stack’ model of intervention and social impact. “She has been the driving force in putting tech-related Intimate Partner Violence abuses on the radar of companies, government, and HCI as a field; has offered direct and meaningful support to survivors; and has produced real-world changes that have begun to combat this pervasive and insidious problem.” Dell is currently an associate professor of information and computer science at Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute.

CREATE Co-director Jennifer Mankoff received the Social Impact Award in 2022.

Screenshot from SIGCHI '23 awards page labeled "Lifetime Research" with photo of Gregory Abowd.

Gregory Abowd, ’91 Ph.D. Computation, University of Oxford, UK

  • Mentor and advisor to some of the most influential leaders in accessibility, usability, and HCI at the UW and beyond.

And we’re appreciating the influence of Lifetime Research Award recipient Gregory Abowd, ’91 Ph.D. Computation, University of Oxford, UK. A leader in disability research with a focus specifically on autism, Abowd has mentored or advised CREATE co-director Jennifer Mankoff and many CREATE members and DUB faculty, including Anind Dey (Dean of the UW iSchool), Julie Kientz (Chair of UW HCDE), and Shwetak Patel (professor in UW CSE and ECE). SIGCHI described Abowd as, “A world leader in the invention and application of ubiquitous computing technologies, his work has defined the field over the past three decades, and his intellectual contributions have shaped two major themes in ubiquitous computing: context-aware computing and automated capture and access of live experiences. He has shown how a variety of application areas—the classroom, the home, autism, and health care—benefit from innovations in mobile and ubiquitous technologies.

The Here And Now Project – A Community Partner Profile

The Here and Now Project's logo, with a red map location marker in place of the O in Now.

The mission of The Here and Now Project (H&NP) is to connect and empower the paralysis community in the Pacific Northwest. They provide care baskets, adaptive water bottles, and peer support to the newly paralyzed and host a rotating calendar of monthly gatherings and other seasonal events and activities throughout Western Washington.

H&NP Co-founder and President Kenny Salvini shared the project’s inspiration, recent successes, and foremost goals.

“I’ve learned that everyone I meet has a story and a voice that has the power to change the lives of others as well as their own,” said Salvini.

Salvini’s own story took a sudden turn 19 years ago. He was skiing as he often did–going big on Snoqualmie Pass. But an accident turned the confident daredevil into an isolated and depressed quadriplegic. It all changed again after a conversation with others with similar stories.

Kenny Salvini, seated in a powered wheelchair controlled by head movements with an adapted water bottle. He is wearing a puffy jacket and a baseball cap.

Salvini cofounded The Here and Now Project to provide what he needed: connection, community, support.

Bringing people together and letting the sparks fly

Through private support groups, community activities and larger annual gatherings, H&NP has created a fellowship who encourage and inspire each other to “Do Life” ​in the ​here and now. This interchange of experience has provided strength and hope for members to create more enhanced, accessible, and independent lives.

Ten wheelchair users gathered at a Here And Now  Project event.

One more piece of assistive tech away from our fullest potential

Two major issues facing H&NP members, after cost, are flexibility and interchangeability. “Many of our members rely on multiple modes of AT to move through the world. As a C3-4 complete quadriplegic rolling around on a head-controlled power wheelchair, I could only control my Apple iPhone with Switch Control by stopping and changing to a different mode on my chair. The advent of Voice Control allowed me to multitask and get work done while moving through the house or strolling down a trail, but the minute it gets loud in my vicinity, I still have the option to use my switches to get stuff done,” explained Salvini.

“Accessible and assistive technology remove barriers to independence and have literally saved my life and helped me find purpose after my injury. I always say that everyone is one more piece of assistive tech away from their fullest potential, whether that’s a simple pair of off-the-shelf reading eyeglasses, or some of the emerging brain-computer interface technology aimed at helping folks with late stage ALS regain the ability to communicate,” Salvini emphasized.

As a CREATE Community Partner, H&NP encourages members to participate in research studies on safe and accessible housing, assistive devices, and... As experts in their own lived experiences, we look to their knowledge and input to improve devices, technology, and tools for people living with paralysis.

Looking ahead: More outreach, more partnerships with organizations like CREATE

“We are just wrapping up a round of strategic planning to set some concrete goals, but it is really about expanding our outreach to the newly diagnosed and those in the underserved cross-sections of the community that are still falling through the cracks. We also want to continue building connections with the hospitals that serve our community, and all the great organizations like CREATE that are doing meaningful work to improve the lives of all people with disabilities.”

Over the two decades since his 2004 spinal cord injury, Salvini says he has learned that his ongoing mental, emotional, and spiritual recovery benefits greatly from meeting and learning from others in similar situations. “With H&NP, we are looking to create spaces where folks from all facets of our increasingly intersectional community can come together and do the same,” he said.

Successes: A program for kids and a return to meeting knee-to-knee

Asked about recent accomplishments and milestones, Salvini noted a recent partnership between H&NP and Seattle Children’s Hospital to create a youth-to-adult peer support program called Here Now Next. The seven-session series is facilitated by active adult members who were all injured or diagnosed in their youth and is designed to offer mentorship and guidance for participants and their families. “We recently completed our second pilot with a group of remarkable young people, and there is a lot of energy and excitement around the program as a whole,” Salvini said.

“Beyond that, I’d say our biggest accomplishment was simply the return to our in-person programming after two full years of strictly virtual gatherings. The pandemic hit us hard because we serve a community that trends a little more medically fragile. While I’m proud of the way we pivoted to the virtual space, it was really nice to get knee-to-knee with our people once again.”

Kenny Salvini is a co-founder and President of The Here and Now Project, a writer for New Mobility Magazine, and an advocate on the local and national levels. He shared his story and the successes and current goals of H&NP with CREATE’s Public Community Engagement and Partnerships Manager, Kathleen Quin Voss.

Postdoctoral Fellowship application open: Accessibility researcher in physical computing and fabrication

Update: January 2, 2024

CREATE, the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, the College of Engineering, and the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine have an opening for a Postdoctoral Scholar.

The goal of this fellowship is to train leaders in accessibility research who can harness advances in physical computing and fabrication to enhance community living and participation with people with disabilities. Specifically, we seek applicants who are interested in developing their skills and expertise investigating how fabrication technologies (e.g., 3D printing and machine knitting) and physical computing technologies can be used to address challenges in rehabilitation technology and accessibility. Applicants from technical backgrounds (e.g., computer science or engineering), rehabilitation medicine (e.g., physical or occupational therapy), or disability studies are encouraged to apply. Multiple postdoctoral fellows with complementary backgrounds will be recruited to collaborate and advance multidisciplinary innovation. Each postdoctoral scholar will be mentored by at least two faculty from the CREATE center.

Application deadlines

Application review begins February 15, 2024 and continues until the position is filled. Start date is flexible but September 2024 is preferred. 

CREATE’s mission includes ensuring that people with disabilities are able to participate in the research process; and CREATE’s faculty and students include people with disabilities. CREATE also has funding to help address accessibility concerns above and beyond the support offered by the UW Campus disability offices. CREATE’s mission also includes a focus on racial equity and representation across intersectional identities.

Postdoctoral scholar appointments are full time, with a 12-month service period. Reappointments may be possible, inclusive of all postdoctoral experience at other institutions. Anticipated start is September 2024. This individual will work closely with a team of computer scientists, engineers, rehabilitation professionals, disability studies scholars and human computer interaction experts from CREATE to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

For this NIDILRR-funded research, the postdoctoral fellows will engage in 70% research, 20% didactics, and 10% community engagement. The primary responsibilities for each fellow will be to propose and execute an accessibility research project that uses physical computing and fabrication applications to improve community living for people with disabilities including scholarly publications and presentations; engage in coursework and seminars that supplement existing knowledge in areas of engineering, rehabilitation, and disability studies; engage with community organizations that serve disability communities in the Western Washington region to identify participation and technology needs; and facilitate a community-based physical computing workshop.  

We are looking for candidates who have a passion for multidisciplinary research and have expertise in one or more of: the technical aspects of accessibility; rehabilitation technology; disability studies; and fabrication/physical computing technologies. You will be working closely with people with disabilities, engineers, rehabilitation professionals, and other scientists throughout the research project. This training grant is led by four faculty from the Center for Research and Education in Accessible Technology and Experiences (CREATE):

The overarching mission of CREATE is to make technology accessible and make the world accessible through technology. We take a needs-based, human-centered approach to accessibility research and education, work closely with stakeholders in disability communities, and apply knowledge and skills across computer science, rehabilitation medicine, engineering, design, and disability studies to improve access and quality of life for diverse populations. More information about our center and on-going research can be found on the CREATE website.


Applicants must have a Ph.D. or foreign equivalent, at the start date of the position, in engineering, human centered design, or rehabilitation science. Other life sciences may be considered. Rehabilitation professionals should be licensed or eligible for licensure in their respective discipline in the State of Washington. Strong oral and written communication skills and the ability to work as an effective member of a multidisciplinary team are critical for the success of this research. Candidates may have no more than 48 months of prior postdoc experience in order to fulfill the initial 1-year appointment period.

Application instructions

Applicants should provide all of the following:

  1. A cover letter clearly describing your interest and relevant background in this project
  2. A CV
  3. Copies of two representative publications
  4. Contact information for three references

Submit application and materials to

Questions about the project and application may also be submitted to

Jacob O. Wobbrock awarded Ten-Year Technical Impact Award

January 5, 2023

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has honored CREATE Co-Director Jacob O. Wobbrock and colleagues with a 10-year lasting impact award for their groundbreaking work improving how computers recognize stroke gestures.

Jacob O. Wobbrock, a 40-something white man with short hair, a beard, and glasses. He is smiling in front of a white board.

Wobbrock, a professor in the Information School, and co-authors Radu-Daniel Vatavu and Lisa Anthony were presented with the 2022 Ten Year Technical Impact Award in November at the ACM International Conference on Multimodal Interaction (ICMI). The award honors their 2012 paper titled Gestures as point clouds: A $P recognizer for user interface prototypeswhich also won ICMI’s Outstanding Paper Award when it was published.

The $P point-cloud gesture recognizer was a key advancement in the way computers recognize stroke gestures, such as swipes, shapes, or drawings on a touchscreen. It provided a new way to quickly and accurately recognize what users’ fingers or styluses were telling their devices to do, and even could be used with whole-hand gestures to accomplish more complex tasks such as typing in the air or controlling a drone with finger movements.

The research built on Wobbrock’s 2007 invention of the $1 unistroke recognizer, which made it much easier for devices to recognize single-stroke gestures, such as a circle or a triangle. Wobbrock called it “$1” — 100 pennies — because it required only 100 lines of code, making it easy for user interface developers to incorporate gestures in their prototypes.

This article was excerpted from the UW iSchool article, iSchool’s Wobbrock Honored for Lasting Impact by Doug Parry

Rory Cooper, CREATE Advisory Board member, receives IEEE Biomedical Engineering Award

Congratulations to CREATE Advisory Board member Rory Cooper on receiving the 2022 IEEE Biomedical Engineering Award!

For more than 25 years, Cooper has been developing technology to improve the lives of people with disabilities and his inventions have helped countless wheelchair users get around with more ease and comfort. 

Rory A. Cooper, a white man with salt-and-pepper hair, dressed in a suit and tie.

Cooper’s first innovations in mobility were a modification to the back brace he wore after a spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the waist down, then a better wheelchair, then an electric-powered version that helped its user stand up. After earning his Ph.D. in electrical & computer engineering with a concentration in bioengineering at University of California at Santa Barbara, he focused his career on developing assistive technology.

Cooper (second from the left) and his colleagues—David Constantine, Jorge Candiotti, and Andrin Vuthaj (standing)—at the University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories working on the MEBot. Photo: ABIGAIL ALBRIGHT

Since 2013, Cooper and his team at the University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories have been working to develop advancements including a wheelchair that can travel on rough terrain. 

The most common cause of emergency-room visits by wheelchair users is falling from the chair or tipping over. “This often happens when the individual’s wheelchair hits thresholds in doorways, drives off small curbs, or transitions from a sidewalk to a ramp,” Cooper said.

The team hopes that the Mobility Enhancement Robotic Wheelchair, known as the MEBot, can minimize such injuries.

The MEBot, can climb curbs up to 20 centimeters high and can self-level as it drives over uneven terrain. It does so thanks to six wheels that move up and down plus two sets of smaller omnidirectional wheels in the front and back. The wheelchair’s larger, powered wheels can reposition themselves to simulate front-, mid-, or rear-wheel drive.

This article is excerpted from the IEEE Spectrum’s award announcement.

UnlockedMaps provides real-time accessibility info for rail transit users

Congratulations to CREATE Ph.D. student Ather SharifOrson (Xuhai) Xu, and team for this great project on transit access! Together they developed UnlockedMaps, a web-based map that allows users to see in real time how accessible rail transit stations are in six metro areas including Seattle, Philadelphia (where the project was first conceived by Sharif and a friend at a hackathon), Chicago, Toronto, New York, and the California Bay Area.

screenshot of UnlockedMaps in New York. Stations that are labeled green are accessible while stations that are labeled orange are not accessible. Yellow stations have elevator outages reported.

Shown here is a screenshot of UnlockedMaps in New York. Stations that are labeled green are accessible while stations that are labeled orange are not accessible. Yellow stations have elevator outages reported.

Sharif, a UW doctoral student in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering advised by CREATE Co-Director Jacob O. Wobbrock, said the team also included nearby and accessible restaurant and bathroom data. “I think restaurants and restrooms are two of the most common things that people look for when they plan their commute. But no other maps really let you filter those out by accessibility. You have to individually click on each restaurant and check if it’s accessible or not, using Google Maps. With UnlockedMaps, all that information is right there!”

Adapted from UW News interview with Ather Sharif. Read full article »

CREATE Contributes to RFP on Healthcare Accessibility

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) requested public comment about comprehensive, longitudinal, person-centered care planning for people with Multiple Chronic Conditions (MCC). CREATE contributed to a disability justice-focused response that highlights nine recommendations:

  1. Account for medical trauma.
  2. Meet basic standards for accessibility.
  3. Value individual and community knowledge about MCC.
  4. Treat accessibility as a first-class component of patient care.
  5. Prioritize community.
  6. Look beyond “care.”
  7. Remove financial barriers.
  8. Include people with MCC in planning.
  9. Enable people with MCC to enter clinical roles

Read the full response (PDF).