CREATE researchers find ChatGPT biased against resumes that imply disability, models improvement

June 24, 2024

While seeking research internships last year, CREATE Ph.D. student Kate Glazko noticed recruiters posting online that they’d used OpenAI’s ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence tools to summarize resumes and rank candidates. Advised by co-author and CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff in the Allen School, Glazko studies how generative AI can replicate and amplify real-world biases — such as those against disabled people.

So how might such a system, she wondered, rank resumes that implied someone had a disability? In a new study, UW researchers found that ChatGPT consistently ranked resumes with disability-related honors and credentials — such as the “Tom Wilson Disability Leadership Award” — lower than the same resumes without those honors and credentials. When asked to explain the rankings, the system spat out biased perceptions of disabled people. For instance, it claimed a resume with an autism leadership award had “less emphasis on leadership roles” — implying the stereotype that autistic people aren’t good leaders.

But when researchers customized the tool with written instructions directing it not to be ableist, the tool reduced this bias for all but one of the disabilities tested. Five of the six implied disabilities — deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy, autism and the general term “disability” — improved, but only three ranked higher than resumes that didn’t mention disability.

“Some of GPT’s descriptions would color a person’s entire resume based on their disability and claimed that involvement with DEI or disability is potentially taking away from other parts of the resume.”

Kate Glazko, CREATE doctoral student in the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering

Kate Glazko, a white woman in a UW sweatshirt grinning while holding a purple umbrella in the rain.

The team presented its findings June 5 at the 2024 ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency in Rio de Janeiro.

“Ranking resumes with AI is starting to proliferate, yet there’s not much research behind whether it’s safe and effective,” said Glazko, the study’s lead author. “For a disabled job seeker, there’s always this question when you submit a resume of whether you should include disability credentials. I think disabled people consider that even when humans are the reviewers.”

Researchers used one of the study’s authors’ publicly available curriculum vitae (CV), which ran about 10 pages. The team then created six enhanced CVs, each implying a different disability by including four disability-related credentials: a scholarship; an award; a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) panel seat; and membership in a student organization.

Researchers then used ChatGPT’s GPT-4 model to rank these enhanced CVs against the original version for a real “student researcher” job listing at a large, U.S.-based software company. They ran each comparison 10 times; in 60 trials, the system ranked the enhanced CVs, which were identical except for the implied disability, first only one quarter of the time.

“In a fair world, the enhanced resume should be ranked first every time,” said senior author Mankoff. “I can’t think of a job where somebody who’s been recognized for their leadership skills, for example, shouldn’t be ranked ahead of someone with the same background who hasn’t.”

When researchers asked GPT-4 to explain the rankings, its responses exhibited explicit and implicit ableism. For instance, it noted that a candidate with depression had “additional focus on DEI and personal challenges,” which “detract from the core technical and research-oriented aspects of the role.”

“Some of GPT’s descriptions would color a person’s entire resume based on their disability and claimed that involvement with DEI or disability is potentially taking away from other parts of the resume,” Glazko said. “For instance, it hallucinated the concept of ‘challenges’ into the depression resume comparison, even though ‘challenges’ weren’t mentioned at all. So you could see some stereotypes emerge.”

Given this, researchers were interested in whether the system could be trained to be less biased. They turned to the GPTs Editor tool, which allowed them to customize GPT-4 with written instructions (no code required). They instructed this chatbot to not exhibit ableist biases and instead work with disability justice and DEI principles.

They ran the experiment again, this time using the newly trained chatbot. Overall, this system ranked the enhanced CVs higher than the control CV 37 times out of 60. However, for some disabilities, the improvements were minimal or absent: The autism CV ranked first only three out of 10 times, and the depression CV only twice (unchanged from the original GPT-4 results).

“People need to be aware of the system’s biases when using AI for these real-world tasks, Glazko said. “Otherwise, a recruiter using ChatGPT can’t make these corrections, or be aware that, even with instructions, bias can persist.”

“It is so important that we study and document these biases… not only regarding disability, but also other minoritized identities.”

Jennifer Mankoff, CREATE Director and the Richard E. Ladner Professor, Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering

Researchers note that some organizations, such as ourability.com and inclusively.com, are working to improve outcomes for disabled job seekers, who face biases whether or not AI is used for hiring. They also emphasize that more research is needed to document and remedy AI biases. Those include testing other systems, such as Google’s Gemini and Meta’s Llama; including other disabilities; studying the intersections of the system’s bias against disabilities with other attributes such as gender and race; exploring whether further customization could reduce biases more consistently across disabilities; and seeing whether the base version of GPT-4 can be made less biased.

“It is so important that we study and document these biases,” Mankoff said. “We’ve learned a lot from and will hopefully contribute back to a larger conversation — not only regarding disability, but also other minoritized identities — around making sure technology is implemented and deployed in ways that are equitable and fair.”

Additional co-authors were Yusuf Mohammed, a UW undergraduate in the Allen School; Venkatesh Potluri, a recent CREATE Ph.D. and Allen School graduate; and Ben Kosa, who completed this research as a UW undergraduate in the Allen School and is an incoming doctoral student at University of Wisconsin–Madison. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation; by donors to the UW’s Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences (CREATE); and by Microsoft.

For more information, contact Kate Glazko and Jennifer Mankoff.

Related reading


Article adapted from the Stefan Milne article in UW News, June 21, 2024.

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.

CREATE Students Honored in Husky100

Two students selected for the 2024 Husky 100 exemplify CREATE’s mission to make technology accessible and make the world accessible through technology while involving people with lived disability experiences in their research.

Kianna Bolante

Kianna Bolante is an undergraduate student studying computer science who has deepened her understanding of accessibility needs and computing education research through her work in the Social Futures Lab run by Dr. Amy Ko, a CREATE and Allen School faculty member. As the Chair of the Computing Community in the Allen School, Bolante advocates for diversity in computing and has discovered deep connections between these endeavors and her commitment to service.

Bolante says she intends to center her future on creating community-minded and accessible resources that meet ongoing needs in computing, working towards a mission of equity and empowerment for others.

Kianna Bolante stands in a white dress and pink blazer in front of a vivid gold background for the Husky100 photo series.

Ethan Gordon

Ethan K. Gordon earned his doctorate from the Allen School 2023, studying robot-assisted feeding for people with mobility impairments. Through the work, he says, he developed a greater appreciation and understanding of community-based participatory research, ensuring that his work can improve people’s lives. As a CREATE Ph.D. student, Gordon co-led a team that created a set of 11 actions a robotic arm can make to pick up nearly any food attainable by fork. To read about the project, see How an assistive-feeding robot went from picking up fruit salads to whole meals. At the UW Gordon honed in on a successful research ethos, including: “Start with the simplest solution and build complexity as the need arises.”

Ethan K. Gordon poses for the Husky100 photo series wearing a vivid purple suit and yellow shirt while cradling a stuffed UW Husky dog.

Empowering users with disabilities through customized interfaces for assistive robots

March 15, 2024

For people with severe physical limitations such as quadriplegia, the ability to tele-operate personal assistant robots could bring a life-enhancing level of independence and self-determination. Allen School Ph.D. candidate Vinitha Ranganeni and her advisor, CREATE faculty member Maya Cakmak, have been working to understand and meet the needs of users of assistive robots.

This month, Ranganeni and Cakmak presented a video at the Human Robot Interaction (HRI) conference that illustrates the practical (and touching) ways deploying an assistive robot in a test household has helped Henry Evans require a bit less from his caregivers and connect to his family.

The research was funded by NIA/NIH Phase II SBIR Grant #2R44AG072982-02 and the NIBIB Grant #1R01EB034580-01

Captioned video of Henry Evans demonstrating how he can control an assistive robot using the customized graphical user interface he co-designed with CREATE Ph.D. student/Allen School Ph.D. candidate Vinitha Ranganeni.

Their earlier study, Evaluating Customization of Remote Tele-operation Interfaces for Assistive Robots, evaluated the usability and effectiveness of a customized, tele-operation interface for the Stretch RE2 assistive robot. The authors show that no single interface configuration satisfies all users’ needs and preferences. Users perform better when using the customized interface for navigation, and the differences in preferences between participants with and without motor impairments are significant.

Last summer, as a robotics engineering consultant for Hello Robot, Ranganeni led the development of the interface for deploying an assistive robot in a test household, that of Henry and Jane Evans. Henry was a Silicon Valley CFO when a stroke suddenly left him non-speaking and with quadriplegia. His wife Jane is one of his primary caregivers.

The research team developed a highly customizable graphical user interface to control Stretch, a relatively simple and lightweight robot that has enough range of motion to reach from the floor to countertops.

Work in progress, but still meaningful independence

Stretch can’t lift heavy objects or climb stairs. Assistive robots are expensive, prone to shutting down, and the customization is still very complex and time-intensive. And, as noted in an IEEE Spectrum article about the Evans’ installation, getting the robot’s assistive autonomy to a point where it’s functional and easy to use is the biggest challenge right now. And more work needs to be done on providing simple interfaces, like voice control. 

The article states, “Perhaps we should judge an assistive robot’s usefulness not by the tasks it can perform for a patient, but rather on what the robot represents for that patient, and for their family and caregivers. Henry and Jane’s experience shows that even a robot with limited capabilities can have an enormous impact on the user. As robots get more capable, that impact will only increase.”

In a few short weeks, Stretch made a difference for Henry Evans. “They say the last thing to die is hope. For the severely disabled, for whom miraculous medical breakthroughs don’t seem feasible in our lifetimes, robots are the best hope for significant independence,” says Henry.” 


Collaborator, advocate, and community researcher Tyler Schrenk

Though it has been many months since the death of Tyler Schrenk, a CREATE-funded researcher and a frequent collaborator, his impact is still felt in our collective research.

Tyler Schrenk making a presentation at the head of a lecture room. He has brown spiky hair, a full beard, and is seated in his power wheelchair.

Schrenk was a dedicated expert in the assistive technology field and led the way in teaching individuals and companies how to use assistive technologies to create independence. He was President & Executive Director of the Tyler Schrenk Foundation until his death in 2023. 


Related reading:

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.

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.

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.

Winter 2023 CREATE Research Showcase

December 12, 2023

Students from CSE 493 and additional CREATE researchers shared their work at the December 2023 CREATE Research Showcase. The event was well attended by CREATE students, faculty, and community partners. Projects included, for example: an analysis of the accessibility of transit stations and a tool to aid navigation within transit stations; an app to help colorblind people of color pick makeup; and consider the accessibility of generative AI while also considering ableist implications of limited training data.

CSE 493 student projects

In it’s first offering Autumn quarter 2023, CSE’s undergraduate Accessibility class has been focusing on the importance of centering first-person accounts in disability-focused technology work. Students worked this quarter on assignments ranging from accessibility assessments of county voting systems to disability justice analysis to open-ended final projects.

Alti Discord Bot »

Keejay Kim, Ben Kosa, Lucas Lee, Ashley Mochizuki

Alti is a Discord bot that automatically generates alt text for any image that gets uploaded onto Discord. Once you add Alti to your Discord server, Alti will automatically generate alt text for the image using artificial intelligence (AI).

Enhancing Self-Checkout Accessibility at QFC »

Abosh Upadhyaya, Ananya Ganapathi, Suhani Arora

Makes self-checkout more accessible to visually impaired individuals

Complexion Cupid: Color Matching Foundation Program »

Ruth Aramde, Nancy Jimenez-Garcia, Catalina Martinez, Nora Medina

Allows individuals with color blindness to upload an image of their skin, and provides a makeup foundation match. Additionally, individuals can upload existing swatches and will be provided with filtered photos that better show the matching accuracy.

Twitter Content Warnings »

Stefan D’Souza, Aditya Nair

A chrome extension meant to be used in conjunction with twitter.com in order to help people with PTSD

Lettuce Eat! A Map App for Accessibly Dietary Restrictions »

Arianna Montoya, Anusha Gani, Claris Winston, Joo Kim

Parses menus on restaurants’ websites to provide information on restaurants’ dietary restrictions to support individuals with specific dietary requirements, such as vegan vegetarian, and those with Celiac disease.

Form-igate »

Sam Assefa

A chrome extension that allows users with motor impairments to interact with google forms using voice commands, enhancing accessibility.

Lite Lingo: Plain Text Translator »

Ryan Le, Michelle Vu, Chairnet Muche, Angelo Dauz

A plain text translator to help individuals with learning disabilities

Matplotalt: Alt text for matplotlib figures »

Kai Nailund

[No abstract]

PadMap: Accessible Map for Menstrual Products »

Kirsten Graham, Maitri Dedhia, Sandy Cheng, Aaminah Alam

Our goal is to ensure that anywhere on campus, people can search up the closest free menstrual products to them and get there in an accessible way.

SCRIBE: Crowdsourcing Scientific Alt Text »

Sanjana Chintalapati, Sanjana Sridhar, Zage Strassberg-Phillips

A prototype plugin for arXiv that adds alt text to requested papers via crowdwork.

PalPalette »

Pu Thavikulwat, Masaru Chida, Srushti Adesara, Angela Lee

A web app that helps combat loneliness and isolation for young adults with disabilities

SpeechIT »

Pranati Dani, Manasa Lingireddy, Aryan Mahindra

A presentation speech checker to ensure a user’s verbal speech during presentation is accessible and understandable for everyone.

Enhancing Accessibility in SVG Design: A Fabric.js Solution »

Julia Tawfik, Kenneth Ton, Balbir Singh, Aaron Brown

A Laser Cutter Generator’ interface which displays a form to select shapes and set dimensions for SVG creation.

CREATE student and faculty projects

Designing and Implementing Social Stories in Technology: Enhancing Collaboration for Parents and Children with Neurodiverse Needs

Elizabeth Castillo, Annuska Zolyomi, Ting Zhou

Our research project, conducted through interviews in Panama, focuses on the user-centered design of technology to enhance autism social stories for children with neurodiverse needs. We aim to improve collaboration between parents, therapists, and children by creating a platform for creating, sharing, and tracking the usage of social stories. While our initial research was conducted in Panama, we are eager to collaborate with individuals from Japan and other parts of the world where we have connections, to further advance our work in supporting neurodiversity.

An Autoethnographic Case Study of Generative Artificial Intelligence’s Utility for Accessibility

Kate S Glazko, Momona Yamagami, Aashaka Desai, Kelly Avery Mack, Venkatesh Potluri, Xuhai Xu, Jennifer Mankoff

With the recent rapid rise in Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) tools, it is imperative that we understand their impact on people with disabilities, both positive and negative. However, although we know that AI in general poses both risks and opportunities for people with disabilities, little is known specifically about GAI in particular. To address this, we conducted a three-month autoethnography of our use of GAI to meet personal and professional needs as a team of researchers with and without disabilities. Our findings demonstrate a wide variety of potential accessibility-related uses for GAI while also highlighting concerns around verifiability, training data, ableism, and false promises.

Machine Learning for Quantifying Rehabilitation Responses in Children with Cerebral Palsy

Charlotte D. Caskey, Siddhi R. Shrivastav, Alyssa M. Spomer, Kristie F. Bjornson, Desiree Roge, Chet T. Moritz, Katherine M. Steele

Increases in step length and decreases in step width are often a rehabilitation goal for children with cerebral palsy (CP) participating in long-term treadmill training. But it can be challenging to quantify the non-linear, highly variable, and interactive response to treadmill training when parameters such as treadmill speed increase over time. Here we use a machine learning method, Bayesian Additive Regression Trees, to show that there is a direct effect of short-burst interval locomotor treadmill training on increasing step length and modulating step width for four children with CP, even after controlling for cofounding parameters of speed, treadmill incline, and time within session.

Spinal Stimulation Improves Spasticity and Motor Control in Children with Cerebral Palsy

Victoria M. Landrum, Charlotte D. Caskey, Siddhi R. Shrivastav, Kristie F. Bjornson, Desiree Roge, Chet T. Moritz, Katherine M. Steele

Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by a brain injury around the time of birth that leads to less refined motor control and causes spasticity, a velocity dependent stretch reflex that can make it harder to bend and move joints, and thus impairs walking function. Many surgical interventions that target spasticity often lead to negative impacts on walking function and motor control, but transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation (tSCS), a novel, non-invasive intervention, may amplify the neurological response to traditional rehabilitation methods. Results from a 4-subject pilot study indicate that long-term usage of tSCS with treadmill training led to improvements in spasticity and motor control, indicating better walking function.

Adaptive Switch Kit

Kate Bokowy, Mia Hoffman, Heather A. Feldner, Katherine M. Steele

We are developing a switch kit for clinicians and parents to build customizable switches for children with disabilities. These switches are used to help children play with computer games and adapted toys as an early intervention therapy.

Developing a Sidewalk Improvement Cost Function

Alex Kirchmeier, Cole Anderson, Anat Caspi

In this ongoing project, I am developing a Python script that uses a sidewalk issues dataset to determine the cost of improving Seattle’s sidewalks. My intention is to create a customizable function that will help users predict the costs associated with making sidewalks more accessible.

Exploring the Benefits of a Dynamic Harness System Using Partial Body Weight Support on Gross Motor Development for Infants with Down Syndrome

Reham Abuatiq, PT, MSc1; Mia Hoffman, ME, BSc2; Alyssa Fiss, PT, PhD3; Julia Looper, PT, PhD4; & Heather Feldner, PT, PhD, PCS1,5,6

We explored the benefits of a Dynamic Harness System Using Partial Body Weight Support (PBWS) within an enriched play environment on Gross Motor Development for Infants with Down Syndrome using randomized cross over study design. We found that the effectiveness of the PBWS harness system on gross motor development was clearly evident. The overall intervention positively affected activity levels, however, the direct impact of the harness remains unclear.

StreetComplete for Better Pedestrian Mapping

Sabrina Fang, Kohei Matsushima

StreetComplete is a gamified, structured, and user-friendly mobile application for users to improve OpenStreetMap data by completing pilot quests. OpenStreetMap is an open-source, editable world map created and maintained by a community of volunteers. The goal of this research project is to design pilot quests in StreetComplete to accurately collect information about “accessibility features,” such as sidewalk width and the quality of lighting, to improve accessibility for pedestrian mapping.

Transit Stations Are So Confusing!

Jackie Chen, Milena Johnson, Haochen Miao, and Raina Scherer

We are collecting data on the wayfinding nodes in four different Sound Transit light rail stations, and interpreting them through the GTFS-pathways schema. In the future, we plan on visualizing this information through AccessMaps such that it can be referenced by all users.

Optimizing Seattle Curbside Disability Parking Spots

Wendy Bu, Cole Anderson, Anat Caspi

The project is born out of a commitment to enhance the quality of life for individuals with disabilities in the city of Seattle. The primary objective is to systematically analyze and improve the allocation and management of curbside parking spaces designated for disabled individuals. By improving accessibility for individuals with disabilities, the project contributes to fostering a more equitable and welcoming urban environment.

Developing Accessible Tele-Operation Interfaces for Assistive Robots with Occupational Therapists

Vinitha Ranganeni, Maya Cakmak

The research is motivated by the potential of using tele-operation interfaces with assistive robots, such as the Stretch RE2, to enhance the independence of individuals with motor limitations in completing activities of daily living (ADLs). We explored the impact of customization of tele-operation interfaces and a deployed the Stretch RE2 in a home for several weeks facilitated by an occupational therapist and enabled a user with quadriplegia to perform daily activities more independently. Ultimately, this work aims to empower users and occupational therapists in optimizing assistive robots for individual needs.

HuskyADAPT: Accessible Design and Play Technology

HuskyADAPT Student Organization

HuskyADAPT is a multidisciplinary community at the University of Washington that supports the development of accessible design and play technology. Our community aims to initiate conversations regarding accessibility and ignite change through engineering design. It is our hope that we can help train the next generation of inclusively minded engineers, clinicians, and educators to help make the world a more equitable place.

A11yBoard for Google Slides: Developing and Deploying a Real-World Solution for Accessible Slide Reading and Authoring for Blind Users

Zhuohao (Jerry) Zhang, Gene S-H Kim, Jacob O. Wobbrock

Presentation software is largely inaccessible to blind users due to the limitations of screen readers with 2-D artboards. This study introduces an advanced version of A11yBoard, initially developed by Zhang & Wobbrock (CHI2023), which now integrates with Google Slides and addresses real-world challenges. The enhanced A11yBoard, developed through participatory design including a blind co-author, demonstrates through case studies that blind users can independently read and create slides, leading to design guidelines for accessible digital content creation tools.

“He could go wherever he wanted”: Driving Proficiency, Developmental Change, and Caregiver Perceptions following Powered Mobility Training for Children 1-3 Years with Disabilities

Heather A. Feldner, PT, MPT, PhD; Anna Fragomeni, PT; Mia Hoffman, MS; Kim Ingraham, PhD; Liesbeth Gijbels, PhC; Kiana Keithley, SPT; Patricia K. Kuhl, PhD; Audrey Lynn, SPT; Andrew Meltzoff, PhD; Nicole Zaino, PhD; Katherine M. Steele, PhD

The objective of this study was to investigate how a powered mobility intervention for young children (ages 1-3years) with disabilities impacted: 1) Driving proficiency over time; 2) Global developmental outcomes; 3) Learning tool use (i.e., joystick activation); and 4) Caregiver perceptions about powered mobility devices and their child’s capabilities.

Access to Frequent Transit in Seattle

Darsh Iyer, Sanat Misra, Angie Niu, Dr. Anat Caspi, Cole Anderson

The research project in Seattle focuses on analyzing access to public transit, particularly frequent transit stops, by considering factors like median household income. We scripted in QGIS, analyzed walksheds, and examined demographic data surrounding Seattle’s frequent transit stops to understand the equity of transit access in different neighborhoods. Our goal was to visualize and analyze the data to gain insights into the relationship between transit access, median household income, and other demographic factors in Seattle.

Health Service Accessibility

Seanna Qin, Keona Tang, Anat Caspi, Cole Anderson

Our research aims to discover any correlation between median household income and driving duration from census tracts to the nearest urgent care location in the Bellevue and Seattle region

Conveying Uncertainty in Data Visualizations to Screen-Reader Users Through Non-Visual Means

Ather Sharif, Ruican Zhong, and Yadi Wang

Incorporating uncertainty in data visualizations is critical for users to interpret and reliably draw informed conclusions from the underlying data. However, visualization creators conventionally convey the information regarding uncertainty in data visualizations using visual techniques (e.g., error bars), which disenfranchises screen-reader users, who may be blind or have low vision. In this preliminary exploration, we investigated ways to convey uncertainty in data visualizations to screen-reader users.

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.

UW News: A11yBoard accessible presentation software

October 30, 2023 | UW News

A team led by CREATE researchers has created A11yBoard for Google Slides, a browser extension and phone or tablet app that allows blind users to navigate through complex slide layouts, objects, images, and text. Here, a user demonstrates the touchscreen interface. Team members Zhuohao (Jerry) Zhang, Jacob O. Wobbrock, and Gene S-H Kim presented the research at ASSETS 2023.

A user demonstrates creating a presentation slide with A11yBoard on a touchscreen tablet and computer screen.

Screen readers, which convert digital text to audio, can make computers more accessible to many disabled users — including those who are blind, low vision or dyslexic. Yet slideshow software, such as Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides, isn’t designed to make screen reader output coherent. Such programs typically rely on Z-order — which follows the way objects are layered on a slide — when a screen reader navigates through the contents. Since the Z-order doesn’t adequately convey how a slide is laid out in two-dimensional space, slideshow software can be inaccessible to people with disabilities.

Combining a desktop computer with a mobile device, A11yBoard lets users work with audio, touch, gesture, speech recognition and search to understand where different objects are located on a slide and move these objects around to create rich layouts. For instance, a user can touch a textbox on the screen, and the screen reader will describe its color and position. Then, using a voice command, the user can shrink that textbox and left-align it with the slide’s title.

“We want to empower people to create their own content, beyond a PowerPoint slide that’s just a title and a text box.”

Jacob O. Wobbrock, CREATE associate director and professor in the UW Information School

“For a long time and even now, accessibility has often been thought of as, ‘We’re doing a good job if we enable blind folks to use modern products.’ Absolutely, that’s a priority,” said senior author Jacob O. Wobbrock, a UW professor in the Information School. “But that is only half of our aim, because that’s only letting blind folks use what others create. We want to empower people to create their own content, beyond a PowerPoint slide that’s just a title and a text box.”

A11yBoard for Google Slides builds on a line of research in Wobbrock’s lab exploring how blind users interact with “artboards” — digital canvases on which users work with objects such as textboxes, shapes, images and diagrams. Slideshow software relies on a series of these artboards. When lead author Zhuohao (Jerry) Zhang, a UW doctoral student in the iSchool, joined Wobbrock’s lab, the two sought a solution to the accessibility flaws in creativity tools, like slideshow software. Drawing on earlier research from Wobbrock’s lab on the problems blind people have using artboards, Wobbrock and Zhang presented a prototype of A11yBoard in April. They then worked to create a solution that’s deployable through existing software, settling on a Google Slides extension.

For the current paper, the researchers worked with co-author Gene S-H Kim, an undergraduate at Stanford University, who is blind, to improve the interface. The team tested it with two other blind users, having them recreate slides. The testers both noted that A11yBoard greatly improved their ability to understand visual content and to create slides themselves without constant back-and-forth iterations with collaborators; they needed to involve a sighted assistant only at the end of the process.

The testers also highlighted spots for improvement: Remaining continuously aware of objects’ positions while trying to edit them still presented a challenge, and users were forced to do each action individually, such as aligning several visual groups from left to right, instead completing these repeated actions in batches. Because of how Google Slides functions, the app’s current version also does not allow users to undo or redo edits across different devices.

Ultimately, the researchers plan to release the app to the public. But first they plan to integrate a large language model, such as GPT, into the program.

“That will potentially help blind people author slides more efficiently, using natural language commands like, ‘Align these five boxes using their left edge,’” Zhang said. “Even as an accessibility researcher, I’m always amazed at how inaccessible these commonplace tools can be. So with A11yBoard we’ve set out to change that.”

This research was funded in part by the University of Washington’s Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences (UW CREATE). For more information, contact Zhang at zhuohao@uw.edu and Wobbrock at wobbrock@uw.edu.


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

Augmented Reality to Support Accessibility

October 25, 2023

RASSAR – Room Accessibility and Safety Scan in Augmented Reality – is a novel smartphone-based prototype for semi-automatically identifying, categorizing, and localizing indoor accessibility and safety issues. With RASSAR, the user holds out their phone and scans a space. The tool uses LiDAR and camera data, real-time machine learning, and AR to construct a real-time model of the 3D scene, attempts to identify and classify known accessibility and safety issues, and visualizes potential problems overlaid in AR. 

RASSAR researchers envision the tool as an aid in the building and validation of new construction, planning renovations, or updating homes for health concerns, or for telehealth home visits with occupational therapists. UW News interviewed two CREATE Ph.D. students about their work on the project:


Augmented Reality to Support Accessibility

CREATE students Xia Su and Jae Lee, advised by CREATE Associate Director Jon Froehlich in the Makeability Lab, discuss their work using augmented reality to support accessibility. The Allen School Ph.D. students are presenting their work at ASSETS and UIST this year.

Illustration of a user holding a smartphone using the RASSAR prototype app to scan the room for accessibility issues.

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


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.

Spring 2023 Accessible Technology Research Showcase

May 15, 2023

Faculty and students will present research projects at the 2023 Spring Accessible Technology Research Showcase, hosted by CREATE and HuskyADAPT.

Accessible card games: Switch scanning-enabled card holder and dispenser

Project lead: Katrina Ma

While playing card games, individuals with motor disabilities or limited hand and finger use experience a lack of confidentiality, frustration having to depend on a caregiver, and difficulty connecting with other players. Our team aims to create a simple, universal, user-friendly, and affordable device that allows individuals with motor disabilities to independently hold and play cards.

Our idea is to incorporate switch-scanning technology in a device that can hold up to twelve cards and allow the user to dispense a chosen card to other players at the click of a switch. The device has a universal jack to accommodate users' own switches.

Accessisteer

Project lead: Michelle Jin

In order to provide a comfortable bike-riding experience to a child with hemiplegia, our mission is to create seat, handlebar, and stability modifications to a commercially available bicycle. This allows for cycling without the need for external assistance.

Adapted Ride-on Car+

Project lead: Mia Hoffman

Early self-initiated mobility is fundamental to a young child’s development. Adapted ride-on cars (ROCs) are an affordable alternative mobility option for young children with disabilities. We will be investigating the impact that control types has on a child’s directional control and engagement during play using ROCs that are joystick-controlled and manually steered.

Current ROCs depend on manual steering, which results in steering being difficult for a young child, especially with limited motor function. Modifications for ROCs that allow for joystick control are now becoming available, allowing the child to use a joystick for steering. We will be investigating the impact that control types has on a child’s directional control and engagement during play using ROCs that are joystick-controlled and manually steered. To quantify the child’s device interaction, we have developed a custom data logger, the ROC+, using an Ardunio Nano 33 IoT. The data logger measures switch activation for the traditional ROC, steering wheel rotation or joystick position, wheel rotation, acceleration, and angular velocity. We can also measure when an adult has taken control of the device using a remote control. The ROC+ will be used in a forthcoming study to quantify a child’s driving ability and the relationship between a parent and a child while a child is learning to use a powered mobility device.

Blocks4All: A screen reader and switch accessible block-based programming environment

Project lead: Yitong Shan

Blocks4All is a block-based programming environment for all children including those with disabilities. It is accessible with VoiceOver, Switch Control, and Voice Control. Children can learn beginning programming concepts by placing blocks on the app to control the Dash robot.

Chronically Under-Addressed: Considerations for HCI Accessibility Practice with Chronically Ill People

Project lead: Kelly Mack and Emma McDonnell

Accessible design and technology could support the large and growing group of people with chronic illnesses. However, human computer interactions (HCI) has largely approached people with chronic illnesses through a lens of medical tracking or treatment rather than accessibility. We describe and demonstrate a framework for designing technology in ways that center the chronically ill experience.

First, we identify guiding tenets: 1) treating chronically ill people not as patients but as people with access needs and expertise, 2) recognizing the way that variable ability shapes accessibility considerations, and 3) adopting a theoretical understanding of chronic illness that attends to the body. We then illustrate these tenets through autoethnographic case studies of two chronically ill authors using technology. Finally, we discuss implications for technology design, including designing for consequence-based accessibility, considering how to engage care communities, and how HCI research can engage chronically ill participants in research.

Cultivating inclusive play and maker mindset among neurodiverse children in a preschool classroom

Project lead: Maitraye Das

Young neurodivergent children need equitable opportunities to co-engage in high quality learning activities alongside neurotypical peers from early childhood. While there has been critical movement toward increasing participation of neurodivergent children in classrooms, much of this work involve school-age kids (6 years or over), leaving open questions around how neurodivergent preschoolers of age 3-5 years might engage in collaborative play with and around technologies.

We aim to understand whether and how programmable toy robots (e.g., KIBO) can foster inclusive play and maker mindset among neurodiverse children in preschool classrooms.

We partnered with the Experimental Education Unit (EEU) at the UW Haring Center. We conducted our research in two preschool classrooms, each including 16 children between the ages of 3-5. Six to eight children in each classroom have neurodevelopmental conditions including autism, developmental delays, and speech difficulties. Our research activities center around supporting children in making and interacting with the toy robot called KIBO. Preliminary findings show that through careful and accessible adaptation of activities, KIBO could enhance understanding of cause of effect, trial and error, enthusiasm for making and imagination, and sense of collaboration (and at times competition and negotiation) among neurodiverse groups of children.

Design Principles for Robot-Assisted Feeding in Social Contexts

Project lead: Amal Nanavati

Social dining is a meaningful and culturally significant experience. For 1.8 million Americans with motor impairments who cannot eat without assistance, challenges restrict them from enjoying this social ritual. In this work, we identify the needs of participants with motor impairments during social dining and how robot-assisted feeding can address them. 

Following a community-based participatory research method, we worked with a community researcher with motor impairments throughout this study. We contribute (a) insights into how a robot can help overcome challenges in social dining and (b) design principles for creating robot-assisted feeding systems to facilitate meaningful social dining.

Easier or Harder, Depending on Who the Hearing Person Is”: Codesigning Videoconferencing Tools for Small Groups with Mixed Hearing Status

Project lead: Emma McDonnell

With improvements in automated speech recognition and increased use of videoconferencing, real-time captioning has changed significantly. This shift toward broadly available but less accurate captioning invites exploration of the role hearing conversation partners play in shaping the accessibility of a conversation to d/Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) captioning users.

While recent work has explored DHH individuals’ videoconferencing experiences with captioning, we focus on established groups’ current practices and priorities for future tools to support more accessible online conversations.

Our study consists of three codesign sessions, conducted with four groups (17 participants total, 10 DHH, 7 hearing). We found that established groups crafted social accessibility norms that met their relational contexts. We also identify promising directions for future captioning design, including the need to standardize speaker identification and customization, opportunities to provide behavioral feedback during a conversation, and ways that videoconferencing platforms could enable groups to set and share norms.

The Effect of Increased Sensory Feedback from Neuromodulation and Exoskeleton use on Ankle Co-contraction in Children with Cerebral Palsy

Project lead: Charlotte Caskey

Children with cerebral palsy (CP) have altered gait that limits mobility through the activation of antagonistic muscle pairs simultaneously. This study will quantify changes in muscle co-contraction during walking with two devices that increase sensory feedback.

Children with cerebral palsy (CP) have altered gait that limits mobility. One hallmark of CP gait is increased muscle co-contraction, or the activation of antagonistic muscle pairs at the same time.This may contribute to increased energy expenditure and reduced physical activity for children with CP. Amplifying sensory feedback may help combat this by prompting more refined motor control and lead to reduced co-contraction with CP. The purpose of this study is to quantify changes in muscle co-contraction during walking with two devices that increase sensory feedback: an ankle exoskeleton with audiovisual feedback (Exo) and transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation (tSCS). The Exo provides increased haptic feedback targeting external sensory information while tSCS boost neural communication internally. We hypothesized that co-contraction would decrease when walking with spinal stimulation and the ankle exoskeleton. We compared changes in co-contraction of the biceps femoris and rectus femoris (BF/RF) and the tibialis anterior and soleus (TA/Sol)  with 1) no devices, 2) Exo only, 3) tSCS only, and 4) Exo+tSCS for 5 children with CP. We found that tSCS only led to the greatest reduction in TA/Sol co-contraction but Exo only and Exo+tSCS led to the greatest reductions in BF/RF co-contraction. This work is fundamental in helping us understand how children with CP respond within a single session of using these devices and how the devices might be used for longer term rehabilitation.

The Effects of Weakness, Contracture, and Altered Control on Walking Energetics During Crouch Gait

Project lead: Elijah Kuska

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the result of a pediatric brain injury that primarily alters control. However, individuals with CP often develop progressive, secondary impairments like weakness and contracture. Multi-modal impairments-that of control and morphology-impose complex restrictions on mobility and elevate energetics. This study seeks to utilize modeling, simulation, and machine learning to parse the relative effects of multi-modal impairments during non-disabled and CP gait, identifying the primary impairment driving elevated energetics.

Evaluating Customization of Remote Tele-operation Interfaces for Assistive Robots

Project lead: Vinitha Ranganeni

Mobile manipulator platforms, like the Stretch RE1 robot, make the promise of in-home robotic assistance feasible. For people with severe physical limitations, like those with quadriplegia, the ability to tele-operate these robots themselves means that they can perform physical tasks they cannot otherwise do themselves, thereby increasing their level of independence.

In order for users with physical limitations to operate these robots, their interfaces must be accessible and cater to the specific needs of all users. As physical limitations vary amongst users, it is difficult to make a single interface that will accommodate all users. Instead, such interfaces should be customizable to each individual user.

In this work we explore the value of customization of a browser-based interface for tele-operating the Stretch RE1 robot. More specifically, we evaluate the usability and effectiveness of a customized interface in comparison to the default interface configurations from prior work. We present a user study involving participants with motor impairments (N=10) and without motor impairments, who could serve as a caregiver, (N=13) that use the robot to perform mobile manipulation tasks in a real kitchen environment.

Our study demonstrates that no single interface configuration satisfies all users' needs and preferences. Users perform better when using the customized interface for navigation, but not for manipulation due to higher complexity of learning to manipulate through the robot. All participants are able to use the robot to complete all tasks and participants with motor impairments believe that having the robot in their home would make them more independent.

Exploring Virtual Whiteboard Sessions in Mixed Hearing Environments

Project lead: Shaun Kalweit

Traditional ideation processes have been challenged due to current hybrid work environments and reliance on telecommunication tools. Our sponsor, Microsoft Teams, offers a platform for collaborative work, including brainstorming with whiteboards. However, these virtual sessions pose accessibility issues for D/deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) individuals. This project aims to address the challenges faced by DHH users of Microsoft Teams Whiteboard during remote meetings and develop a solution to enhance inclusivity and accessibility.

GoBabyGo Modification

Project lead: Nadia Sanchez

The student engineers on this team will redesign a joystick control modification to a ride-on car for young children as well as develop an easy-to-follow assembly manual in order to make it easier for the GoBabyGo volunteers to assemble.

How Do People with Limited Movement Personalize Upper-Body Gestures?

Project lead: Momona Yamagami

Biosignal interfaces that use electromyography sensors, accelerometers, and other biosignals as inputs provide promise to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. However, generalized models that are not personalized to the individual’s abilities, body sizes, and skin tones may not perform well. Individualized interfaces that are personalized to the individual and their abilities could significantly enhance accessibility.

In this work, I discuss how personalized electromyography gesture interfaces can be personalized to each user's abilities and characterize personalized gestures for 25 participants with upper-body motor impairments. As biosignal interfaces become more commonly available, it is important to ensure that such interfaces have high performance across a wide spectrum of users.

Husky Adapt: Switch Kit

Project lead: Jordan Huang

The current switch kit has concerns regarding accessibility, safety, and durability. Our project seeks to modify and enhance a switch kit that enables children with disabilities to engage in collaborative play, providing a safe, enjoyable, and inclusive experience for all.

An Interactive Mat for Inclusive Gross Motor Play

Project lead: Sabrina Lin

Our mission is to design an accessible solution that will accommodate diverse needs and encourage inclusivity, in addition to co-creating other educational models to establish an equitable learning environment for students with and without disabilities at the Experimental Education Unit, an inclusive early childhood school community associated with the University of Washington. We focused on creating an interactive sensory mat for children to play “Floor is Lava,” encouraging them to further develop their gross motor skills and play collaboratively.

Notably Inaccessible – Understanding Data Science Notebook (In)Accessibility

Project lead: Venkatesh Potluri 

Computational notebooks, tools that facilitate storytelling through exploration, data analysis, and information visualization, have become the widely accepted standard in the data science community both in academia and industry. While there is extensive research that investigates how data scientists use these notebooks, identifies their pain points, and enables collaborative data science practices, very little is known about the various accessibility barriers experienced by blind and visually impaired (BVI) notebook users.

We present findings from a large scale analysis of 100K Jupyter notebooks, showing that BVI notebook users may experience accessibility barriers due to authoring practices, data representations in these notebooks, and the incapability of  tools and infrastructures that are used to work with these notebooks. we make recommendations to improve accessibility of the artifacts of a notebook, suggest authoring practices, and propose changes to infrastructure to make notebooks accessible.

A Pilot Study of Sidewalk Equity in Seattle Using Crowdsourced Sidewalk Assessment Data

Project lead: Chu Li

We examine the potential of using large-scale open crowdsourced sidewalk data from Project Sidewalk to study the distribution and condition of sidewalks in Seattle, WA. While potentially noisier than professionally gathered sidewalk datasets, crowdsourced data enables large, cross-regional studies that would be otherwise expensive and difficult to manage.

As an initial case study, we examine spatial patterns of sidewalk quality in Seattle and their relationship to racial diversity, income level, built density, and transit modes. We close with a reflection on our approach, key limitations, and opportunities for future work.

Quantifying device and environment exploration during powered mobility use in toddlers

Project lead: Nicole Zaino

Toddlers with mobility disabilities and delays require the use of technology to access self-initiated mobility at an early age which is critical for development, mobility, and social interaction. My work is on investigating the toddler-device-environment relationship and interaction for toddlers learning how to navigate and explore with a pediatric powered mobility device (Permobil Explorer Mini).

Sports Chair

Project lead: Yusuke Maruo

Our mission is to create a towing device that significantly improves the Seattle Adaptive Sports Center’s basketball athletes’ ability to transport their sports chair using their daily chair.

Steering Modifications to Support On-time Powered Mobility Use

Project lead: Kate Bokowy

Adapted ride-on cars are a great mobility learning tool for young kids with disabilities, but they can be hard to steer. We have created 3D-printed steering modifications to make it easier for a child to turn the steering wheel using different modalities.

Toward Open and Shared Pedestrian Path Network Mapping and Assessment at Scale

Project lead: Ricky Zhang

Manual mapping of pedestrian path networks is often a challenging task due to the substantial data requirements and potential errors. In response, we’ve developed AI-powered automated tools that integrate diverse types of globally-available data for proactive generation and analysis of pedestrian path and network data, with a keen focus on accessibility considerations. The resulting pedestrian path network data is represented in a standardized format per the OpenSidewalks data schema, making it readily usable in downstream routing and analytic applications.

Wireless Switch for Accessible Play

Project lead: Spencer Madrid

Our mission is to create a viable wireless switch that is more affordable than commercially available switches and is adapted to increase accessibility in any situation.


Classification of light rail stations using semantic segmentation

Project lead: Anat Caspi

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.

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 jessejm@cs.washington.edu. 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.

Activities

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 jessejm@cs.washington.edu.

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).

Questions?

Please reach out to Jesse Martinez (event co-organizer) at jessejm@cs.washington.edu with questions about this event.

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.