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Computers and Accessibility: My experience at the ASSETS 2019

Colour photograph of Maryam. Maryam is wearing sunglasses and a floral headscarf with matching pink jacket and is outside

Maryam Bandukda

Research Fellow

By Maryam Bandukda

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the International Association of Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Accessibility (ACM SIGACCESS) conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS). ASSETS is a top-tier forum for presenting research on technologies for people with disabilities and older adults. This year, ASSETS was held on 28-30th October in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. I also participated in the doctoral consortium and deliver a poster presentation on my PhD research.

The one-day doctoral consortium was held on 27th October at Apple Research offices in Pittsburgh and led by Dr Jon Froehelic and Dr Amanda Lazar. Participants included research students from various universities in the USA, Canada, UK, and India. Among the panelists were well known researchers and leaders in accessibility research including Chieko Asakawa, Tiago Guerreiro, and Kristen Shinohara.

First, participants had the opportunity to present their research to the whole group to give an overview of their work. We were then divided into small groups and assigned a panelist to further discuss our research approach and received detailed feedback. The afternoon session contained more presentations from participants and writing workshops with panelists. The day ended with a general Q&A with the panelists and dinner at La Mont restaurant on Mount Washington with gorgeous panoramic views of Pittsburgh. Being my first time at ASSETS, I was a bit nervous before attending the doctoral consortium. But, the participants were very supportive and the panelists were approachable and gave constructive feedback on my work. I also enjoyed learning about the experiences of research students and academics.

The next three days, 28 - 30th October were the main conference. Karen Nakamura delivered the keynote, highlighting key concerns regarding the inclusion of people with disabilities in the design and evaluation of new AI and machine learning (AI-ML) technologies. Karen challenged the notion of what looks like ‘normal’ and argued that “diversity and inclusion need to be programmed in from the start, it cannot be an afterthought”. She urgent the ASSETS community to “push to ensure that the designers, programmers, training sets, trainers, and users of emerging AI-ML systems represent the full diversity of our user population”. Following the incredibly thought provoking keynote, the program included multiple sessions presenting research focused on speech and hearing impairments, cognitive and intellectual disabilities, wayfinding and technology usage of people with visual impairments, and web and media accessibility. Majority of the papers focused on technologies for people with visual impairments, followed by hearing, mobility, and cognitive impairments.

Here are some papers I found interesting based on the research topic, choice of methods, and impact of the research for people with disabilities;

  1. 3D Printed Maps and Icons for Inclusion: Testing in the Wild by People who are Blind or have Low Vision
  2. CaBot: Designing and Evaluating an Autonomous Navigation Robot for Blind People
  3. DarkReader: Bridging the Perception of Smartphone Power Consumption to Reality for Blind Users
  4. Closing the Gap: Designing for the Last-Few-Meters Wayfinding Problem for People with Visual Impairments
  5. RoboGraphics: Using Mobile Robots to Create Dynamic Tactile Graphics
  6. Autoethnography of a Hard of Hearing Traveler
  7. Deep Learning for Automatically Detecting Sidewalk Accessibility Problems Using Streetscape Imagery
  8. Go That Way: Exploring Supplementary Physical Movements by a Stationary Robot When Providing Navigation Instructions
  9. A Community-Centered Design Framework for Robot-Assisted Feeding Systems
  10. The Design Space of Nonvisual Word Completion

On Day 2, Tuesday, 29th October, I presented a research poster titled ‘Technology mediated interactions for blind and partially sighted people’; an overview of my research exploring the experiences of blind and partially sighted people in nature and the of technology in mediating in-situ nature interactions. I spoke to various attendees who stopped by my poster and discussed my future research. The feedback was very positive and people appreciated my choice of dissertation topic as it has been under-explored in accessibility and computing field.

Over all, I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet research students, academics, and industry professionals interested in accessibility research. In particular, attending the doctoral consortium was extremely beneficial in discussing my work with the academic and research community. The invaluable feedback I received from senior researchers and academics will help to shape the scope of my research.

Maryam Bandukda with a poster of her research
DC group photo
views of Pittsburgh
Bar graph of ASSETS submissions