Fabrication Work at ASSETS 2020

I attended my second virtual conference in a week, ASSETS 2020. Once again, kudos to the organizers for pulling off a wonderful experience. It was very similar to UIST (discord+zoom), with some different choices for format — a slightly slower pace with more opportunities to take breaks. I’m not sure I have a strong preference there, but I was definitely more tired after the longer days.

One other significant difference was the lack of a video option in Discord — this choice was made for accessibility reasons, because interpreters would only be possible on zoom, and it was (somewhat) made up for by the many zoom social events. Still, I did miss the more unplanned nature of the UIST social events. I wonder if there’s a way to have the best of both worlds — spontaneity and accessibility.

There was far too much outstanding work at ASSETS for me to summarize it all, including lots of award-winning work by UW accessibility researchers (CREATE). However, in this post I want to sample a particular subset of ASSETS work: Fabrication work. I was excited to see more and more of this at ASSETS, ranging from bespoke projects such as this one-handed braille keyboard (video) to this innovative exploration of low-cost materials for making lock screens tangible which explored everything from cardboard to quinoa (video)!

One theme was making the fabrication process itself accessible to people with disabilities. For example, Lieb et al work on using haptics to allow 3D model mesh inspection by blind 3D modelers (video), while Race et al presented a workshop curriculum for nonvisual soldering (video).

Of course there was a range of papers exploring tactile graphics. For example, PantoGuide is a hand-mounted haptic display that presented meta data as the user explores (video). I particularly loved Gong et al’s study, which takes a nuanced approach to image understanding that values a variety of ways of understanding graphics:

A final theme I want to call out is in the space of physical computing, support for learning was a theme in TACTOPI (Abreu et al; video) and TIP-Toy (Barbareschi et al; video). TIP-Toy particularly interested me because of its support extended to allowing not only consumption of content but also authorship. On a completely different note, Kane et al.’s fascinating work on the ableist assumptions of embedded sensing systems was a best paper nomination.

While this quick tour by no means covers every relevant project, it does highlight the wide range of ASSETS work at the intersection of accessibility and fabrication. I look forward to seeing this area expand in years to come!

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