The Future of Access Technologies

Access technology (AT) has the potential to increase autonomy, and improve millions of people’s ability to live independently. This potential is currently under-realized because the expertise needed to create the right AT is in short supply and the custom nature of AT makes it difficult to deliver inexpensively. Yet computers’ flexibility and exponentially increasing power have revolutionized and democratized access technologies. In addition, by studying access technology, we can gain valuable insights into the future of all user interface technology.

In this course we will focus on two primary domains for access technologies: Access to the world (first half of the class) and Access to computers (second half of class). Students will start the course by learning some basic physical computing capabilities so that they have the tools to build novel access technologies. We will focus on creating AT using sensors and actuators that can be controlled/sensed with a mobile device. The largest project in the class will be an open ended opportunity to explore access technology in more depth. 

Class will meet 9-10:20 M/W

Class Syllabus

Private Class Canvas Website

Tentative Schedule

Week 1 (10/2 ONLY): Introduction

  • 9/30 class canceled (Rosh Hashanah)
  • 10/2
    • Overview of accessibility and its relationship to computation
    • Overview of class.
    • Introduction to 3D printing
  • Solo Assignment: (examples of physical computing for Accessibility),  due to be presented in class on 10/9.
  • Volunteer Assignment (timing/etc. tentative, pending identified venues as a starting place for this): Spend time helping someone who uses an assistive technology with a problem they decide on; Write about what you learn (< 1 page). Due to Prof. Mankoff by 11/4

Week 2  (10/7; 10/9): 3D Printing & Laser Cutting

  • 10/7
    • Introduction to Fabrication and 3D modeling (we will focus on OpenSCAD)
    • Examples of the use of Fabrication technologies in Accessibility
    • In class: Create a model for your tag

Week 3 (10/14; 10/16): Physical Computing

  • Introduction to Arduino platform
  • Arduino + Mobile phones
  • Physical Computing and Accessibility

In class: Connect simple LED circuit to a phone

Pair Project: Build a Better Button (Due 10/23)

Week 4 (10/21; 10/23): Output

  • Braille displays
  • Alternative tactile displays
  • Vibration
  • Visual displays for the deaf
  • Ambient Displays & Calm Computing

Week 5 (10/28; 10/30): Input

  • Characterizing the performance of input devices
  • Digital techniques for adapting to user input capabilities
  • Voice control
  • Eye Gaze
  • Passively Sensed Information

Week 6 (11/4; 11/6): Disability Studies

  • Critical perspectives on disability, assistive technology, and how the two relate
  • Methodological discussion
  • Disability Studies reading due
  • Volunteer Activity due
  • Project Proposals for second half project (Details of requirements TBD)

Week 7 (11/13 ONLY): Applications

  • Exercise & Recreation
  • Navigation & Maps
  • Programming and Computation
  • Reflection on role of User Research in Successful AT

Week 8 (11/18; 11/20): The Web

Learn about “The Web,” how access technologies interact with the Web, and how to make accessible web pages.

Google Video on Practical Web Accessibility — this video provides a great overview of the Web and how to make web content accessible. Highly recommended as a supplement to what we will cover in class. — WebAIM has long been a leader in providing information and tutorials on making the Web accessible. A great source where you can read about accessibility issues, making content accessible, etc.

Solo Assignment: Make An Accessible Web Page  (due for in-class grading on 11/18)

Week 9 (11/25; 11/27):  Screen Readers

  • Building screen reader (NVDA, … )
  • Building accessible app (work with screen reader)
  • Paradigms for Nonvisual Input
  • Advanced Issues:
    • Optical Character Recognition
    • Image Labeling
    • Image description
    • Audio Description for Video
  • Test each others’ accessible pages
  • Mid-project Reports (Requirements TBD)

Week 10 (12/2):  Other Computer Accessibility Challenges

  • Low Bandwidth Input
  • Reading Assistance
  • Mousing Assistance
  • Macros
  • Expert Tasks


Interesting topics to consider (e.g. from Jeff’s class)



  • Transcoding content to make it more accessible
  • Middleware

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