PSST: Enabling Blind or Visually Impaired Developers to Author Sonifications of Streaming Sensor Data

Venkatesh Potluri, John Thompson, James Devine, Bongshin Lee, Nora Morsi, Peli De Halleux, Steve Hodges, and Jennifer Mankoff. 2022. PSST: Enabling Blind or Visually Impaired Developers to Author Sonifications of Streaming Sensor Data. In Proceedings of the 35th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST ’22). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 46, 1–13.

We present the first toolkit that equips blind and visually impaired (BVI) developers with the tools to create accessible data displays. Called PSST (Physical Computing Streaming Sensor data Toolkit), it enables BVI developers to understand the data generated by sensors from a mouse to a micro: bit physical computing platform. By assuming visual abilities, earlier efforts to make physical computing accessible fail to address the need for BVI developers to access sensor data. PSST enables BVI developers to understand real-time, real-world sensor data by providing control over what should be displayed, as well as when to display and how to display sensor data. PSST supports filtering based on raw or calculated values, highlighting, and transformation of data. Output formats include tonal sonification, nonspeech audio files, speech, and SVGs for laser cutting. We validate PSST through a series of demonstrations and a user study with BVI developers.

The demo video can be found here:

Rapid Convergence: The Outcomes of Making PPE during a Healthcare Crisis

Kelly Mack, Megan Hofmann, Udaya Lakshmi, Jerry Cao, Nayha Auradkar, Rosa I. Arriaga, Scott E. Hudson, and Jennifer Mankoff. Rapid Convergence: The Outcomes of Making PPE during a Healthcare Crisis. Accepted in TOCHI.

The U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) 3D Print Exchange is a public, open-source repository for 3D printable medical device designs with contributions from clinicians, expert-amateur makers, and people from industry and academia. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NIH formed a collection to foster submissions of low-cost, locally-manufacturable personal protective equipment (PPE). We evaluated the 623 submissions in this collection to understand: what makers contributed, how they were made, who made them, and key characteristics of their designs. We found an immediate design convergence to manufacturing-focused remixes of a few initial designs affiliated with NIH partners and major for-profit groups. The NIH worked to review safe, effective designs but was overloaded by manufacturing-focused design adaptations. Our work contributes insights into: the outcomes of distributed, community-based medical making; the features that the community accepted as “safe” making; and how platforms can support regulated maker activities in high-risk domains.

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

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.

Kelly Mack*, Emma J. McDonnell*, Leah Findlater, and Heather D. Evans. In The 24th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility.

COVID-19 and Remote Learning for Students with Disabilities

Han Zhang, Margaret E. Morris, Paula S. Nurius, Kelly Mack, Jennifer Brown, Kevin S. Kuehn, Yasaman S. Sefidgar, Xuhai Xu, Eve A. Riskin, Anind K. Dey and Jennifer Mankoff. Impact of Online Learning in the Context of COVID-19 on Undergraduates with Disabilities and Mental Health Concerns. ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing (TACCESS).

The COVID-19 pandemic upended college education and the experiences of students due to the rapid and uneven shift to online learning. This study examined the experiences of students with disabilities with online learning, with a consideration of surrounding stressors such as financial pressures. In a mixed method approach, we compared 28 undergraduate students with disabilities(including mental health concerns) to their peers during 2020, to assess differences and similarities in their educational concerns, stress levels and COVID-19 related adversities. We found that students with disabilities entered the Spring quarter of 2020 with significantly higher concerns about classes going online, and reported more recent negative life events than other students. These differences between the two groups diminished three months later with the exception of recent negative life events. For a fuller understanding of students’ experiences, we conducted qualitative analysis of open ended interviews. We examined both positive and negative experiences with online learning among students with disabilities and mental health concerns. Online learning enabled greater access – e.g., reducing the need for travel to campus–alongside ways in which online learning impeded academic engagement–e.g., reducing interpersonal interaction. Learning systems need to continue to meet the diverse and dynamic needs of students with disabilities.


Megan HofmannKelly MackJessica BirchfieldJerry CaoAutumn G. HughesShriya KurpadKathryn J. LumEmily WarnockAnat CaspiScott E. Hudson, Jennifer Mankoff:
Maptimizer: Using Optimization to Tailor Tactile Maps to Users Needs. CHI 2022: 592:1-592:15 [pdf]

Tactile maps can help people who are blind or have low vision navigate and familiarize themselves with unfamiliar locations. Ideally, tactile maps are created by considering an individual’s unique needs and abilities because of their limited space for representation. However, significant customization is not supported by existing tools for generating tactile maps. We present the Maptimizer system which generates tactile maps that are customized to a user’s preferences and requirements, while making simplified and easy to read tactile maps. Maptimizer uses a two stage optimization process to pair representations with geographic information and tune those representations to present that information more clearly. In a user study with six blind/low-vision participants, Maptimizer helped participants more successfully and efficiently identify locations of interest in unknown areas. These results demonstrate the utility of optimization techniques and generative design in complex accessibility domains that require significant customization by the end user.

A system diagram showing the maptimizer data flow setup. The inputs are geography sets, representations options, and user preferences. Geography types and representation options are paired and tuned using an optimizer. The output is a tactile map.

What Do We Mean by “Accessibility Research”?

Accessibility research has grown substantially in the past few decades, yet there has been no literature review of the field. To understand current and historical trends, we created and analyzed a dataset of accessibility papers appearing at CHI and ASSETS since ASSETS’ founding in 1994. Our findings highlight areas that have received disproportionate attention and those that are underserved— for example, over 43% of papers in the past 10 years are on accessibility for blind and low vision people. We also capture common study characteristics, such as the roles of disabled and nondisabled participants as well as sample sizes (e.g., a median of 13 for participant groups with disabilities and older adults). We close by critically reflecting on gaps in the literature and offering guidance for future work in the field.

What Do We Mean by “Accessibility Research”? A Literature Survey of Accessibility Papers in CHI and ASSETS from 1994 to 2019. Kelly Mack, Emma McDonnell, Dhruv Jain, Lucy Lu Wang, Jon E. Froehlich, and Leah Findlater In Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’21). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 371, 1–18.

Designing Tools for High-Quality Alt Text Authoring

Alternative (alt) text is a description of a digital images so that someone who is blind or low vision or otherwise uses a screen reader to understand image content. Little work examines what it is like to write alt text for an image. We created interface designs to support writing and providing feedback about alt text and tested them with people who write alt text and people who use alt text. Our results suggest that authoring interfaces that support authors in choosing what to include in their descriptions result in higher quality alt text. The feedback interfaces highlighted considerable diferences in the perceptions of authors and SRUs regarding “high-quality” alt text. We discuss the implications of these results on applications that support alt text.

Designing Tools for High-Quality Alt Text Authoring. Kelly Mack, Edward Cutrell, Bongshin Lee, and Meredith Ringel Morris. In The 23rd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS ’21). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 23, 1–14.

Mixed Abilities and Varied Experiences in a Virtual Summer Internship

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to convert their daily work lives to a “virtual” format where everyone connected remotely from their home, which affected the accessibility of work environments. We the authors, full time and intern members of an accessibility-focused team at Microsoft Research, reflect on our virtual work experiences as a team consisting of members with a variety of abilities, positions, and seniority during the summer intern season. We reflect on our summer experiences, noting the successful strategies we used to promote access and the areas in which we could have further improved access.

Mixed Abilities and Varied Experiences: a group autoethnography of a virtual summer internship. Kelly Mack, Maitraye Das, Dhruv Jain, Danielle Bragg, John Tang, Andrew Begel, Erin Beneteau, Josh Urban Davis, Abraham Glasser, Joon Sung Park, and Venkatesh Potluri. In The 23rd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility, pp. 1-13. 2021.

Anticipate and Adjust: Cultivating Access in Human-Centered Methods

In order for “human-centered research” to include all humans, we need to make sure that research practices are accessible for both participants and researchers with disabilities. Yet, people rarely discuss how to make common methods accessible. We interviewed 17 accessibility experts who were researchers or community organizers about their practices. Our findings emphasize the importance of considering accessibility at all stages of the research process and across different dimensions of studies like communication, materials, time, and space. We explore how technology or processes could reflect a norm of accessibility and offer a practical structure for planning accessible research.

Anticipate and Adjust: Cultivating Access in Human-Centered Methods. Kelly Mac, Emma J. McDonnell, Venkatesh Potluri, Maggie Xu, Jailyn Zabala, Jeffrey P. Bigham, Jennifer Mankoff, and Cynthia L. Bennett. CHI 2022

Medical Making During COVID

The onset of COVID-19 led many makers to dive deeply into the potential applications of their work to help with the pandemic. Our group’s efforts on this front, all of which were collaborations with a variety of people from multiple universities, led me to this reflective talk about the additional work that is needed for us to take the next step towards democratizing fabrication.

This talk is based on a series of papers studying and working with people who make, including the following recent COVID-related papers: