Volunteer Project & Reflection (due 11/4)

Much of this quarter will likely be spent inventing and building accessibile technology, and you may not have time to also do the sort of participatory design project that would ideally ensure that your technology fully reflects your target user. This project is your opportunity to focus on learning rather than building, observing rather than inventing. Even if you already have a disability or have worked closely with people with disabilities before, you can always learn something new from going out into the field.

The specific volunteer opportunity used in this assignment is still being defined. In the past students have come to technology days at a center for independent living to help fix and configure software AT or provided help at an event (such as a sport event). The goal is for you ta have collaborative or supportive role for this project that may help inform your thinking. More details will be posted here soon

At the end you should write a short reflection (about 1 page) about your experience. This reflection should touch on the following topics:

  • What did you do (what organization did you work for, what specific people did you work with, and what did you do for/with them?)
  • What did you observe (what stood out to you as interesting about the space, people, and task that you engaged with? Were there things that worked particularly well? Were there breakdowns?)
  • What did you learn (did you learn something about accessible technologies? Anything that might inform your approach to research?)

Project 2: Build a Better Button

Learning Goals for the Project

  • Learn about Circuit design
  • Learn how to communicate between an Arduino and your phone
  • Apply your knowledge of physical design (3D printing/laser cutting) to support your goals
  • Build a simple circuit that is enhanced by its connection to your phone

Basic Requirements for Project

Your project should demonstrate your ability to take input from at least one button (or other sensor), capture that information by phone, and do something with it. For example, you could build a door opening sensor (using a button or proximity sensor) that causes your phone to announce the door was opened, or a single switch control for scrolling or tabbing through a web page, or a capacitive sensor that captures a log of how often a cane is used.

You should make a case for why this is an assistive technology of some sort.

Resources that might be helpful

There is some great software that con be connected to the arduino including 1Shield, AppInventor, and Blynk. Some work only for Android, others for both Android and iPhone.

There are lots of really great examples online of arduino based projects, arduino projects that involve smartphones, and arduino projects that involve 3D printing or laser cutting. Many of them are too complex for the expectations of this project, though they might help to inspire final projects, or give you ideas for something simple you can do in a week. Here is a sample:

Hand In

Create a Thingiverse page for your project with a brief description of the project, a video, any 3D printed files, and a schematic for your circuit. Turn the URL in by email with the subject: Project 2.

The Future of Access Technologies

Picture of a 3D printed arm with backscatter sensing technology attached to it.

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.org — 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

Assistive Technology

Instructor: Jennifer Mankoffjmankoff@cs.cmu.edu
Spring 2005

HCII, 3601 NSH, (W)+1 (412) 268-1295
Office hours: By Appointment & 1-2pm Thurs

Course Description

This class will focus on computer accessibility, including web and desktop computing, and research in the area of assistive technology.

The major learning goals from this course include:

  • Develop an understanding of the relationship between disability policy, the disability rights movement, and your role as a technologist. For example, we will discuss we will discuss the pros and cons and infrastructure involved in supporting mainstream computer applications rather than creating new ones from scratch.
  • Develop a skill set for basic design and evaluation of accessible web pages and desktop applications.
  • Develop familiarity with technologies and research relating to accessibility including a study of optimal font size and color for people with dyslexia, word-prediction aids, a blind-accessible drawing program,
  • Develop familiarity with assistive technologies that use computation to increase the accessibility of the world in general. Examples include memory aids, sign-language recognition, and so on.


Students will be expected to do service work with non-profits serving the local disabled community during one to two weekends of the start of the semester. This course has a project component, where students will design, implement, and test software for people with disabilities. Additionally, students will read and report on research papers pertinent to the domain.

Grading will be based on service work (10%); the project (60%); and class participation, including your reading summary and the lecture you lead (30%).

Other relevant documents

Course CalendarAssignmentsBibliography


Prerequisites for this class are: Familiarity with basic Human Computer Interaction material or consent of the instructor (for undergraduate students)

It is recommended that you contact the instructor if you are interested in taking this class.

Accessibility Seminar

The Accessibility Seminar (CSE 590W) is taught most quarters. This fall (2018), it will be taught at 2:30 on Wednesdays. The focus will be at the intersection of fabrication and assistive technology.

Past years in which I was involved