World Health Organization, it makes
sense to keep this population in mind
when innovating or studying any novel
interaction technologies. Better yet:
Bring qualified people with disabilities
onto research teams to participate in
Worldwide, there is a variety
of accessibility research projects
in progress. Results from these
projects show up in mainstream HCI
conferences such as CHI, UIST,
Graphics Interface, Ubicomp,
and ISWC, as well as in research
conferences focusing on technology
for people with disabilities, such as
ASSETS, ICCHP, and W4A. To give an
example, at the ASSETS 2014 Poster/
Demo session, I saw a demonstration
of the TPad Tablet, a flat touchscreen
that provides haptic feedback by
using ultrasonic friction-reduction
to change the resistance force on the
finger as it slides around the screen
[ 9]. The TPad Tablet research team
has reached out to blind researchers
outside the team to help them
evaluate the development of potential
applications of the technology.
It is fortunate that the TPad Tablet
project was able to find a qualified blind
researcher to help with their project,
since there are so very few. This leads
me to the conclusion that it would
significantly enrich research in HCI and
improve the accessibility of mainstream
products if there were more students
with disabilities entering the HCI field.
Furthermore, it would help the field if
more emphasis was put on accessibility-and disability-related topics in HCI
textbooks and courses. A great example
of a course that emphasizes accessibility
is MI T’s course 6.811: Principles and
Practice of Assistive Technology, which
was initiated by professors Seth Teller
and Rob Miller. In this course, students
work in small teams with a person
with a disability to develop some piece
of technology that would be useful to
that person. The course includes guest
lectures from practitioners and those
who have disabilities.
Industry, in some cases, has taken
the lead in accessible design by
integrating accessibility into their
products. One example is Microsoft’s
Mouse Keys for Windows, which
allows someone with a mobility-related
disability to execute mouse actions
using only the numeric keyboard.
Another, mentioned earlier, is Apple’s
VoiceOver screen reader for iOS and
Mac, which allows someone who is
blind or has low vision to interact with
the operating system using speech
output instead of visual output. In
both cases, these technologies are
examples of universal and ability-based design. They are built in as
options, rather than being add-ons.
Unfortunately, I have seen far too
many websites and apps that are
not accessible when they could be.
A website could be made accessible
if the designers applied the WCAG
Web accessibility guidelines [ 10]. An
iPhone app could be made accessible
if the designers applied the principles
defined in the iOS accessibility
guidelines [ 11]. At a minimum, design
teams in industry should employ
people with disabilities in product
testing. Better yet, they should hire
qualified designers and developers with
disabilities to reap the full benefits of
design for user empowerment.
Here I have introduced the concept
of design for user empowerment,
which I consider to be the strongest
form of human-centered design.
I demonstrated by example the
power of technology to improve the
lives of people with disabilities and
explained why people with disabilities
should be involved in the creation
of that technology as designers and
developers. I encouraged universal
design and ability-based design, which
allow for people with a wide variety of
abilities to interact with technology,
avoiding add-on assistive technologies
to make technology accessible.
My National Science Foundation-funded alliance, AccessComputing,
just beginning its 10th year, is one
way I am helping to realize design for
user empowerment. The primary goal
of AccessComputing is to increase
the number and success of students
with disabilities in computing
fields. For more information about
AccessComputing please visit
There you can read more about Ms.
Torcolini and Ms. Krishnaswamy on the
Choose Computing link.
AccessComputing is supported
by National Science Foundation
Grant Number CNS-1042260. Any
opinions, findings, and conclusions or
recommendations expressed in this
article are those of the author and do
not necessarily reflect the views of the
National Science Foundation.
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Insurrection Against Ma Bell. Gallaudet
University Press, 2000.
2. Bell, A.G. Researches in electric telephony.
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3. Kane, S.K., Bigham, J.P., and Wobbrock,
J.O. Slide rule: Making mobile touch
screens accessible to blind people using
multi-touch interaction techniques. Proc.
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5. Wobbrock, J.O., Kane, S.K., Gajos, K. Z.,
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(2011), Article 9.
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for usability: Key principles and what
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ACM 28, 3 (1985), 300–311.
7. Bødker, S., Ehn, P., Sjögren, D., and
Sundblad, Y. Co-operative Design—
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8. Ladner, R.E. Access and empowerment:
Commentary on “Computers and People
with Disabilities.” ACM Trans. on Accessible
Computing 1, 2 (2008), Article 11.
9. Jin, S., Mullenbach, J., Shultz, C.,
Colgate, J.E., and Piper, A.M. 2014.
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10. http:// www.w3.org/ TR/ WCAG20/
Richard E. Ladner is a professor in
computer science and engineering at the
University of Washington. His research
focuses on access technology, particularly
for those who are deaf, blind, or deaf-blind.
In addition to AccessComputing, he co-heads
AccessCS10K, which helps make high school
computing classes more accessible to
students with disabilities.
DOI: 10.1145/2723869 © 2015 ACM 1072-5520/15/03 $15.00