Project to improve web and cloud computing accessibility

Americas, November 26 2013

The U.S. Department of Education is sponsoring a five-year, $3.7 million project led by Carnegie Mellon University to develop methods that enable people with disabilities to take full advantage of the resources available on the Internet.

The Disability Rehabilitation Research Project (DRRP) on Inclusive Cloud and Web Computing includes researchers at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies (iSchool) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

“Our projects are focused on finding ways to create inclusive user experiences on the Internet,” said Aaron Steinfeld, the team director and an associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute. “There has been great progress over the years on Web accessibility standards and systems, but there is still a lot of work left to do.”

The researchers are working on methods for easily modifying software to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Researchers will develop ways to make it easier for people with disabilities to log on to the Web, make user interfaces more accessible, and change the presentation of information on the Web to streamline experiences for people with disabilities, caregivers and service providers. The researchers also will look for ways to leverage help from other people on the Web — crowdsourcing — to increase accessibility for all.

“Authentication or logging into a service is an integral yet mundane part of peoples’ Internet experience,” said Yang Wang, assistant professor at the iSchool. “However, most existing authentication schemes tend to be difficult to use for people with disabilities. We’re very excited about this opportunity to explore new authentication schemes that can provide a much better experience for people with disability.”

Wang added that one of the goals he hopes to achieve in his privacy and security-focused part of the research relates to adapting existing authentication mechanisms, because once there is awareness that a disability condition for a user, that recognition can potentially play against a person’s interests in online interactions.

“I’m really excited about this opportunity to essentially better serve people with disability,” Wang said. “I feel I can potentially make a lot of impact, and this project has the potential to really better peoples’ lives.”

The team also will explore ways to dynamically change pointing and clicking actions on Web pages. “For example, if an individual is having difficulty smoothly controlling a mouse, we could detect this and smooth their input,” said Amy Hurst, assistant professor of human-centered computing in the Information Systems Department at UMBC.

Though the Web may fall short of the needs of many people with disabilities, it also holds great promise because it can be readily reconfigured, noted Jeffrey Bigham, the project’s scientific director and an associate professor of human-computer interaction at CMU.

Also taking part in the research is iSchool Research Assistant Professor Yun Huang. She will co-lead a segment of the project research with Carnegie Mellon University faculty members Steifeld and Bigham dealing with the segments on inclusive cloud and web computing.

 “We will implement a lightweight utility infrastructure, CAN (Composable Accessibility Infrastructure), where software developers share their functional modules and website or mobile app developers can easily find and integrate suitable accessibility modules into their sites or apps,” she explained. They hope to provide modules and services that are easy for third-party developers to rapidly integrate into their own systems, facilitating rapid adoption. The approach is designed to leverage cloud resources to lower data storage demands and enable preservation of Internet identify across systems, Huang said.

The DRRP is affiliated with related research and development efforts to improve the lives of people with disabilities, such as the Quality of Life Technology Center based at Carnegie Mellon and the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation. The grant is awarded through the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. More information about the project is available on its website, http://inclusiveweb.org/

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