PITA Fiscal Year 2007 Projects

Information and Systems Technology

Adapting Computer Interfaces
Today’s computer systems are designed for a homogeneous, unchanging context of use (single user, typically in an office setting) and a typical user who makes only limited use of his/her expressive power (as if having only hands and fingers, monocular vision, and ears) yet is highly skilled (an information-savvy computer professional comfortable with technology, mice, keyboards, and familiar with a suite of fairly complex software). The universal access movement acknowledges that both users and use contexts are far more diverse than these systems assume. However, today's assistive and accessible technologies are static. In reality, both users and use contexts change dynamically, and sometimes frequently. This leads to a fundamental problem: people are dynamic, but systems and models are not. Instead, they don't change, or human intervention is required each time change happens; yet the resources available cannot meet this need. For example, currently people with disabilities are assessed rarely, and on the basis of only a few hours (at best) of interaction with expensive, trained specialists.

The need for accessible computing solutions is large and keeps growing. According to the 2000 U.S. Census almost one in five Americans has a disability. Additionally, the disabled are the only minority group that any person might end up joining at any time. Moreover, as stated in [6], “Among current US computer users who range from 18 to 64 years old, 57% (74.2 million) are likely or very likely to benefit from the use of accessible technology due to difficulties and impairments that may impact computer use.” Additionally, the U.S. population is aging, increasing the number of computer users with impairments [6]. People with disabilities are far less likely to use the Internet [3], one reason being difficulty with inaccessible technology.

We are proposing to create assistive technologies that make computer use simpler and easier for persons with motor or vision impairments. We will develop computer software that works at the operating-system level, and is compatible with any application the user is running, but will dynamically customize itself based on information about what the user is doing. Some important things that customization can help with are (1) making specific targets, such as buttons on the screen, very easy to acquire (2) replacing portions of applications with more accessible versions (such as replacing a complex menu with a dialog box) (3) reducing the number of steps necessary to complete a task based on common approaches (4) increasing the efficiency of assistive interventions (such as tailoring the shortcut keys on a scanning keyboard to the application at hand). The figure below illustrates some of these customizations.