What is the focus of your research?
Informatics is about how computers interact with people and society. I work with people with disabilities in order to develop novel technologies that improve their lives. A lot of what we specialize in are the needs of blind people and people with low vision, especially older adults.
How are those needs being met?
Every aspect of living in our society is tied to technology—voting, working, accessing public goods and services, getting a vaccine. People with disabilities have been fighting for centuries for equal access. A lot of institutions, especially academic institutions, are digitally inaccessible. So people with disabilities are vastly underrepresented in tech. My team has people who are blind, who have disabilities. Our work is driven by people with lived experience.
What kind of projects do you work on?
I just concluded a project with Toyota on accessible navigation systems for large indoor areas such as airports. But we realized during the pandemic that people with vision disabilities were struggling with new navigation challenges, like social distancing, and we wanted to do something to help right away. There is a technology called Aira that allows blind people to video call a person who will explain what they’re seeing through the camera.
We diverted some funding to buy Aira subscriptions for more than 450 people in L.A. and O.C. I also partnered with Woodbridge High School to start exposing computing students to the needs of people with disabilities and how to build accessible software. I earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in computer science and was never exposed to curricula about people with disabilities and technology until I started my postdoctoral research!