Design for Social Accessibility: Shifting Design Perspectives for Accessible Computing

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 - 10:00
TH 434
Kristen Shinohara

Assistive technologies, increasingly comprising computing technologies of all kinds, are intended to help people with disabilities accomplish everyday tasks. Yet, assistive technologies are traditionally designed exclusively with functionality in mind, rather than with consideration for social situations that are increasingly common with widespread mobile and wearable technology use. As a result of this function-first focus, assistive technologies are often ”medical” in appearance and socially awkward to use, leading to misperceptions about these technologies and their users. Misperceptions, in turn, lead to feelings of self-consciousness when people with disabilities use assistive technologies in public, ultimately impeding access and leading to abandonment. In this talk, I discuss multiple projects that blend social science methods and technology design approaches for improving the accessibility of computing technologies, expanding awareness in design thinking to include the socio-technical experiences of people with disabilities. I describe a series of empirical studies that investigate the social implications of assistive technology use, and that conceptualize socially accessible design. In a study in which I taught technology design to students, I examine how to effectively incorporate aspects of socially accessible design into common user-centered design techniques for promoting diversity in design thinking. Finally, I demonstrate how we can augment existing design practice, particularly within computing and human-computer interaction, to increase our awareness of social situations when designing accessible computing technologies. My work culminates in a perspective shift in what we consider “accessible,” to broaden functional considerations to incorporate social considerations as well. The contributions of my work are primarily empirical and methodological, applying new knowledge to improve the perspectives and practices around the design of accessible computing systems.


Kristen Shinohara is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Information School at the University of Washington, advised by Jacob O. Wobbrock and Wanda Pratt. She is a member of the DUB Group and the Mobile & Accessible Design (MAD) Lab. Her research focuses on the design of technologies usable by people with disabilities, specifically on how accessible design should include social aspects of technology use. Her case study about how a blind student used technology was featured as the cover story in Communications of the ACM and has been the subject of a chapter on case study methodology in “Research Methods in HCI” (Lazar et al., Wiley & Sons 2010). She won an ACM CHI Best Paper for her interview study investigating social aspects of assistive technology use. She has a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Puget Sound, an M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Washington, Tacoma, and has professional experience as a software engineer. She is a 2016-2017 Harlan Hahn Award Recipient, and in 2012, she received a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation.