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“MobileASL Software Brings American Sign Language to U.S. Cell Phones”

Read the article here.

“As a hearing child of deaf parents, Richard Ladner saw firsthand the impact of communications technology on his parents’ lives. ‘Back in the early 1970s, they got their first teletypewriter,’ he said. ‘It was a very big box, the size of a computer, but it opened a new world for them.'”

MobileASL project web page here.

September 18, 2008

“MobileASL” project on KUOW/NPR (MP3; starts at 43:40)

The Mobile ASL project is described on KUOW/NPR.

See MobileASL project information here.

April 1, 2008

The “conscience of computing”: Allen School’s Richard Ladner receives Public Service Award from the National Science Board

Richard Ladner portrait with books and framed photos behind him

Allen School professor emeritus Richard Ladner, a leading researcher in accessible technology and a leading voice for expanding access to computer science for students with disabilities, has been named the 2020 recipient of the Public Service Award for an individual from the National Science Board (NSB). Each year, the NSB recognizes groups and individuals who have made significant contributions to the public’s understanding of science and engineering. In recognizing Ladner, the board cited his exemplary science communication, diversity advocacy, and well-earned reputation as the “conscience of computing.”

A mathematician by training, Ladner joined the University of Washington faculty in 1971. For much of his career, he focused on fundamental problems underpinning the field of computer science as one of the founders of what is now the Allen School’s Theory of Computation research group. After making a series of significant contributions in computational complexity and optimization — and later, branching out into algorithms and distributed computing — his career would take an unexpected but not altogether surprising turn toward accessibility advocacy and research.

Ladner enrolled in an American Sign Language course at a local community college, a move that represented a “return to his roots” after growing up in a household where both parents were deaf. That experience spurred him to begin volunteering in the community with people who were deaf and blind and to occasionally write about accessibility issues.

Then, in 2002, Ladner began working with Ph.D. student Sangyun Hahn at the UW. Hahn, who is blind, related to Ladner how he was having trouble accessing the full content of his textbooks; mathematical formulas had to be read aloud to him or converted into Braille, while graphs and diagrams had to be manually traced, labeled in Braille, and printed on an embosser. His student’s frustration was the impetus for Ladner and Hahn to launch the Tactile Graphics project, which automated the conversion of textbook figures into an accessible format. Ladner followed that up with MobileASL, a collaboration with Electrical & Computer Engineering professor Eve Riskin to enable people who are deaf to communicate in American Sign Language using mobile phones. Ladner also mentored many Ph.D. students in accessibility research — among them Anna Cavender (Ph.D., ‘10), who developed technology to consolidate a teacher, display screen, sign language interpreter, and captioning on a single screen; Jeffrey Bigham (Ph.D., ‘09), who developed a web-based screen reader that can be used on any computer without the need to download any software; Information School alumnus Shaun Kane, who developed technology to make touchscreen devices accessible to people who are blind; and Shiri Azenkot (Ph.D., ‘14), who developed a Braille-based text entry system for touchscreen devices. 

Ladner’s approach to accessibility research is driven by the recognition that to build technology that is truly useful, you have to work with the people who will use it. It’s a lesson he took from his earlier experience as a volunteer, and one that he has emphasized with every student who has worked with him since. During his career, Ladner has mentored 30 Ph.D. students and more than 100 undergraduate and Master’s students — many of whom followed his example by focusing their careers on accessible technology research. 

“I visited Richard’s lab at the University of Washington just over 10 years ago. While I did get to see Richard, he was most interested in my meeting his Ph.D. students — and I could see why,” recalled Vicki Hanson, CEO of the Association for Computing Machinery. “Richard had provided an atmosphere in which his talented students could thrive. They were extremely bright, enthusiastic, and all involved in accessibility research. I spent the day talking with his students and learning about their innovative work.

“All were committed to developing technology that would overcome barriers for people with disabilities. Sometimes there are barriers in being able to use technology – in other cases, however, the use of technology actually provides opportunities to remove barriers in various aspects of daily living,” Hanson continued. “Richard’s students were working on both of these aspects of accessibility. The collegial and inspiring interactions among his students would serve as a model of research collaboration for computing labs everywhere.”

Ladner’s impact on students extends far beyond the members of his own lab. In addition to his research contributions and mentorship, Ladner has been a prominent advocate for providing pathways into computer science for students with disabilities. To that end, he has been a driving force behind multiple initiatives designed to engage a population that, until recently, was often overlooked in technology circles.

“When we think about diversity, we must include disability as part of that,” Ladner noted. “The conversation about diversity should always include disability.”

To that end, Ladner has been a leading voice for the inclusion of people with disabilities in conversations around improving diversity in technology. He served as a founding member of the board of the national Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Information Technology (CMD-IT). The organization hosts the ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing, which attracts an estimated 1,500 attendees of diverse backgrounds and abilities each year. Ladner was also a member of the steering committee that established the Computing Research Association’s Grad Cohort Workshop for Underrepresented Minorities and Persons with Disabilities (URMD) for beginning graduate students. In discussions leading up to the program’s launch, Ladner was instrumental in making sure that the “D” made it into the name and scope of the workshop.

Ladner has also worked directly with colleagues and students around the country to advance diversity in the field. The longest-running of these initiatives is the Alliance for Access to Computing Careers (AccessComputing), which he co-founded with Sheryl Burghstahler, Director of the UW’s DO-IT Center, with funding from National Science Foundation’s Broadening Participation in Computing program. AccessComputing and its 60 partner institutions and organizations support students with disabilities to successfully pursue higher education and connect with career opportunities in computing fields. Since its inception in 2006, that initiative has served nearly 1,000 high school and college students across the country. For seven consecutive years, Ladner also organized the annual Summer Academy for Advancing Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Computing to prepare students to succeed in computing majors and careers.

More recently, Ladner partnered with Andreas Stefik, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on AccessCSForAll. That initiative is focused on developing accessible K-12 curricula for computer science education along with professional development for teachers. The duo also partnered with to review and modify the Computer Science Principles Advanced Placement course to ensure that online and offline course activities met accessibility standards for students with disabilities. This included developing accessible alternatives to visually-based unplugged activities as well as making interactive tools that would work with screen readers. Ladner and his collaborators on the project earned a Best Paper Award at last year’s conference of the ACM’s Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE 2019) for their efforts.

This past spring, Ladner was one of nine researchers to co-found the new Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences (CREATE) at the UW. The mission of CREATE is to make technology accessible and to make the world accessible through technology. The center, which was established with an inaugural $2.5 million investment from Microsoft, consolidates the efforts of faculty from the Allen School, Information School, and departments of Human Centered Design & Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Rehabilitation Medicine who work on various aspects of accessibility. 

“Richard is a gifted scientist and mentor who really helped to put UW on the map when it comes to accessible technology,” said professor Magdalena Balazinska, Director of the Allen School. “As a staunch advocate for innovation that serves all users, his impact on computing education and research cannot be overstated.”

Since his retirement in 2017, Ladner has remained engaged with the Allen School community and continues to invest his time and energy in accessible technology research and increasing opportunities for students with disabilities in computing fields. In accepting this latest accolade — one in a long line of many prestigious awards he has collected during his career — Ladner expressed optimism that accessibility’s importance is recognized by an increasing number of his peers.

“I am honored to receive this recognition from the National Science Board and heartened that the scientific community is rising to the important challenge of supporting students with disabilities,” Ladner said.

Read the NSB press release here, and learn more about Ladner’s career and contributions in a previous Allen School tribute here.

August 11, 2020

Richard Ladner honored with Strache Leadership Award for impact on accessibility education and research

Richard LadnerRichard Ladner, professor emeritus at the Allen School and a nationally recognized leader in accessibility research and advocacy, has been recognized with the Strache Leadership Award from the Center on Disabilities at California State University, Northridge. Each year, the center honors an individual who has made a significant and lasting impact through education and research in the area of assistive technology with the Strache Leadership Award, which is named for CSUN’s former Vice President for Student Affairs Fred Strache.

Ladner, who began his career in theory of computation, has been a leading researcher and advocate in the field of accessibility for more than three decades. Examples of his research impact include Tactile Graphics, a project to make figures and diagrams in textbooks accessible to students who are blind and low-vision, and MobileASL, a project to enable deaf people to communicate via sign language over mobile phones that Ladner undertook in collaboration with Electrical Engineering professor Eve Riskin. His latest project is designed to engage blind children in computer programming via an accessible block-based programming language for tablets. Through his work, Ladner has helped establish the University of Washington as a leader in accessible technology — and ignited students’ and colleagues’ interest in accessibility research.

Ladner also has been at the forefront of multiple initiatives to increase access for people with disabilities to computer science education and careers. He serves as the Principal Investigator for two programs funded by the National Science Foundation: the AccessComputing Alliance, which focuses on engaging and supporting students with disabilities to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in computing; and AccessCSForAll, an effort that began last year to increase the participation of K-12 students in computer science classes through the provision of accessible curricula and tools. Previously, Ladner directed the Summer Academy for Advancing Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Computing, an intensive educational program aimed at preparing students for majors and careers in computing-related fields.

Ladner’s work previously earned him the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM); the Computing Research Association’s A. Nico Habermann Award; the Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award for Scientific Scholarship, Civic Science and Diversifying Computing; the Broadening Participation in Computing Community Award; the ACM CHI Social Impact Award; and the SIGACCESS Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computing and Accessibility. He will be formally honored with the Strache Leadership Award as part of the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference — the largest international conference focused on the field of assistive technology — in San Diego, California this week. Previous recipients of the award include Ladner’s friend and colleague, Sheryl Burgstahler, who was recognized in 2012 for her work as founder and director of the UW’s DO-IT Center and co-principal investigator with Ladner of the AccessComputing Alliance.

Congratulations, Richard!


March 20, 2018

UW CSE’s Richard Ladner recognized by SIGACCESS for outstanding contributions in accessible computing

Richard LadnerUW CSE professor Richard Ladner has been selected the 2016 winner of the Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computing and Accessibility by the Special Interest Group in Accessible Computing (SIGACCESS). In announcing the honor, SIGACCESS cited Ladner’s 30+ years of research, advocacy and leadership in the field of accessible computing.

From the award citation:

“Richard’s steadfast support and advocacy for people with disabilities have tangibly increased their participation in STEM fields….Richard was one of the first people to address the concept of accessibility in the HCI field in his 1987 CHI paper ‘A User Interface for Deaf-Blind People.’ Since then, his research has substantially advanced the state-of-the-art in access technology, resulting in products and services that are not merely academic curiosities, but have actually been adopted and used by people with and without disabilities. Examples include ASL-STEM Forum, MobileASL, ClassInFocus, Tactile Graphics and V-Braille.

“Richard has supervised nine PhD students who focused their dissertation research on accessibility related topics. Some of those students have disabilities themselves. All have been so inspired by Richard that they have gone on to pursue their own careers in accessibility research in academia or industry.”

Read the full citation here. SIGACCESS will present the award at its ASSETS 2016 conference in October.

This is the latest in a long list of honors Richard has earned for his efforts to make technology accessible to all, including the 2014 ACM CHI Social Impact Award, the CMD-IT 2015 Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award, and the 2015 Broadening Participation in Computing Community Award.

Congratulations, Richard!

August 18, 2016

UW wins Best Student Paper Award at ASSETS 2014

Picture2The paper “Tactile Graphics with a Voice: Using QR Codes to Access Text in Tactile Graphics” has been named Best Student Paper at ASSETS 2014, the 16th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility. The authors are UW CSE graduate students Catherine Baker and Lauren Milne, UW CSE staff member Jeffrey Scofield, UW HCDE graduate student Cynthia Bennett, and UW CSE faculty member Richard Ladner.

Tactile graphics are a major way for blind people to access figures and diagrams in books and documents. Tactile Graphics with a Voice (TGV) allows text within tactile graphics to be accessible by using a talking QR code reader app on a smartphone. The paper explores different picture taking guidance techniques for blind users: 1) no guidance, 2) verbal guidance, and 3) finger pointing guidance. A study with blind users indicates that there is no clear preference so that all techniques should be available as options in TGV.

This recognition continues UW CSE’s leadership in accessibility technology. UW CSE students and faculty received the Best Paper Award at ASSETS 2013 and ASSETS 2012; UW CSE Ph.D. student (now alum) Anna Cavender won the Best Student Paper Award at ASSETS 2006.

October 23, 2014

Deaf, hard-of-hearing students do first test of sign language by cell phone

UW’s MobileASL team is developing the first device able to transmit American Sign Language over U.S. cellular networks.

The tool is completing its initial field test, which allows the team to see how people use the tool in their daily lives and what obstacles they encounter. Eleven participants — all students in the UW Summer Academy for Advancing Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Computing — are testing the phones for three weeks. They meet periodically with the research team for interviews and respond to survey questions that pop up after a call is completed.

Read the full UWeek article here

Additional coverage:  TechFlashSeattle TimesSeattle PICNETGizmagWiredThe EngineerComputer WorldTechNewsDailyTGDailyKing5 news.  ReadWriteWeb.

August 16, 2010

The Broader Impact of Technologies for the Blind and Deaf

Richard LadnerUW CSE’s Richard Ladner talks with Rachel Tompa in an Xconomy article regarding the hurdles that must be cleared to make a phone or a computer usable to the blind or deaf.  He believes that technologies developed for the blind and deaf may eventually lead to broader technological advancements.  This belief is not such a far-fetched idea:  mobile GPS, now used by milliions, was originally developed as an aid for the blind.  Ladner, along with his students, use engineering and computational tools to work on several of these hurdles—and the commercial applications could have far-ranging impact.

Ladner is currently working with UW TechTransfer to commercialize MobileASL, his oldest project on accessibility for the deaf.  This project uses video compression technology to enable signing over video cell phones on low-bandwidth wireless networks (such as those in the U.S.). Currently, deaf people can’t reliably use video cell phones to communicate using sign language, because the videos are too choppy to be intelligible.

Read the full article here.

July 28, 2009

Helping the Blind and Deaf Feel at Home in a Wired World

<span style="color: #666666">Photo: Mary Levin</span>

Photo: Mary Levin

Columns, the magazine of the University of Washington Alumni Association, reports on the long and fruitful work that Boeing Professor in Computer Science and Engineering Richard Ladner has done making technology and opportunity more available to blind and deaf people.

Dr. Ladner had two deaf parents, which helped him understand the challenges faced by those with sensory disabilities and motivated him to work to help lower barriers

A notable project to come out of Ladner’s advocacy work is WebAnywhere (previous CSE News reporting here), which allows blind users to have web pages read to them using a standard PC, eliminating the requirement for an expensive “screen reader” program. This project is developed by CSE PhD student Jeffrey Bigham. Another is MobileASL (previous CSE News reporting here), a collaboration with Electrical Engineering professor Eve Riskin, which allows deaf users to have American Sign Language conversations using unmodified cellphones. Another: the cross-disciplinary Tactile Graphics project, which has developed software to speedily create tactile versions of visual graphics, which are accessible to unsighted users.

Read the full article here.

March 4, 2009

Richard Ladner Receives 2008 Purpose Prize

Richard Ladner, UW CSE professor, was one of 15 recipients of the 2008 Purpose Prize, an award for social innovators over 60. Ladner has shifted his focus from computer science theory to developing better technologies for disabled people. He and his students and colleagues have developed such applications as WebAnywhere, software to allow the blind to use the internet on the go, MobileASL, an application for deaf people to use video communication on cell phones, and a faster way to translate textbook graphics into Braille for blind students. The Purpose Prize, now in its sixth year, is awarded by Civic Ventures and funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies and the John Templeton Foundation.

See Civic Ventures’ press release here.

December 4, 2008

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