I’d like to tell you about my friend Karl Wiegand and his amazing research. He’s one of the smartest and most capable researchers I know, and it doesn’t hurt that he spends his valuable time and immense brain power on making the world a truly better place. Karl Wiegand is a doctoral candidate at Northeastern University in Boston in the College of Computer and Information Science. He is a computer scientist in Dr. Rupal Patel’s Communication Analysis & Design Laboratory (CADLab). Karl’s area of research is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). More specifically, he focuses on icon-based AAC and AAC facilitated by an exciting technology known as brain-computer interfaces (BCI). Karl will be presenting on these topics in San Diego at the 28th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, (CSUN for short). I encourage anybody who will be at CSUN this year to attend Karl’s session on Friday, March 1st, at 3:10 p.m. PST in the Ford AB room on the 3rd floor of the Manchester Grand Hyatt. His presentation is titled Novel Approaches to Icon-Based AAC.
I strongly encourage you to read Laura Legendary's excellent write up on Karl's work at the Accessible Insights Blog. Laura does a great job of presenting AAC as well as defining some of the other terms often used in this line of research. I recommend reading Laura’s article for an overview of the terms and topics I’ll be discussing here. I’ll also link to relevant Wikipedia articles.
The following is taken from various discussions I’ve had with Karl about his work. He and I both encourage you to contact him about any questions you may have. Contact information can be found at the end of this post.
This post is a response to a post made by Chris Maury entitled Is the next shift in computer interaction really gestural? Probably not. I encourage you to definitely go read that post. Chris claims an intrinsic advantage to an audio based interface, a class of interface I’m involuntarily exquisitely familiar with as a result of being blind and using instance, a screen reader, on a daily basis for between 14 and 18 hours a day. As a result of this usage over the past decade or so, and as a result of some of my doctoral research, I’ve included some thoughts below.
Sina demonstrating a sonification prototype of an exhibit at CMME 2012 at the Museum of Science, Boston.
My first memory of visiting a museum is from elementary school. I remember trooping onto a bus full of children and the two-hour ride to the museum. When we arrived, I was split off from the rest of the children and placed in the charge of an older gentleman. He gave me a pair of headphones and a cassette player with an audio tour of the museum. The reason for this singular treatment was because I am blind. Though I have some usable vision, it is not enough to appreciate museum exhibits from a purely optical point of view. The kind gentleman spent several hours walking me through the museum, letting me touch things that most visitors weren’t allowed to touch. He found me exhibits with audio, olfactory, or tactile components, and he answered, or tried to answer, every single one of the unending questions that were a hallmark of my childhood. It was one of the few school trips that I’ll never forget.
That trip came sharply to my mind again in May 2012, when I had the pleasure of working with the talented individuals at the Museum of Science, Boston, to create universally designed exhibits. Accessibility experts, computer scientists, informal learning spaces researchers, and others gathered for a highly productive one-week workshop entitled Creating Museum Media for Everyone (CMME). You can read more about my CMME experience here. I was invited due to my doctoral research, which facilitates eyes-free exploration of highly graphical data. In this article, I describe universal design partially from conversations I had at the CMME workshop and afterwards, and partially from my own experiences as a blind museum visitor.
NASA’s SDO Satellite Captures 2012 Venus Transit [Close-Up]
The below is a blurb I wrote on my website when the transit of Venus was happening earlier this year. While we didn’t succeed in sonifying the whole thing, I think that it’s not a terrible showing for just a few hours of hacking on what was supposed to be a vacation, *grin*. Check out the video and pictures of the prototype, and see what you think.
Sina checking out a puck that can move in all four directions in a box – the puck vibrates when it is over the data point of interest.
I had forgotten my love for museums and informal learning spaces. Don’t get me wrong: classrooms are awesome places to learn a variety of topics. Few things are as fun as doing projects with friends and strangers soon to become friends in the hallways of a computer science department or in the basement of an engineering building until well after dark. And, let’s not forget about the friendships and camaraderie formed in a research lab with colleagues each working on their research projects, last minute publications, or just engaged in an extremely serious and thought provoking debate about a trivial piece of science fiction arcana. However, there’s something about the energy and excitement about a museum. At least for me, there’s just a thrill knowing that I’m in a building dedicated to awesomeness! Whether it be the classical Egyptology and paleontology exhibits or the cool hands-on math/science exhibits, I’m hooked and amused for hours.
Sina standing on the stage at the Champions of Change event at the White House
I was incredibly humbled and honored to be recognized as a White House Champion of Change earlier this year. NC State kindly published an article about it on the Department of Computer Science website. I really enjoyed being on the second of two panel discussions held at the White house in May. The video of both panel discussions is available. I am 71:50 into the video. Below is the blog post that I was asked to write for the White House Blog.