Recently I went to ASSETS, the 19th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility and the leading conference on assistive technology in HCI. It was hosted in my home city of Baltimore this year and was my first experience being a Student Volunteer at a conference, and also being an author on a full conference paper.
1st ASSETS Hackathon
One of my favorite activities was taking part in the 1st annual hackathon, hosted at Baltimore's National Federation of the Blind. We were divided into two groups tasked with ideating an accessible self-tracking solution. We displayed and discussed our prototypes with conference attendees at the ASSETS reception on Tuesday night. Armed with Little Bits, Arduinos, and plenty of low-fi prototyping materials, our group made this beautiful set of prototypes:
The major problem we set out to tackle was non-audio feedback for blind users during exercise. Two of our team members were blind and expressed frustration when working out because tracking on exercise equipment is inaccessible to them, yet audio feedback is distracting. We created a prototype for a pair of Bluetooth neck headphones which would connect with exercise equipment. The headphones have three haptic sensors which could provide basic feedback to a user who is self-tracking things like heart rate or calories burned. The haptic feedback could alert the user if their heart rate is too high using vibrating haptics on the back of the neck, for example. We also discussed how these sensors could be used for non-audio wayfinding in order to reduce audio overload for the user. Theoretically, the right sensor would vibrate if the user had to take the next right, for example.
We created two prototypes. Our kits did not have actuators, so one of the team members, Dr. Keith Vertanen, programmed an Arduino using Little Bits speakers. He attempted to create a low frequency that would allow the user to feel vibrations. I also created a prototype using pipe cleaners, Little Bits splitters, buzzers, buttons, and thresholds.
My adviser, Dr. Stacy Branham, presented our work, "Is Someone There? Do They Have a Gun": How Visual Information about Others Can Improve Personal Safety Management for Blind Individuals. She did a great job dynamically presenting the key takeaways about the safety concerns blind individuals have regarding the people around them. I am really excited to be working on our next project for my thesis now.