When I was in grad school, studying Human-Computer Interaction, some people worked in the sub-field of Accessibility. Making the web easier to use if you’re using a screen reader, or auto-captioning videos, or whatever. Often they’d do studies with people who are in some way disabled/differently-abled1: visually impaired, hearing impaired, have only one arm, etc. Some of my friends worked on this stuff. They were (with one exception) delightful people, and from what I could tell, the HCI-accessibility community (people who went to the ACM ASSETS conference) were delightful as well.

I had an opportunity to work in this field, but I didn’t take it. Being, uh, kind-of-regularly-commonplace-kind-of-abled, I wasn’t particularly drawn into any project around it. Ironically, at the same time, I was interested in wearable computers, cool gadgets that would make you slightly more Batman. I had heard that accessibility and “tech that lets you get superpowers” were two sides of the same coin, and that we’re all disabled sometimes, but it didn’t really sink in.

What a missed opportunity! As I buy “shoes that require no hands” (referral link, because they’re awesome) and “push/pull/rotate door handles”, I realize that I want the most accessible technology most of the time. As I rail against everything being touchscreens, and correctly hate on “smart homes”, I’m like, I could have worked on better versions of all this.

Hrmph. Anyway, if you’re an HCI grad student, learn from my mistakes; accessibility research is Good, Actually.

  1. err, let me know (and sorry!) if I’m using terms that aren’t the most respectful here ↩︎

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