Congratulations to the Recipients of the IBM People with Disabilities Student Awards at Web4All 2016!

This was the second year that Web4All was able to grant qualifying students the IBM People with Disabilities Award. This year, four winners received the award, and presented their work to a community of researchers and practitioners who are working to make web, mobile, and wearable devices accessible for all.

We thought that CareerConnect readers would enjoy hearing about the challenging work these students who are blind or visually impaired are pursuing, as well as what led them into their current fields of study.

  • Ashley Cwikla, is a doctoral student at University of the Cumberlands, currently working at Harvard University as an Adaptive Technology Coordinator. She is earning her PhD in Education Leadership, focusing on student development and affairs. Her work at Harvard involves getting the faculty to gain an understanding of how accessibility plays a vital role in student learning. She teaches them about the currently available tools for checking accessibility, and how to provide choices to students to acquire the educational content and then replicate the skills learned from that content in a myriad of ways.

    Ashley is a braille reader and uses a screen reader. She spoke about the accessibility challenges she encountered while studying math; for example, braille displays generally present information one line at a time, although one new model (the Canute Electronic Braille Reader) has a multi-line option, “which would have really helped me!”
  • Cole Gleason, Carnegie Mellon University, grew up with deteriorating vision in a very small town outside of Chicago. He used braille writers, large print books, and magnifying telescopes at school. Growing up unable to drive safely, in a place with no public transportation, he was interested in solutions to that problem. He was “always the kid in the backseat reading the map on family trips,” so he could understand the route, and learn about interesting things nearby.

    A fan of science fiction, he decided to go to the University of Illinois for computer science degree, and became interested in wearable technology. He’s currently working with NavCog, a collaboration between CMU and IBM that uses smart phones and Bluetooth beacons to navigate. His research focuses “on exploratory behavior – how to encourage exploration and discovery, as opposed to getting to a particular, known destination. How can we foster learning, and help people create better mental maps?”
  • Lourdes M. Morales-Villaverde grew up in Puerto Rico and is currently pursuing a PhD in computer science at UC Santa Cruz. Her thesis is on document formatting tool for blind people, especially resumes and scientific papers.

    Growing up, she didn’t have access to assistive technology until later on, around 10th grade, when her vision hit legal blindness. But “Technology can give us access to opportunities to advance academically, professionally, and even socially.” Lourdes recently traveled around Kyoto by herself, knowing no Japanese, using only her iPhone and a well-planned out travel schedule.
  • Philbert Jong: was born and raised in CA, San Gabriel Valley and is currently pursuing an associate’s degree in engineering and technology at Pasadena City College. He is a braille reader, and in k-12 grades had a TVI (teacher of students with visual impairments) who taught him math alongside other students with visual impairments. At school, he used screen readers, braille notetakers, and talking calculators (and now primarily uses his smartphone for calculating).

    The issue he encountered was that very high levels of math are strongly recommended for major preparation — calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations. No simple method was available for a braille student to input mathematical content with online platforms.

    Philbert is working on creating a standard browser extension, “Mathorator,” that could interact with existing online platforms for learning math, so it would work with more than just one site. He closed by encouraging purchasers for educational institutions to determine the true level of accessibility via user testing. (Hear, hear!)

Thank you to IBM for their generous sponsorship and congratulations to all of the winning students!