UMD CS Graduate Student’s Innovative Technology for the Visually Impaired Honored at CHI 2023 Conference

Jiasheng Li's touchscreen technology breaks barriers for the visually impaired and advances accessibility.
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Jiasheng Li, a second-year computer science Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland, received an Honorable Mention award at the prestigious CHI 2023 conference for his paper titled "Toucha11y: Making Inaccessible Public Touchscreens Accessible.”

Li's work aims to address the challenges faced by blind and low-vision individuals when interacting with public touchscreen kiosks. These kiosks, found in various public spaces such as transportation hubs and retail establishments, often pose accessibility barriers due to their reliance on visual interfaces. 

To tackle this issue, Li developed Toucha11y, a custom-designed touchscreen robot that enables blind and low-vision users to access and interact with public touchscreens. The robot translates the visual interface into a tactile representation, allowing users to navigate the touchscreen using their sense of touch. The innovative solution has the potential to enhance accessibility and independence for individuals with visual impairments significantly.

"Jiasheng's work on Toucha11y is a remarkable contribution to accessible technology," said Li’s advisor, Computer Science Assistant Professor Huaishu Peng. "His dedication, creativity and passion for making a positive impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities have been truly inspiring." 

“We want people all around the planet to use our technology to solve their immediate challenges,” added Peng, who also holds a joint appointment in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies. “However, we don't want our invention to be a roadblock for touchscreen manufacturers to stop providing accessible screens. So, on the one hand, we are solving the existing problems by making the touchscreens more accessible. But on the other hand, I think it is fundamentally the responsibility of the manufacturers to make this device universally accessible.”

The Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) is widely regarded as the largest and most recognized conference in computer science, bringing together leading researchers, practitioners and experts from around the globe.

"CHI is known for its rigorous review process and the quality of research that is presented. The fact that Jiasheng's work received an Honorable Mention award speaks volumes about the innovation and impact of his research," expressed Peng. "It is awe-inspiring to see how Toucha11y stood out among a sea of exceptional papers. This recognition is a testament to the dedication, ingenuity and hard work that Jiasheng and the team have put into this project."

"Being recognized for Toucha11y at CHI 2023 is an incredible honor. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the field of accessible technology and make a difference in the lives of individuals with visual impairments,” Li said. “This award motivates me to continue exploring innovative solutions that promote inclusivity and equality. The award not only validates the project but also indicates a growing acknowledgment of the importance of accessibility technologies among a wider audience. And as a researcher, I will keep working in the accessibility field and aim to create more novel tools to help those often overlooked.”

In addition to Li and Peng, UMD co-authors on the paper include alum Arush Shah (B.S. ’21, computer engineering), computer science graduate student Zeyu Yan and iSchool Professor Jonathan Lazar. Their collective expertise and contributions enrich the research and is a testament to the thriving culture of interdisciplinary collaboration fostered at UMD.

—Story by Samuel Malede Zewdu, CS Communications 

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