Jeffrey Bigham, General Chair, Carnegie Mellon University and Apple, jbigham@cs.cmu.edu
Shiri Azenkot, Program Co-Chair, Cornell Tech, shiri.azenkot@cornell.edu
Shaun Kane, Program Co-Chair, University of Colorado, shaun.kane@colorado.edu


ASSETS 2019 was held in downtown Pittsburgh, USA from October 28-30 in the Omni William Penn Hotel. This was the 21st ASSETS conference, and marked the 25th anniversary of the first ASSETS conference in 1994 (because the first few conferences were held every other year). We welcomed 252 participants to the conference, making it the largest ASSETS ever!

Doctoral Consortium, AI Fairness Workshop, and Project Amelia

The conference started on Sunday October 27th with the Doctoral Consortium (DC), a Workshop on AI Fairness for People with Disabilities, and the Project Amelia theater production.

The DC was held at the nearby Apple offices on Carnegie Mellon University’s campus, and was led by Jon Froehlich and Amanda Lazar. They were joined by panelists Tiago Geurreiro, Chieko Asakowa, and Kristen Shinohara, and 16 student participants. After a day of hard work presenting their work, discussion, and feedback, the whole group had a dinner at the top of Mt. Washington overlooking downtown Pittsburgh. The DC was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Student volunteer Jason Wu helps to organize post-it notes on a big wall, while in the background Doctoral Consortium Chair Jon Froehlich presents to the participants who are seated around a u-shaped table
Figure 1 – Doctoral Consortium session.

We also held the first ever workshop on AI Fairness for People with Disabilities. Recognizing the increasing impact of AI and machine learning on everyone’s lives, the goal of this workshop was to examine AI fairness, accountability, transparency, and ethics in the specific context of people with disabilities. Organizers of this event included Shari Trewin, Meredith Ringel Morris, Shiri Azenkot, Stacy Branham, Nicole Bleuel, Phill Jenkins, Jeffrey Bigham, and Walter Lasecki, and was sponsored by SIGACCESS and IBM Research. The keynote speaker for the event was Alexandra Reeve Givens, the Executive Director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy.

Many conference attendees joined in as audience participants in Project Amelia, an immersive theater production. This accessible event enabled attendees to explore privacy and data through a fictional (but realistic) story of a technology company that has recently developed a new product.

Main Program

The main program started on Monday with a provocative and poignant keynote by Karen Nakamura, the Robert and Colleen Haas Distinguished Chair in Disability Studies at Berkeley. Her talk was entitled “My Algorithms Have Determined You’re Not Human: AI-ML, Reverse Turing-Tests, and the Disability Experience,” and led to a number of interesting and important conversations throughout the conference.

A shot from the back of the beautiful conference hall in the historic William Penn hotel, showing multiple balconies and chandeliers
Figure 2 – Conference hall in the historic William Penn Hotel.

The main technical program included 41 papers chosen from 158 total submissions, for an acceptance rate of 26%. The papers spanned a variety of topics and used a variety of different research methodologies. While the slight majority of papers were related to vision (22), papers also considered other domains like hearing (7), mobility (5), aging (4), and cognition (3).

The Poster and Demo sessions experienced an accessibility upgrade this year, thanks to poster and demos chairs Martez Mott and Kristen Shinohara, Accessibility Chairs, Dhruv Jain and Raja Kushalnagar, and Web Chair, Anhong Guo. All of the posters were made available online in advance and each was accompanied by a short audio pitch (along with captions).

The Student Research Competition (SRC), chaired by Robin Brewer and Foad Hamidi, had 4 undergraduate and 8 graduate student entries. After several rounds of poster and oral presentation and judging, Vinitha Gadiraju won first place in the Graduate Division for “BrailleBlocks: Braille Toys for Cross-Ability Collaboration.” Ocean Hurd and Sri Kurniawan won first place in the Ungraduate division for “Insights for More Usable VR for People with Amblyopia.” The SRC was sponsored by Microsoft.

The first evening’s reception was held at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science. Attendees interacted with demos from the university, ate and drank good food, and enjoyed an open-air deck overlooking the campus and the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The highlight of the evening was a speech by Shari Trewin, in which she told us about the history of ASSETS, in honor of its 25 years of existence. The evening was concluded with celebratory cake.

Shari Trewin after having jumped onto a couch to be better seen and heard, while delivering her overview of the 25-year history of the ASSETS conference
Figure 3 – Shari delivering her overview of the 25-year history of the ASSETS conference.

The second evening’s reception was held in the Andy Warhol museum, which was just across the Allegheny River from the conference venue. Attendees were able to enjoy the interesting art and experience of the museum, including a number of accessible exhibits. Toward the end of the evening, the conference awards were announced.

Conference Awards

The “Best Paper” Award went to a many author paper entitled, “Sign Language Recognition, Generation, and Translation: An Interdisciplinary Perspective.” This paper surveyed the long-standing challenges related to sign language and accessibility, and offered “a review of the state-of-the-art, a set of pressing challenges, and a call to action for the research community.” Authors included, Danielle Bragg, Oscar Koller, Mary Bellard, Larwan Berke, Patrick Boudreault, Annelies Braffort, Naomi Caselli, Matt Huenerfauth, Hernisa Kacorri, Tessa Verhoef, Christian Vogler and Meredith Morris.

The authors of the Best Paper Award winning paper post with their certificates, along with Program Chairs Shaun Kane and Shiri Azenkot
Figure 4 – Best paper award.

The Best Student Paper Award was awarded to “Deep Learning for Automatically Detecting Sidewalk Accessibility Problems Using Streetscape Imagery.” This paper demonstrated the potential of deep learning to uncover accessibility problems at scale, in this case leveraging a large-scale dataset of sidewalk accessibility problems. It was written by Galen Weld, Esther Jang, Aileen Zeng, Anthony Li, Kurtis Heimerl and Jon Froehlich.

The “SIGACCESS ASSETS Paper Impact Award” is presented every other year at ASSETS. As 2019 is an odd-numbered year, it was presented this year at ASSETS. This award is intended to be awarded to “the authors of an ASSETS conference paper presented 10 or more years prior to the award year which has had a significant impact on computing and information technology that addresses the needs of persons with disabilities.” This year’s Impact Award went to the paper, “Slide rule: making mobile touch screens accessible to blind people using multi-touch interaction techniques,” which was published by Shaun Kane, Jeffrey P. Bigham, and Jacob Wobbrock at ASSETS 2008. This paper, the 2nd most cited paper in ASSETS history, introduces and evaluates techniques that enable touchscreens (like the iPhone) to be used non-visually.

For the first time this year, we awarded an “Artifact Award,” which was determined by attendee votes. This award was intended to highlight submissions that include some component that is available to the public. This includes apps, data sets, instructional guides, and commercial products. 13 artifacts were submitted. In a tie for first place, were the “Clew iOS App,” by Chris Yoon, Ryan Louie, Jeremy Ryan, MinhKhang Vu, Hyegi Bang, William Derksen, and Paul Ruvolo, and the “X-Ray Android App,” by Sujeath Pareddy, Anhong Guo, and Jeffrey Bigham. In third place was “CodeJumper,” by Gesu India, Geetha Ramakrishna, Jyoti Bisht, and Manohar Swaminathan.


ASSETS is made possible through the contributions of many volunteers. We would like to thank all authors whose contributions form the bedrock of our event. We are grateful to the program committee who diligently reviewed and provided feedback to authors. We also thank the other members of the organizing committee: Deputy Program Chair Matt Huenerfauth, Proceedings Chair Kyle Rector, Treasurer Kotaro Hara, Posters Chairs Martez Edward Mott and Kristen Shinohara, Doctoral Consortium Chairs Jon Froehlich and Amanda Lazar, Student Research Competition Chairs Robin N. Brewer and Foad Hamidi, Mentoring Chairs Clayton Lewis and Emily B. Moore, Publicity Chairs Dragan Ahmetovic and Joao Guerreiro, Web Chair Anhong Guo, Graphic Design Chair Xiaofei Zhou, Local Arrangements Chairs Patrick Carrington and Cole Gleason, and Accessibility Chairs Dhruv Jain and Raja Kushalnagar.

We thank Jinjuan Heidi Feng, Matt Huenerfauth, Amy Hurst, Faustina Hwang, and Shari Trewin, of the ASSETS Steering Committee and Irene Frawley from the ACM for their invaluable support and guidance throughout the planning of ASSETS 2019.