OVERVIEW OF ASSETS 2021

Jinjuan Heidi Feng, Towson University, jfeng@towson.edu

Faustina Hwang, University of Reading, f.hwang@reading.ac.uk

Jonathan Lazar, University of Maryland College Park, jlazar@umd.edu

Introduction

The 23rd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS 2021) was successfully held between October 18th to 22nd, 2021. The ASSETS conference is the premier computing research conference exploring the design, evaluation, and use of computing and information technologies with and for people with disabilities and older adults. This year, the ASSETS conference continues its tradition of presenting innovative research on mainstream and specialized assistive technologies, accessible computing, and assistive applications of computer, network, and information technologies. 424 attendees from 24 countries and 6 continents (no one from Antarctica yet!) attended the conference, setting a new attendance record for ASSETS.

ASSETS 2021 took place in a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We made some changes to the format, extending ASSETS from 3 days into 4.5 days. This was done based on feedback from the surveys collected after the ASSETS 2020 conference, and in acknowledgement of the reality of the pandemic. When working from home and balancing family caregiving responsibilities, it is harder to commit the same number of hours per day to an online conference as one would for an in-person conference. Therefore, to acknowledge the reality of online conferences, each day was filled with less technical content per day than in previous years, with more time for breaks and socializing. There were also additional creative opportunities for socializing, including (in keeping with the 1970s theme celebrating the creation of both SIGACCESS and the Trace Center in 1971) a Zoom dance party and a Zoom folk singalong. We acknowledge that future ASSETS organizing committees will need to make their own decisions about the length and format of the conference, and so the decision to hold the conference for 4.5 days, is not a permanent decision.

Celebrating 50 years of SIGACCESS and the Trace Center

This year, we had two special 50th anniversaries to celebrate. SIGACCESS, the sponsor of the ASSETS conference, was founded in 1971 as SIGCAPH (Computers and the Physically Handicapped). And the Trace Research and Development Center, one of the world’s premier research centers on technology and disability, was founded in 1971 and therefore also celebrated its 50th anniversary! Three special panel discussions were organized to help celebrate the various anniversaries. One panel highlighted and reflected on the history of SIGACCESS, one panel focused on the impact of the Trace Center, and a third panel discussed the relationship between disability rights and digital accessibility. All of these panel videos are available on the SIGACCESS YouTube Channel

Technical program

The ASSETS 2021 program comprised four and half days of keynote speeches, panels, presentations and social events.

On Day 1, the program started with a keynote presentation followed by our first technical paper session, Inclusive Education. After a short break, the program featured the first of our 50th Anniversary Panels, the Impact of the Trace Center: Celebrating 50 Years. The afternoon session began with the first of three poster sessions, featuring Student Research Competition finalists and a selection of accepted posters and demos, followed by the technical paper session “Immersive and wearable technologies”. Day 1 concluded with a 1970s Zoom Dance Party.

On Day 2, the program continued with sessions on “Health and Support Systems” and “Screen Readers and Effective Descriptions”. These sessions were followed by the second 50th Anniversary Panel, the History of SIGACCESS. In the afternoon, the second poster session featured Doctoral Consortium participants and a selection of posters and demos. The final technical paper session for Day 2 was on “Representations of Disability and Researcher Perspectives”. The SIGACCESS Business Meeting took place at the end of Day 2.

On Day 3, we started with the first of two TACCESS sessions, featuring presentations of papers published in TACCESS in the past year. The program continued with a session on “Novel Tools and Usability Studies”, and the third 50th Anniversary Panel, the Relationship Between Disability Rights and Digital Accessibility. The third poster and demo session took place in the afternoon, followed by a technical paper session on “AI and Accessibility”. The 1970s-themed Singalong closed out Day 3.

Day 4 started with oral presentations from the Student Research Competition finalists, followed by the second TACCESS session and a technical paper session on “Independence and Everyday Living”. The afternoon session opened with presentations of this year’s Experience Reports, followed by the final technical paper session on “Communication and Novel Interactions”.

On Day 5, we had the closing keynote presentation. During the closing session, the ASSETS 2021 awards were presented, and Dr. Jon Froehlich, the general chair of ASSETS22, made an announcement about the upcoming conference.

Keynote presentations

One new aspect of the ASSETS conference this year was that the conference featured both an opening plenary speech and a closing plenary speech. We were privileged to have Axel Leblois as our opening keynote speaker. Mr. Leblois is the founder and executive director of G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive Technologies, an advocacy initiative of the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development. He presented “The DARE Index: Monitoring the Progress of Digital Accessibility around the World”[1]. The closing keynote was given by renowned researcher Annalu Waller PhD OBE, Professor of Human Communication Technologies and the Academic Lead for Computing at the University of Dundee, Scotland. Professor Waller is a long-time leader and contributor to the ASSETS community. She discussed “Participatory Design and Research: Challenges for Augmentative and Alternative Communication Technologies”[2].

Papers, posters and demonstrations, experience reports

This year’s technical program featured 36 technical papers, selected by the program committee from 124 submissions (acceptance rate of 29%). These papers present work from the leading edge of accessible computing research, including novel tools and interaction methods, advances in AI for accessibility, accessible technologies for independent living in everyday life, and the perception and representation of disabilities by diverse groups.

The Posters and Demos track, chaired by Jon Froehlich and Benjamin Tannert, received 89 submissions. The program committee selected 55 posters and demos for presentation, resulting in an acceptance rate of 62%. The accepted posters present late-breaking work from the research and professional community. The accepted demos provide an opportunity for conference attendees to experience new advances in accessible technology in a virtual platform.

The Experience Reports track documents authors’ personal or stakeholder experiences related to the creation, use, and deployment of accessible technologies. Chaired by Martez Mott and Laurianne Sitbon, this track received 16 completed submissions, of which six Reports were selected for presentation.

Student research competition

The ACM Student Research Competition (SRC), chaired by Dragan Ahmetovic and Weiqin Chen, offered a unique forum for undergraduate and graduate students to present their original research before a panel of judges and receive direct feedback on their work from experts. This year, five entries were selected as SRC finalists to give poster presentations. All participants gave oral presentations at the conference. Winners from the ASSETS 2021 SRC will go on to compete in the ACM-wide grand finals.

Doctoral consortium

ACM SIGACCESS is committed to developing the next generation of researchers in the field of accessible computing. This year's ASSETS continued the tradition of supporting and showcasing the work of student researchers. The doctoral consortium, chaired by Patrick Carrington and Annalu Waller, brought together nine doctoral students to discuss their work with a panel of established researchers in a one-day workshop on the Friday before the main conference. This special edition of the SIGACCESS newsletter features extended abstracts from five of these doctoral students.

Awards

SIGACCESS presented several awards during this year's conference. The Best Paper Award was presented to Qisheng Li, Josephine Lee, Christina Zhang, and Katharina Reinecke for their paper "How Online Tests Contribute to the Support System for People With Cognitive and Mental Disabilities"[3]. The Best Student Paper Award was presented to Stephanie Valencia, Mark Steidl, Michael Rivera, Cynthia Bennett, Jeffrey Bigham, and Henny Admoni for their paper " Aided Nonverbal Communication through Physical Expressive Objects”[4].

Introduced in 2019, the "Artifact Award" highlights submissions offering a publicly available component, including apps, data sets, instructional guides, and commercial products. Fourteen artifacts were submitted. Through a combination of delegate voting and input from judges, two winners were selected for the first place: “Adee: Bringing Accessibility Right Inside Design Tools”[5] by Samine Hadadi and “SciA11y: Converting Scientific Papers to Accessible HTML”[6] by Lucy Wang, Isabel Cachola, Jonathan Bragg, Evie Cheng, Chelsea Haupt, Matt Latzke, Bailey Kuehl, Madeleine van Zuylen, Linda Wagner, and Daniel Weld. In third place was “Sidewalk Gallery: An Interactive, Filterable Image Gallery of Over 500,000 Sidewalk Accessibility Problems”[7] by Michael Duan, Aroosh Kumar, Michael Saugstad, Aileen Zeng, Ilia Savin, and Jon E. Froehlich. Winners received $1000 and $250 awards for first and third place, respectively, sponsored by ASSETS.

Acknowledgments

The success of the ASSETS 2021 conference required a tremendous amount of work from authors, reviewers, committee members, and many others. We thank the authors of all papers, posters, demos, and experience reports, as well as the applicants to the Doctoral Consortium and Student Research Competition. We thank the program committee and additional reviewers Danielle Bragg and Vineet Pandey for reviewing submissions and providing authors with helpful feedback.

We also thank the members of the organizing committee: Treasurer and Registration Chair Kristen Shinohara, Virtual Chairs Cole Gleason, Abi Roper, Christian Vogler and Brian Wentz, Accessibility Chairs Nicholas Giudice, J. Bern Jordan, Raja Kushalnagar, Diversity and Inclusion Chairs Cynthia Bennett and Sayan Sarcar, Proceedings Chair Garreth Tigwell, Posters and Demos Chairs Jon Froehlich and Benjamin Tannert, Doctoral Consortium Chairs Patrick Carrington and Annalu Waller, Student Research Competition Chairs Dragan Ahmetovic and Weiqin Chen, Experience Reports Chairs Martez Mott and Laurianne Sitbon, Web Design Chairs Meagan Griffith and Rachel Wood, Mentoring Chairs Stacy Branham and Manohar Swaminathan, UX Panel Chairs Cosmin Munteanu and André Rodrigues, Publicity Chairs Rachel Menzies and Dhruv Jain, Student Volunteer Chairs Sergio Mascetti and Andreas Stefik, TACCESS Special Issue Chair João Guerreiro, and Best Artifact Award Chairs João Guerreiro and Foad Hamidi.

We thank the Best Paper Award committee Yeliz Yesilada, Clayton Lewis, Ravi Kuber, and Gerhard Weber. We thank Shari Trewin, Matt Huenerfauth, Kathy McCoy, Karyn Moffatt, Tiago Guerreiro, Jeffrey Bigham and Irene Frawley for their support and guidance.

Finally, we thank our Gold-level supporters Adobe, Apple, Elsevier, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, our Bronze-level supporters Cisco, Fable, University of Maryland College of Information Studies, iAccessible, IBM, Intuit, T-mobile Accessibility, TPGi, and Twitter, our In-Kind supporter Adobe, and our sponsors ACM and SIGACCESS for their very generous support.

References

  1. Axel Leblois. 2021. The DARE Index - Monitoring the Progress of Digital Accessibility around the World - A Research Conducted by Advocates for Advocates. In The 23nd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS '21). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article No.: 1, pp1. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3441852.3487959
  2. Annalu Waller. 2021. Participatory Design and Research: Challenges for Augmentative and Alternative Communication Technologies. In The 23nd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS '21). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article No.: 44, pp 1. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3441852.3487958
  3. Qisheng Li, Josephine Lee, Christina Zhang, and Katharina Reinecke. 2021. How Online Tests Contribute to the Support System for People With Cognitive and Mental Disabilities. In The 23nd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS '21). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article No.: 10, pp 1–15. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3441852.3471229
  4. Stephanie Valencia, Mark Steidl, Michael Rivera, Cynthia Bennett, Jeffrey Bigham, and Henny Admoni. 2021. Aided Nonverbal Communication through Physical Expressive Objects. In The 23nd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS '21). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article No.: 43, pp 1–11. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3441852.3471228
  5. Samine Hadadi. 2021. Adee: Bringing Accessibility Right Inside Design Tools. In The 23nd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS '21). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article No.: 101, pp 1–4. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3441852.3476478
  6. Lucy Wang, Isabel Cachola, Jonathan Bragg, Evie Cheng, Chelsea Haupt, Matt Latzke, Bailey Kuehl, Madeleine van Zuylen, Linda Wagner, and Daniel Weld. 2021. SciA11y: Converting Scientific Papers to Accessible HTML. In The 23nd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS '21). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article No.: 85, pp 1–4. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3441852.3476545
  7. Michael Duan, Aroosh Kumar, Michael Saugstad, Aileen Zeng, Ilia Savin, and Jon E. Froehlich. 2021. Sidewalk Gallery: An Interactive, Filterable Image Gallery of Over 500,000 Sidewalk Accessibility Problems. In The 23nd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS '21). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article No.: 87, pp 1–5. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3441852.3476542

About the Authors

Jinjuan Heidi Feng is a professor at the Computer and Information Sciences Department at Towson University. She was co-Program Chair for ASSETS 2021 and currently serves as an associate editor of ACM's Transactions on Accessible Computing (TACCESS). Her research interests include Human-Computer Interaction, Accessible Computing and Health-informatics.

Faustina Hwang is a professor in the Biomedical Engineering Section at the University of Reading, UK. She was co-Program Chair for ASSETS 2021. Her research interests include ageing, haptics, and wearable sensors.

Jonathan Lazar, PhD, LLM is a professor in the College of Information Studies (iSchool) at the University of Maryland. Professor Lazar has authored or edited 14 books, including Accessible Technology and the Developing World (co-edited with Michael Stein), Research Methods in Human-Computer Interaction (2nd edition, co-authored with Heidi Feng and Harry Hochheiser), Ensuring Digital Accessibility Through Process and Policy (co-authored with Dan Goldstein and Anne Taylor), and Disability, Human Rights, and Information Technology (co-edited with Michael Stein). He is the recipient of the 2021 ACM SIGCHI Academy Award and the 2020 ACM SIGACCESS Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computing and Accessibility. Dr. Lazar recently served as the general chair of the ACM ASSETS 2021 conference, and is the director of the Trace Research and Development Center.