Looking Forward: Vision-Related Access and Assistive Tech

Spring 2018– Wednesdays 6:30-9:00
Course Credits: 3
2 Metrotech Center, MAGNET, Room 803

Class meets in Brooklyn at 2 Metrotech Center, MAGNET, Room 803 unless otherwise noted.


1) Gus Chalkias- (NYU Tandon School of Engineering, Dept. of Integrated Digital Media)

2) Claire Kearney-Volpe- (NYU Interactive Telecommunications Program, Tisch School of the Arts)


This course surveys assistive technologies for people with low vision and blindness, from historical, contemporary, and forward-thinking perspectives. Guest lectures from leaders in the field and people with lived experience will help students learn about low-vision and blindness accessibility across several domains (web, wayfinding, literacy, socialization, etc.). In the second half of the class, students will partner with each other and clients/community members to develop their own projects that transform and advance these technologies.


  • NYU IT
  • The Met
  • P5.js
  • Helen Keller Services (accessible kiosk?)


  • Demonstrate an understanding of and implement the human-centered design, research and prototyping processes (including client consultation, design/prototyping and user testing)
  • Learn to informally assess the client site or client population to identify a need for a tech-based intervention; learn how to communicate meaningfully with clients/end-users
  • Acquire an awareness of experiences for people with low vision or blindness
  • Demonstrate understanding of various technologies used by people with low-vision or blindness
  • Demonstrate the ability to communicate and work within a group to develop a prototype
  • Demonstrate critical and creative thinking in researching solutions to clinical problem
  • Develop a prototype device for a chosen client or client group
  • Develop extensive documentation for all projects


In addition to class participation and readings this class includes three projects:

Short Special Topic Presentation

Students will sign up to present on a topic of their choosing. These presentations are meant to start a dialogue on a topic related to the course. Presentations are to be fairly informal and can take the form of a reading, personal insights, questions for the class, etc. SIGN UP HERE

Mid-term Presentation and Response- Each student will choose a topic related to the final and perform a literature review or competitive analysis of existing technologies. Students will have 10 minutes to present to the class and will be asked to produce a 1-page response about their topic – including historical overviews, details about relevant technological interventions (specs/innovations) and social impacts. Final projects/topics should be discussed and approved by instructors by February 21st. Midterm presentations and papers are due March 7th.

Prototype Project- Student groups will work with outside partners to build a prototype, perform user testing and document their process. Projects will require students to conduct intensive user and secondary research into their project, including individual contextual factors, existing literature, devices and software. Groups must be able to provide multiple iterations on their prototypes reflecting the user testing results. User testing and progress review will be held on April 18th. Projects can be physical or computer based depending on the need. Information regarding the associated documentation will be provided. Final presentations will be on May 2ndProject Database


50% -Individual Grade:  Short Special Topic Presentation (15%), Mid-term Special Topic (Presentation and Written Response) (25%) and class participation (10%)

50% -Group Grade: Prototype Project

Midterm Written Response

1-page written response about a chosen topic, taking into consideration the historical context, technology (specs and innovations) and social impacts of their subject.

Midterm In-class presentation

In addition to submitting a 1-page response, students will give a 10-minute presentation on their chosen topic.

Prototype Project

The Prototype Project has 3 deliverables:

1) A project proposal. Please use the following form as a guide:

2) Group presentation(s)

3) Project website

-Must be updated weekly during the second half of the class
-Should reflect ongoing work

Group work

-Students must present documentation reflecting prototype development process on Ability Lab website

-Groups will add their documentation to a page on this website as soon as the groups are formed.  We will create the pages in class.


Arriving more than 5 minutes after class start, whether at the Ability Lab or at site visits, is “late.” Two “lates” equal one absence. Each absence from class will result in a deduction of 2 points from the final course grade.

Class participation

Engage in discussion with each other, invited speakers and at on-site visits. And of course, except for note taking, all laptops closed. There will be time to use laptops during class, and there will be time to close them because it has been scientifically proven that “laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers”.

Class Schedule (subject to change)


Class 1 (January 24th)

Lesson: Intro to course; Intro to low-vision and Blindness

-History (low-vision and blindness through the ages: social and legislative aspects, and technological interventions)
-Present (general overview of commonly used tech, positives and negatives and the cutting edge)

1) Complete Citi training for research with human subjects (Social & Behavioral Research – Basic/Refresher)

Reading for next class:

    1. Review: Tech listed here:


Class 2 (January 31st)

Lesson: Discuss readings; Intro to the domains of intervention and live demos of tech for people with low-vision and blindness; Intro to screen magnifiers, screen readers, audio description and touchscreen interventions.

Students to observe use and try out a variety of technologies. Immersive with JAWS and VoiceOver

Reading for next class:
1. “The Development of social skills by blind and visually impaired students: exploratory studies and strategies” Chapter 1, Kekelis, Linda, 1992.

  1. Chapter 3, Understanding and Managing Vision Deficits


Class 3  (February 7th)

Lesson: Discuss reading; Socialization and Recreation (Being born blind and becoming blind, Support, Online communities, gaming, social networks, online dating, etc.): Access, impacts, and user experience design.

Reading for next class:
1) “How Does A Blind Child Learn” by Doris Willoughby

2) “Learning Braille as a Mature Adult” by Mike Jolls


Class 4  (February 14th)

Lesson: Literacy and Education: Braille literacy history (threats and impact), pedagogy and technologies. Online Education and Communication Technology. Guest Danielle Pepin. Immersive with VoiceOver on touchscreen.

Assignment for next class: watch


Class 5 (February 21st)

Field trip: Visit to the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library; guest lecture by Chancey Fleet. Submit final project choices.

Reading for next class: Chapter 1, Foundations of Orientation and Mobility, 3rd Edition: Volume 2. edited by William R. Wiener, Richard L. Welsh, Bruce B. Blasch. AFB Press, 2010.


Class 6  (February 28th)

Lesson: Discuss reading; Wayfinding: Space and Place (architecture, Urban Planning, GPS and Internal Wayfinding); Guest (Jenny Santiago to demo of cane usage, low tech tools, VRT, O&M)

Assignment: Midterm paper for midterms due next class.


Class 7 (March 7th)

Mid-Term Presentations. Discuss prototype projects

Reading for next class: Chapter 1 (Universal Design in a Digital World), Disability and New Media. Katie Ellis, Mike Kent. Routledge, May 11, 2011.(broken link)


Class 8 (March 21st)

Lesson: Discuss reading; Accessible Web (W3C, WCAG, tools and techniques). Immersive with JAWS, or any screen reader of choice.

Reading for next class:


Class 9 (March 28th)

Lesson:  Human-Centered Approaches to Design Research and Prototyping

Class 10  (April 4th)

TBD: Field Trip

Class 11  (April 11th)

Project Development I. Discuss prototype project progress with instructors.

Class 12 (April 18th)

Project Development II: User Testing

Class 13  (April 25th)

Project Development III

Class 14 (May 2nd)

Final Presentations


General Resources:

Apply for funding!



If you are a student with a disability who is requesting accommodations, please contact New York University’s Moses Center for Students with Disabilities at 212-998-980 or  You must be registered with CSD to receive accommodations.  Information about the Moses Center can be found The Moses Center is located at 726 Broadway on the 2nd floor.