Research on Portable Assistive Technologies supported by NIH


Computer science professors Donald E. Porter (PI) and  I.V. Ramakrishnan, Yevgen Borodin (Co-PIs) were awarded a large R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They will be working on developing better methods for reading and hearing on-screen text for people with visual impairments. Their research aims to make existing assistive technologies portable to any device, as well as work well on remote or cloud computing systems, removing critical barriers to education and employment for computer users with visual impairments.

For people with visual impairments that use assistive technologies (AT), consistency in their AT across devices is critically important. Unfortunately, today’s ATs only work on the single platform they were designed for, such as Windows or MacOS. With the widespread implementation of technology in many aspects of modern life, the visually impaired face an increasingly more difficult problem when they need to switch between various devices with different available AT. This is where the Stony Brook CS team comes in.

The professors are working to decouple ATs from a specific OS and create a generic intermediate representation (IR) that can be easily transferred and used on a device with a different operating system.  Being able to keep a familiar “look and feel” when users have to switch operating systems will significantly improve the experience of many people with visual impairments who must read text on various screens.

The amount of the grant is just under one million dollars and the project will begin during the fall semester of 2016. The research, entitled Semantics-Preserving Virtualization: A Computing System Framework to Run Any Screen Reader on Any Device with Easy Customization. It is scheduled to take place over the course of three years, with an estimated completion date in 2019. This exciting and life-changing research will generate tools that can make screen readers and other assistive technologies portable across OSes, as well as interoperate more efficiently for remote desktop systems.

“The CS department is extremely proud of this research team which, through this incredible funding, will have an enormous impact on many, many lives across the globe,” said Arie Kaufman, department chair.

According to NIH, the Research Project Grant (R01) is the original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by NIH. The R01 grant program “provides support for health-related research and development based on the mission of the NIH”.

About the Researchers

Professor Donald E. Porter moved recently from Stony Brook University to the computer science department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. This project will be a collaborative effort between the two universities. Professor Ramakrishnan earned his PhD in computer science from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a tenured faculty member of computer science and his research interests are in artificial intelligence and computer accessibility. An alum of the department, Professor Borodin received both his PhD and MS in computer science from Stony Brook. His research and the startup company he founded (Charmtech Labs) focuses on web accessibility, along with information retrieval, web content analysis, and data mining.