Hacking Digital Accessibility

I often feel fortunate to live in New York City and I’m privileged to be able to easily access experiences and information as I make my way through the city. From an outside perspective, I also understand the barriers that people with disabilities face on a daily basis. My research interests have been primarily focused on obstacles in the built environment that impact the mobility of people with physical disabilities, so I was excited to hear about the latest GeoNYC Meetup, Mobility is for everyone. I was drawn to the event because of a presentation about a recent report from the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation, Intelligent Paratransit, which highlights inefficiencies in paratransit (a.k.a. Access-A-Ride in NYC) and suggests technological changes to improve the paratransit experience for people with disabilities.

Coincidentally, the other four presentations were about navigation for people with blindness and low vision; a New Yorker’s experience of navigating the city while blind, a mobile navigation app using 3D maps, an explanation of tactile mapping, and a DOT project using bluetooth beacons to communicate the location of points of interest in public spaces (coming soon to NYC!). I say coincidental because accessibility for people with blindness and low vision has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been exploring digital accessibility in regards to utilizing mapping tools to research mobility, I’ll be part of a panel discussing digital accessibility of Open Educational Resources (OERs) at the upcoming CUNY IT conference, and I was invited to respond to an upcoming talk by Dr. Josh Miele, Associate Director of Technology Research and Development at the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Low Vision and Blindness.

The potential for digital interventions to improve mobility is immense, and the GeoNYC meetup gave me a lot of food for thought regarding mobility, disability, and how to think about access. There are many overlaps in built accessibility features that help people with physical and vision disabilities, but there is also a need for information to be available in a digital format that makes it accessible for blind people, including descriptions of environmental features, spatial information, and other non-textual information. Of course, accessibility improvements of any kind are often seen as costly or labor intensive, but when implemented, they benefit able-bodied people in expected and unexpected ways.

Fortunately for me, there will be several opportunities next week for me to think even more about how access to information impacts mobility. Dr. Miele will speak at Brooklyn College, The Graduate Center, CUNY and Columbia University. He has been hacking accessibility for most of his life, and has been a pioneer in developing tools to further digital accessibility. The Blind Arduino Project, overTHERE, and YouDescribe are just a few of his projects. I’m excited to hear more about his process and his ideas for working together to make environments and technology more inclusive.

Here are the events next week:

Access This! Disability, technology, and design, ready or not.
Thursday, October 20, 12-2pm.
Jefferson-Williams Room, 4th Floor
Brooklyn College Student Center, 2705 Campus Rd, Brooklyn, NY 11210

GC Digital Initiatives Speaker Series:
Digital Accessibility and the Making of a Meta Maker Movement.
Thursday, October 20, 2016, 6:30-8:30pm
Graduate Center, Room C198 RSVP.

Columbia University’s Seminar on Disability, Culture, and Society:
Theorizing Access
Friday, October 21, 2016, 12-2pm
Barnard Hall, Room 409 (RSVP to Liz Bowen,


The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309