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Vicki Hanson Named ACM Fellow

Dr. Vicki L. Hanson, Manager of Accessibility Research at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center, has been named an ACM Fellow for contributions to computing technologies for people with disabilities. Article by Dr. John Richards.

Vicki Hanson Named ACM Fellow


Dr. Vicki L. Hanson, Manager of Accessibility Research at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center, has been named an ACM Fellow for contributions to computing technologies for people with disabilities.

As noted on the ACM website (http://www.acm.org/awards/fellows), the Fellows Program was established “…to recognize and honor outstanding ACM members for their achievements in computer science and information technology and for their significant contributions to the mission of the ACM. The ACM Fellows serve as distinguished colleagues to whom the ACM and its members look for guidance and leadership as the world of information technology evolves.”

Achievements related to information technology

Vicki's interest in supporting disabled populations began at the University of Colorado where she focused on communication disorders, majoring in psychology along with speech pathology and audiology. In graduate school at the University of Oregon, her scope broadened to include psycholinguistics and applied cognitive psychology. These threads converged during her postdoctoral fellowship at the Salk Institute's Laboratory for Language and Cognitive Studies, and later at Haskin's Laboratories at Yale University, where she conducted research on the acquisition and processing of American Sign Language (ASL) and reading by deaf children and adults. In this groundbreaking work she demonstrated the surprising degree to which reading success among the profoundly and prelingually deaf was coupled to the existence and use of phonological mental representations.

Joining the Research staff at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in 1986, Vicki turned her attention to creating educational applications for the deaf. Her first application, HandsOn, demonstrated how computer technology could provide a bilingual educational experience for deaf children. Combining ASL and English, it allowed a student's skill in ASL to bootstrap the acquisition of skill in English. The technology was, for its time, state of the art (involving an object-oriented application environment, coupled to random-access laser disks, all driven by a simple touch screen user interface) and was deployed at numerous schools for deaf children both in the United States and Canada. It was recognized in 1992 as a National Merit Winner in the Johns Hopkins National Search for Computing to Assist Persons with Disabilities. Recently, it has been rebuilt using streaming Internet video and conventional browser technologies, allowing it to be used by a much larger audience.

Vicki's interests in educational technology during her early years at Watson were not limited to disabled populations. Other noteworthy accomplishments included NetVista (a solution allowing K-12 schools to inexpensively access the Internet), the Authentic Assessment Tool (a system supporting rich, portfolio-based student evaluations) and the NBOSS Online Scoring System for the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (which has grown to become a nationally deployed environment supporting the credentialing of master teachers).

In 2000, IBM formed a Worldwide Accessibility Center. As part of this effort it created a research group focusing on accessibility software. Because of her background, Vicki was asked to manage this group. In addition to becoming highly visible through its publications and media coverage, the group has enjoyed considerable success in creating software to make the Web more accessible to persons with disabilities. In particular, it has created what is known as Web Accessibility Technology (WAT). WAT provides a rich package of Web content transformations through an extremely simple user interface, allowing the disabled to modify Web content on the fly to meet their needs. WAT also provides automatic filtering of noisy keyboard input (such as that associated with tremors and other motor problems). The system has been extensively tested with older adults through SeniorNet and other organizations serving older adults, and more recently with organizations serving members with a variety of disabilities involving vision, dexterity, and cognitive limitations. It is now deployed internationally through numerous non-profit organizations for use by diverse disabled populations and has been redesigned for Mozilla and Firefox to further IBM’s Linux agenda. In 2003, WAT was named Product of the Year by the National Disabilities Council. In 2004, it received the Best New Ability Research Award from the New Freedom Foundation and the Applied Research da Vinci award from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Vicki has maintained an active presence in the research community throughout all this applied work, publishing more than 90 papers in refereed journals and conference proceedings and giving multiple conference keynotes.

Outstanding service to ACM and the computing community

Vicki has served in key ACM conference organizing positions from 1992 to the present. She was Conference Chair of CUU 2003 and ASSETS 2002 and has served on the organizing Committees of ASSETS 2000, OOPSLA'92, '93, '94, '95, '99, and '05. She has served on the program committee of ASSETS 2004, CHI'04, CHI'03 (Tutorials), and CUU 2002 (Associate Chair of the Program Committee). She served as the SIGCHI Adjunct Chair for Assistive Technology from 2001 to present and SIGCAPH Vice-Chair from 2001 to 2004. She is now serving as Chair of SIGACCESS (formerly SIGCAPH).

This most recent position reflects Vicki's commitment to re-energizing ACM's support for persons with disabilities. In 2001, SIGCAPH membership was small and had seen no growth. By 2002 the SIG was declared in transition due to inactivity. To remedy this situation, Vicki developed a plan with ACM to renew the SIG. The SIG name, scope, newsletter, and bylaws were changed to reflect the current interests of the SIG members and broaden the SIG's appeal. The SIG has sponsored CUU 2003 and ASSETS. The newsletter is now vibrant and planning for a new journal is underway. Vicki received ACM Service Awards in 1995, 2002, and 2003 for her contributions.

Beyond the ACM, Vicki has been very active in the National Science Foundation (serving on multiple review panels including the Committee of Visitors reviewing NSF programs in Information and Intelligent Systems), the National Institutes of Health (panels on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, Sensory Disorders and Language, and Developmental Disabilities), the Engineering and Physical Science Council in the UK, and Gallaudet University, the leading center for higher education for the deaf. She has served on the Editorial Boards of the American Annals of the Deaf and the Reading Research Quarterly, served as Editor of Universal Access and Inclusion in Design: A Special Issue of Universal Access in the Information Society, and served on Advisory Panels for the Caption Center at WGBH Public Broadcasting Television and the Georgia Tech RERC on Workplace Accommodations.

This article was prepared by Dr. John Richards

 

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