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Industrial engineering professor wins Presidential (PECASE) Award

Research that will help people with low vision use computers has won an NSF Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for a COE professor.

Julie A. Jacko

Julie A. Jacko (large image)

Julie A. Jacko, assistant professor of industrial engineering, won the five-year, $500,000 PECASE Award in February for her project titled, "Universal Access to the Graphical User Interface: Design for the Partially Sighted. Jacko was one of twenty National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported researchers to receive the award. According to the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Presidential Award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers whose talents and potential are so great that they are expected to emerge as leaders on the frontiers of science and engineering during the next century.

Jacko and her team seek solutions to the technical challenges of designing computer interfaces for computer users possessing diverse visual capabilities. Focusing initially on diagnoses such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, the research aims to empirically link clinical and functional assessments of human vision with the behaviors and strategies exhibited by partially sighted computer users. The practical contributions of the research will be the identification of more systematic approaches to matching users with software and hardware combinations that will accommodate individual users' visual capabilities, Jacko says. "For example, how do a person's visual capabilities drive system configuration choices? How do changes in a person's visual capabilities motivate transitions from one system configuration to another? How can we enhance low vision computer users' perceptual experiences?"

One of their approaches will be to monitor a person's eye movement using an eye tracking device while simultaneously tracking the position of the cursor on the screen, Jacko explains. "We will then be able to correlate movement of the cursor and movement and position of the eyes as computer-based work is performed by low vision users. We will also incorporate EEG measurement, which records activity in the visual cortex that occurs when someone is performing visual work. We anticipate observing differences between people with and without low vision, and between different diagnosis groups."

The research has the potential to culminate in the development of commercially available software that will enhance a user's perceptual experience so that their performance on the computer is very close to what a normally sighted person can achieve. The key is finding the combination of interface characteristics to accommodate the wide range of visual capabilities, Jacko says.

The educational component of Jacko's project will include integrating the research into undergraduate industrial engineering courses, particularly in human factors engineering. She will also develop graduate-level courses concerning the design of advanced technologies with emphasis on visual perception.

Jacko is collaborating on the project with ophthalmologists Dr. Robert Rosa, Jr., Dr. Ingrid Scott and Dr. Charles Pappas from the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of the University of Miami School of Medicine. Bascom Palmer has one of largest low vision clinics in the world. As she expands the research, Jacko is developing collaborations with faculty in the UW-Madison Department of Ophthalmology.

The award represents significant support for a hugely overlooked population of computer users, says Jacko. "There has been significant focus on computer users who are blind. But very little research has been conducted that investigates the perceptual experiences of visually impaired computer users."

Jacko joined the college faculty in 1998. She received her Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Purdue University in 1993 under the advisement of Gavriel Salvendy, NEC Professor of Industrial Engineering.

The award embodies the government's high priority of maintaining U.S. leadership in science by producing a prominent cadre of scientists and engineers and encouraging their continued development.