Trace center receives federal technology-access grant

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The College of Engineering’s Trace Research and Development Center has been awarded a five-year, $6.75 million grant to make information technology more accessible to people with disabilities.

The grant, awarded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), will support new approaches by the Trace Center in making next-generation information technology usable by everyone.

Job information kiosk

Trace Research and Development Center director Gregg C. Vanderheiden (in back) observes Neal Ewers demonstrate a new computer interface at an employment kiosk. The technology allows people who have sight, hearing and reading limitations to better access information about potential jobs. (large image)

Trace will receive $1.35 million per year to support student, staff and faculty projects.

The center focuses on making technologies such as kiosks, automatic-teller machines, hand-held electronic devices, computers and the Internet more accessible to people with all types of disabilities. Over the next five years, the center will work with industry and consumers to make these commercially available technologies functional for people who are blind, have low vision, are deaf, are deaf-blind and who have physical and cognitive disabilities.

“The goal of the Trace Center is to level the playing field for people with disabilities and people who are older, by allowing them to use the same products as everyone else,” said center director Gregg C. Vanderheiden.

In recent years, the center’s work can be found in nearly every computer operating system on the market. Software such as Windows 95 and 98 and the Macintosh OS include disability access features developed by Trace engineers that are built directly into control panels.

Other kinds of technology, such as job kiosks in Minnesota and voting booths used nationally, are now being fitted with access features developed by Trace Center researchers.

Work at Trace also centers on making telecommunications equipment more accessible. The center has a partnership with Gallaudet University and the World Institute on Disability to create a federal Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Telecommunications.