Mozilla awards SICE HCI/d student grant to improve web accessibility for the visually impaired

Suraj Chiplunkar

Suraj Chiplunkar, a graduate student in the human-computer interaction/design program at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, has been awarded a $25,000 grant from Mozilla, the non-profit developer of the Firefox web browser, to improve accessibility for users with visual impairments.

The Chiplunkar’s proposal aims to determine the structure of web content sighted users usually rely on to quickly scan pages and create auditory clues that can speed the process for visually impaired users.

“The usage of space, texture, typeface weighing, colors, and direction, to communicate content relationship allow sighted users to skim web content faster and interact quickly,” Chiplunkar said. “Users with visual impairments do not have access to these visual cues. Currently, screen readers rely on sequential auditory feedback. The linear nature of auditory feedback makes skimming time-consuming, tedious, and slow.”

Chiplunkar and a team of researchers will try to develop a set of auditory cues to compensate for visual cues that users with visual impairment miss.

The project stems from a collaboration between Chiplunkar and Christopher Baskins, a local social worker with limited vision who serves on Bloomington’s Council for Community Accessibility. The duo share a desire to make technology more accessible, and they analyzed screen readers to discover their limitations.

“I feel technology is designed without much consideration for accessibility,” Chiplunkar said. “Most designers are focused on making websites visually appealing. This grant reaffirms the need for baking accessibility into our design process. This grant is an encouraging for embracing participatory design practices for fostering collaboration, co-ownership, and community participation.”

Chiplunkar will also use the research as part of his capstone project, a crucial element to earning his master’s degree.

"Suraj has an uncommon ability to translate empirical research findings into smart and original design implications, and he has the technical ability bring it all to life," said Jeffrey Bardzell, a professor of informatics and director of the HCI/d program at SICE. "Suraj combines scientific rigor and thoughtful creativity to produce surprising yet compelling results. His work is the fusion of passion and discipline, and the results speak for themselves."

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