University of Maryland
From left, Drs. Amanda Lazar, J. Bern Jordan, and Hernisa Kacorri. Photo by Craig Taylor.

Grant Awarded to TRACE RERC for 5-year R&D Program to Advance Accessibility of Existing and Next-Generation Technology

Just as an exercise … try to get through your normal day without using technology.

Doing this for even part of a day, you can see that most aspects of life (e.g., shopping, money management, education, social life, work, entertainment) require you to be able to use a wide range of technology. However, many people are unable to use these technologies that most of us take for granted. And as newer technologies are developed with newer interfaces – and as we incorporate technology ever more in our society – people who can't use them become more and more disadvantaged or excluded.

To help address this need, a $4.6 million, 5-year Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) grant (90REGE0024) has been awarded to the TRACE RERC by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), a program of the Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The TRACE RERC is charged with carrying out a multi-faceted program of research and development that leads to innovative approaches to enhancing the accessibility of a wide array of emerging and existing technologies.

“RERC grants are a wonderful opportunity for research and development, both on the leading edge and in improving existing technology so that it can make a positive difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

I am excited about the potential impact of the work that our team will be doing in machine learning, often-overlooked tech barriers, cross-disability access to kiosks, photosensitive epilepsy safety, and accessibility standards and guidance.” 

- RERC Principal Investigator, J. Bern Jordan, PhD. 

Trace Leadership Team

J. Bern Jordan, Ph.D. – Principal Investigator and RERC Director; also leading the RERC’s Development Projects. Dr. Jordan’s background is in biomedical engineering. He has been part of the Trace R&D Center for over 18 years, focused on improving both the technology and the standards and practice around accessibility. Prior projects include development of techniques for cross-disability access to self-service transaction machines, kiosks, and other public ICT, development of hands-on accessibility training, research into automatic user interface generation and adaptation, and leading the user experience effort on the development of an open-source auto-personalization tool (Morphic) that is now in wide distribution. Dr. Jordan has been awarded 10 patents relating to accessibility. He has worked with over a dozen companies, eight government agencies, and three industry standards groups on accessibility.

Hernisa Kacorri, Ph.D. – Lead Investigator on a multi-threaded research project: “Leveraging and Personalizing Generative AI for Accessibility.” Dr. Kacorri is a computer scientist and Associate Professor in the College of Information Studies and Department of Computer Science. She directs the Intelligent Assistive Machines Lab, where her research focuses on accessibility and human-centered artificial intelligence, with an emphasis on rigorous experimental methodologies for assessing impact. Her most recent work on teachable machines and their potential for personalization sees users with disabilities not as passive consumers, but as active directors of their assistive AI-infused technology. Dr. Kacorri led a research project on this topic that was part of the Trace Center’s Inclusive ICT RERC for the last five years.

Amanda Lazar, Ph.D. – Lead investigator on a multi-threaded research project: “Bridging Critical Gaps in Technology Use by Older Adults.” Dr. Lazar is an Assistant Professor in the College of Information Studies and Affiliate Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science. Through her research, she and her team at The Health, Aging, and Technology Lab are seeking to better understand accessible technology design for older people and addressing the need for new ways of supporting technology use. As part of the Trace Center’s Inclusive ICT RERC, Dr. Lazar led a research project focused on how technology can expand or constrain opportunities for engagement in activities for people with dementia.

Christopher Walker – Partner on the RERC’s Development Projects; overseeing prototype engineering for all project areas and hardening of final versions for widespread deployment. Mr. Walker is Lead Software Engineer with Raising the Floor-US, a nonprofit organization focused on accessibility technology and a key partner on the TRACE RERC. In his three decade career, Mr. Walker’s responsibilities have ranged from software engineering to executive positions, for both startups and major companies. For Raising the Floor, Mr. Walker has led the development of the Morphic software that is now deployed at major universities, libraries, and rehab programs across the U.S. He managed its technical transition from a research product into broadly deployable, scalable production software and cloud services. He also developed a standards-based user authentication system that respects the unique privacy needs of users with disabilities.

Gregg Vanderheiden, Ph.D. – Advisor and Mentor; contributing to the development, standards, and technology transfer activities of the TRACE RERC.  Dr. Vanderheiden is the Director Emeritus and co-founder of the Trace R&D Center. He was the Principal Investigator and Director of RERC grants on augmentative communication, access to computers and electronic equipment, information technology access, telecommunications access, and inclusive ICT since 1982. He is currently working closely with Raising the Floor-US on the broader deployment of Morphic with AT-on-Demand, and is following up the successful “Future of Interface” Workshop with a report on a research and development agenda for accessibility. 

The TRACE RERC team will build on the work of the Trace R&D Center, which was substantially funded from 1982 forward by NIDILRR’s RERC grants. The team has adopted the name “TRACE RERC” in recognition of this fruitful past and what we hope to accomplish in the future.  

TRACE: Technology R&D to increase Accessibility for Community Living, Education & Employment.

Stay tuned for more information about RERC projects and other activities, as well as a full update of this website.

Maryland Initiative for Digital Accessibility

The TRACE RERC is an active participant in MIDA, a new organization focused on the design of technology products that are "born-accessible."

Raising the Floor

The primary development partner of the TRACE RERC since 2013, the team at the nonprofit Raising the Floor is continuing the development and deployment of Morphic and AT-on-Demand, and will partner on several development activities in the new RERC grant.