People with disabilities are less likely than people without disabilities to be hired for jobs or remain employed. Part of the reason for this disparity is that employees with disabilities encounter accessibility problems that make workplaces inaccessible to them. Many of these accessibility problems are solvable: for example, a blind employee cannot view a computer screen, but can install screenreading software to read digital text aloud to them. However, not all employers are aware of the accessibility problems that exist in their workplaces, and they may not know how to implement specific accommodations that would be useful for employees with disabilities. In this project, the researchers will study how people with disabilities and employers currently exchange knowledge with each other to collectively create accessibility in workplaces. Based on these findings, they will identify opportunities for new technological solutions to enable collaborative accessibility problem-solving. The project will lead to a deeper understanding of how groups can use technology to identify and resolve problems through knowledge exchange, and how to improve workplace accessibility practices and cultures. Additionally, the researchers will work alongside community partners to disseminate their findings widely, helping employers and designers gain more knowledge about accessibility problems and solutions.

The overall goal of this proposal is to identify and evaluate principles for socio-technical systems which facilitate knowledge exchange to solve accessibility problems in the workplace. This investigation will begin by identifying existing practices and attitudes of people with disabilities and employers around problem-solving for accessibility through individual interviews with disabled employees and job-seekers, and co-workers and employers without disabilities. Then, the researchers will model intellectual gaps in accessibility problem-solving among individuals with varying levels of knowledge about accessibility, and identify strategies for overcoming those gaps, by facilitating a series of small collective access groups where workplace stakeholders with and without disabilities collaborate to brainstorm about solutions to accessibility problems. Building on the knowledge generated through these activities, the researchers will generate and validate principles for mutual knowledge exchange in socio-technical systems by designing lightweight technology probes to evaluate strategies for knowledge exchange around accessibility. This research will contribute to our understanding of how disability impacts experiences in the workplaces, and how technologies can be designed to improve these experiences through building mutual expertise.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS)
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Balakrishnan Prabhakaran
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Indiana University
United States
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