Ability-Based Design: Making Technologies Match All People’s Abilities & Context

  • 19 Apr 2018
  • 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
  • TBD


The term “disability” connotes an absence of ability, but is like saying “dis-weight” or “dis-height.” All living people have some abilities. Unfortunately, history is filled with examples of a focus on dis-ability, on what is missing, and on ensuing attempts to replace lost function to make people match a rigid world. Although often well intended, such a focus assumes humans must be adapted, and that interfaces, devices, and environments get to remain as they are. Our interactive technologies embody numerous “ability assumptions” but remain unaware of their users’ abilities. They also remain unaware of the situations their users are in, or how those situations affect their users’ abilities. An important shift in perspective comes by allowing people to “remain as they are,” asking instead how interfaces, devices, and environments can bear the burden of becoming suitable to their users’ situated abilities. Jason Wobbrock calls this perspective and the principles that accompany it “Ability-Based Design,” where the human abilities required to use a technology in a given context are questioned, and systems are made operable by or adaptable to alternative abilities. From this perspective, all people have varying degrees of ability, and different situations lead to different ability limitations, some long-term and some momentary. Some ability limitations come mostly from within the self, others from mostly outside the self. Ability-Based Design considers the whole “landscape of ability,” honoring the human at its center and asking more of our technologies. In this talk, Prof. Wobbrock will highlight a decade’s worth of projects related to Ability-Based Design, some directed at “people with disabilities” and others directed at “people in disabling situations.” Rather than dive into any one project, Prof. Wobbrock will convey a space of explored possibilities. He will also put forth a grand challenge: that anyone, anywhere, at any time can interact with technologies ideally suited to their specific situated abilities, and that our technologies do the work to achieve this fit. It is our job to make this possible.


6:30-8:30PM Thursday, April 19th 2018




Coming soon


6:30 PM: Doors open
6:30 - 7:00 PM: Food, non-alcoholic beverages and networking
7:00 - 8:30 PM: Presentation with Q&A
8:30 PM: The event concludes

About Jacob O. Wobbrock, Ph.D.

Professor, Information School

Adjunct Professor, Computer Science & Engineering

Chair, Information School Elected Faculty Council

Director, Mobile & Accessible Design Lab

University of Washington

Jacob O. Wobbrock is a full Professor of human-computer interaction (HCI) in the Information School at the University of Washington, one of the world’s top HCI research universities. His work seeks to scientifically understand people’s interactions with computers and information, and to improve those interactions through design and engineering, especially for people with disabilities. His specific research topics include input & interaction techniques, human performance measurement & modeling, HCI research & design methods, mobile computing, and accessible computing. Professor Wobbrock has co-authored over 130 peer-reviewed publications and received 20 paper awards, including 7 best papers and 7 honorable mentions from ACM CHI. For his work on Ability-Based Design, he received the 2017 SIGCHI Social Impact Award. His work has been covered in The New York Times, The Seattle Times, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Huffington Post, and other outlets. He is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award and six other National Science Foundation grants. He serves on the editorial board of ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction. His advisees have been hired at Harvard, Cornell, Colorado, Washington, Brown, Simon Fraser, and elsewhere. Prof. Wobbrock is also an entrepreneur—he was the venture-backed co-founder and CEO of AnswerDash for nearly three years. Prof. Wobbrock received his B.S. with Honors in Symbolic Systems and his M.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University in 1998 and 2000, respectively. He received his Ph.D. in Human-Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University in 2006. Upon graduation, he was honored with CMU’s School of Computer Science Distinguished Dissertation Award.

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