Newswise — A collaborative team of academia, industry, start-ups and nonprofits led by Dr. Jenna Gorlewicz, Associate Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering and Associate Dean of Research and Innovation in the School of Science and Engineering. A National Science Foundation (NSF) Convergence Accelerator Phase 1 grant was awarded at St. Louis University.
Gorlewicz and her team aim to develop technologies that improve quality of life, access to employment, and opportunities for people with disabilities, especially those who are blind or visually impaired (BVI).
The project, titled “Bridging the Fragmentation of Information Access — An Integrated Multimodal System for Comprehensive Content Creation, Transformation, and Delivery,” is a collaboration between Pearson, Educational Testing Services, ViewPlus Technologies, Vital, Unar Labs, The Roux Institute at Northeastern University and consultants with expertise in human-computer interaction, BVI, and STEM education for the blind are addressing the growing information access gap across the education ecosystem.
Together they create an AIMS (Automated, Integrated, Multimodal Software) system that generates STEM content such as text and images. Students can access this content through sight, hearing, and touch.
According to Gorlewicz, much of the information we interact with today is visual: diagrams, graphs, schematics, presentations, and images. She believes that this visual presentation not only widens an already perpetual information access gap that needs to be made more inclusive of individuals who rely on non-visual access, but also the need for multiple modalities of learning. It adds that it does not support .
“This project aims to break down the pervasive accessibility silos that are worsening in the STEM field and integrate ideas, approaches, and technologies to create a software system that delivers comprehensive content across a variety of platforms and file formats. ,” said Gorlewicz. “The social impact of this work will help a person with a disability become an independent and active contributor in his highly underrepresented STEM field, providing information throughout educational and professional settings. We will serve the national interest by advancing a comprehensive approach to access.”
St. Louis University is one of 16 interdisciplinary Phase I teams selected by the NSF Convergence Accelerator for its 2022 cohort, Track H: Enhanced Opportunities for People with Disabilities. Until November 2023, the team will participate in an accelerated innovation curriculum to develop early concepts and prototypes, grow the network, and develop strategies for sustainability. In Phase 1, the team will be informed by publishing, education, and evaluation partners to create a prototype system that enables the automated creation, transformation, and delivery of widely used multimodal STEM content.
Gorlewicz said: Our own team is visually impaired and takes an approach of learning from and innovating with the community and its stakeholders. This is how this project started from the beginning. ”
The output of the AIMS system produces digital multimodal renderings that can be displayed on platforms such as computers, mobile phones, and tablets. We also develop physical embossed renderings that can be printed on commercial embossers deployed in educational and professional settings around the world.
Educators will repeatedly evaluate this proof of concept. This will work across tasks, contexts, hardware and modalities and will be extended among partners towards developing an access ecosystem that extends beyond individuals with BVI to the broader disability community. At the end of Phase 1, the team participates in a formal pitch and Phase 2 proposal evaluation. Teams selected from Phase 1 will advance to Phase 2 with the potential for up to $5 million in funding over 24 months.
“To receive this award and to have the opportunity to work with other outstanding teams who are part of our cohort to address the pressing challenges of information access facing many people with disabilities today. I am very pleased with the results,” Gorlevich said. “We are ready to collaborate, innovate and change the way Data and his STEM content think and experience accessibility for the next generation.”
About St. Louis University
Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions in the country. Rooted in Jesuit values and a pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi, SLU offers a holistic, rigorous and transformative education to more than 13,500 students. At the core of the university’s diverse academic community is SLU’s service-focused mission. It challenges and prepares students to make the world a better and fairer place.
About the NSF Convergence Accelerator
Launched in 2019, the Convergence Accelerator (Technology, Innovation and Partnerships Directorate (TIP) program) builds on NSF’s investment in basic research and discovery to accelerate solutions for social and economic impact . The Convergence Accelerator’s interdisciplinary team uses convergence research fundamentals and innovation processes to foster the sharing of innovative ideas and the development of sustainable solutions.