New project to explore the use of conversation

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Library Creation Spaces offer community members the opportunity to tinker, design, experiment and create with a range of technologies in an informal learning space. However, because today’s creative spaces and creative tools are heavily focused on vision, people who are blind and partially sighted (BVI) have limited access to these learning opportunities. A new project led by JooYoung Seo, assistant professor at the School of Information Studies (iSchool) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Kyungwon Koh, associate professor at iSchool and director of CU Community Fab Lab, seeks to address this issue by creating accessible manufacturing programs for BVI learners and developing training materials for librarians and manufacturing professionals on accessible manufacturing. The researchers recently received a three-year, $498,638 National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS grant LG-252360-OLS-22) for their project, “Promoting Computational Thinking Skills for Blind and Visually Impaired Teens Through Accessible Library Creative Spaces.”

For the project, iSchool and the CU Community Fab Lab will partner with the American Printing House for the Blind, the Young Adult Library Services Association, and the Reaching Across Illinois Library System Makerspace Networking Group. The research also received support from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) and Information Accessibility Design and Policy (IADP) program at the University of Illinois. Activities will include training manufacturer professionals and conducting an accessibility status assessment, running a summer camp with BVI teenagers to co-design an accessible manufacturer program, testing accessible maker programs developed in four Illinois library makerspaces and training library users who will benefit from a more inclusive and accessible makerspace.

“Just as curbs help more than a person using a wheelchair, accessibility features added to authoring tools and learning materials can make the system more usable for everyone,” Seo said. “Our project’s tangible maker activities and integrated programs will bring to the current maker movement new insight into how we can expand the participation of maker and STEM learning for underserved populations of diverse abilities.”

The aim of the makerspace project is not only to enhance BVI learners’ computational thinking skills and STEM interests, but also to help librarians and creative professionals become more confident and capable when working with BVI populations.

“This is one of the very few research projects conducted by, with and for BVI learners, where their non-visual approaches and sensory abilities, such as touch, hearing, smell and certain bass remaining visions, are used as a central asset to realize the full learning potential of multimodal manufacturers,” Koh said.

Koh’s areas of expertise include digital youth, the creator movement, learning and community engagement through libraries, human information behavior and information worker skills. She holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Library and Information Studies from Florida State University.

Seo’s research focuses on how to make computer literacy more accessible to people with disabilities using multimodal representation of data. He is an RStudio Dual Certified Accessibility Expert and Data Science Instructor, certified by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP). Seo earned his Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University’s Learning, Design, and Technology program.


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