Blogging…on a landline phone?

I’m excited that the last part of my dissertation was recently published (and is now free to view online) at CSCW 2018! My paper, ‘xPress: Rethinking Design for Aging and Accessibility through an IVR Blogging System’ talks about how landline phones can still be useful technology for people who face barriers to using a computer or smartphone. This work is with people over the age of 65 with low vision or who are blind and describes how I built a system called xPress that lets them blog on Tumblr…but on a phone. (link @ bottom)

Major findings:

  • connecting: People said using xPress made it easier to connect to other older people with vision challenges. They also thought it could provide a way to have more meaningful conversations with sighted people without the stigma associated with their vision loss.
  • unique community: xPress was a unique space where participants reflected on the challenges of having a vision impairment and interestingly didn’t want sighted people to contribute posts! After all, blind people hear the opinions of sighted people ALL the time. Instead, they thought this could be a community where sighted people can learn about life with a vision impairment.
  • voice for all: Designing a voice-based system was initially intended for people who aren’t comfortable using screen readers on computers. Not only did these participants find value in using xPress, but people who were active computer users also liked the emotion that could be derived from listening to a blog post as an audio recording rather than a computerized voice from a screen reader.

What this means for other researchers:

  • intersectionality: The participants were not solely older adults OR people with vision impairments. These were older adults WITH vision impairments. Think about how intersectional identities may affect how systems are designed and how people use them.
  • importance of voice: I’m not saying everyone will continue to use landline phones in the future (sorry?), but consider how voice-based systems can be built to leverage the emotion of human voice. Specifically for blind people, they use voice as an identifier. Think about the consequences of removing human voice in place of more efficient/scalable computerized voices.

What this means for people not in research:

  • bloggers: How you can engage people who are different from yourself? People with vision impairments and others may value spoken blog posts!
  • citizens: Many participants described how society sees older adults, people with vision impairments, and older adults with vision impairments as people who need help. Next time you see someone in either of these categories, have a more meaningful conversation with them beyond ‘Can I help you?’

link to paper:

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Job Market Reflections

I am blessed to have received multiple job offers (industry, post-doc, and tenure-track) from my job search during the final year of my PhD program. Below, I reflect on this process and provide five tips for how to successfully navigate your job hunt.

  1. Know your deadlines and timelines
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    In the Fall, I will be starting as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow (PPFP) at University of Michigan. For years, I was told that most academic deadlines would be in December or January. However, the PPFP deadline was November 1st! If I would have waited until November to check for deadlines, I would not have won this award. The deadlines can vary widely by field so check with your advisor on the typical application timeline for academia AND be sure to look at fellowship deadlines if you intend to do a postdoc, because the two can be very different.For those who are more interested in industry, be warned that companies may not be 100% sure of their openings until 2-3 months from the start date. I interviewed for a research position at a tech company in October (at their insistence), but was told that although I passed all rounds and was ready to be placed on a team, they wouldn’t know which teams had availability until July. I graduated in June. Needless to say, I did not wait and accepted another position. Therefore, it may not make sense to apply for an industry job until closer to when you would like to start, unless you are comfortable with waiting.
  2. Use your network
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    Most likely, if you have made it to your final year in graduate school, you have established your network. Specifically, you may have done an internship or two, presented at conferences, met peers, and schmoozed with top people in your field. Use these people! In any other circumstance, that may seem inappropriate, but they likely know of open positions in your field. If you haven’t made public that you are on the job market, contact these people directly, particularly top influencers in your network, and let them know!If you are on the shy side, use your advisor and committee. If you have not yet chosen a committee, try to choose people who are either rockstars in their own right (since their recommendation letters will hold a lot of weight) or know rockstars (that they can introduce you to). While it is quite cliche, it isn’t always what you know but who you know. Companies and universities can get 100s of applications for one position. It’s only natural that the easiest thing to do would be to initially filter out people who they do not have a relationship with, either directly or through a reference.
  3. Be lazy
    a turtle riding a skateboard
    The word “lazy” has such a negative connotation to most. If that is you, think about the phrase “Work smarter, not harder.” For example, if you write a teaching statement for one R1 university, reuse it for another! You may need to tweak a couple sentences for the specific university, but not the entire statement. You may need to do more tweaking if you are submitting applications to many types of positions (e.g. research- vs. teaching-focused university), but don’t spend too much time tweaking.I applied to the PPFP programs for University of Michigan and the University of California school system. Thankfully both applications use the same application portal and I was able to submit the same Education and Background statement to both, while editing only parts of my Research statement. This is only logical because your education, background, and prior research aren’t going to change. However, you may want to highlight certain areas of your research more to fit with the values of the university and/or department. (Industry people already know to reuse their CV and add keywords that apply to the specific position, right? Right.)
  4. Never submit the first draft
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    This is somewhat self-explanatory but you will likely have a typo in your first draft. Although you may just want to submit to get the application in, you don’t want to be perceived as sloppy or like you don’t care about the position. Once you follow my advice in step 1, work backwards from the due date of the application and start your materials two months prior to the deadline. In the first month, you should be gathering your teaching statements,  editing your CV, or creating a research/design portfolio. In the next month, you should share your application materials with your mentors and peers (preferably through a writing group) to get feedback on how to improve your package. If possible, ask friends who currently have the position you are trying to get to review your materials.
  5. Know the right questions to ask
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    Once you get the interview (because I have faith in you, invisible Internet people!), you are probably going to be stressed over the interview day, no matter what. It may help you to feel more comfortable to think of a great way to end the interview – with questions! Although you will likely have opportunities to ask questions throughout the interview day, the interviewer or faculty member will ask you if they can answer questions you may have at the end. This has always been the trickiest part for me because I am exhausted by this point, but it was helpful for me to ask other people what questions they asked in their interviews.Round up your mentors again or peers in your program who recently graduated. Ask them what questions they asked on their interviews and what questions they wish they would have asked to get their current position. Compare answers across multiple mentors/peers and create a list of ones you really want to know the answers to. It isn’t bad to ask questions that others asked. Also, don’t hesitate to ask the same question to multiple interviewees. It helps you compare answers and see if the company or department is consistent in how they train people. If people give contradicting responses, that might indicate a problem either in communication or how the organization is run. Think of yourself as a detective (like Sherlock Holmes or Steve from Blues Clues). You want to find out all you can to piece together a more accurate picture. Most likely, people are going to give you sugar-coated answers because they want you to come there, but you can start to read through the lines if you ask the right questions.

    Bonus tip: If you are like me and aren’t used to talking to multiple people for 6-8 hours for an interview, when you get tired of talking, try asking them questions! They love it. It shows your interest and gives you time to rest your voice.

Grace Hopper 2015: A Recap from a Recovering Attendee

ICYMI, Grace Hopper is a celebration for women in computing fields which drew in ~12,000 attendees this year. Undergrads, grad students, professors, recruiters, and real adults (not in school) were in Houston last week.


GHC is an amazing place to network. Speakers included Sheryl Sandberg (of Lean In and COO of Facebook), Hilary Mason (founder and CEO of Fast Forward Labs), and Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube). Apparently there were also guest appearances from Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft) and Chelsea Clinton. From networking at the conference I was able to share about my new adventure, Brave Initiatives, a coding camp for girls in Chicago.

I was also excited to meet current/former students interested in grad school. I dispelled myths that grad school was expensive (it’s usually free), convinced others that a PhD is the way to go (partly because it’s usually free), and encouraged some to pursue HCI as a research field. A friend and I were so motivated that we started brainstorming our Tapia proposals. I loved meeting up with old friends and making new ones!

Career Fair

While I wasn’t looking for a job this year, I was happy to see that there were HUNDREDS of companies and organizations. It is encouraging to see that they are taking diversity seriously in their companies, especially after discouraging statistics being published within the past year. I loved hearing how other Northwestern students had 4 interviews lined up in ONE day (yes they offer on-site interviews)! Oh, and might I add that I racked up 12 free t-shirts, 4 mobile battery chargers, 2 headphones, 1 bluetooth speaker, and countless pens and sticky note pads?

source: @scorbs

Sessions and Panels

Aside from celebrity keynotes and an enormous career fair, there were a wide variety of technical talks, panels, and workshops at the conference. I’m a bit biased but I have to mention the panel I organized called Design for All with panelists from Facebook, IBM, Oculus, and Google. The goal of the panel was to make  attendees more aware of how to design and do research with people unlike themselves – people living in other countries, of different ages, and with different abilities. Before the panel, I learned that it would take place during lunch time so I encouraged the other panelists to invite their friends so the room wouldn’t be empty. Not only was the room not empty with more than 500 people, but I heard some stood in line to wait for people to leave so that they could come in! They asked great questions and we eve had a line of ladies at the end of the panel waiting to talk to the panelists.


Overall GHC was a success but I was so exhausted that I didn’t have time to post until a few days after. It will be in Houston again in 2016 (they must’ve gotten a great deal for a two-peat contract) so come next year. That invitation includes guys too!


How to Age Gracefully

Dear 91 year olds,

Don’t listen to other people’s advice. Nobody knows what the hell they’re doing.

Signed a 93 year old


Privacy: Take Three

Take 1: Recently I was added to a group on GroupMe whose size quickly grew to over 100 members. Naturally, people felt the need to create a more intimate sub-community for sharing information specific to a smaller number of people. Members gave ideas to start a Facebook group. But some did not have Facebook accounts. Others mentioned starting a LinkedIn group for discussing professional endeavors. Yet, LinkedIn was seen as being too formal for free-flowing communication. Should there be mechanisms for sharing and creating communities across platforms? Should there be one platform for all preferred actions? What to do when a platform doesn’t meet privacy and sharing expectations?

Take 2: I used to be friends with my favorite younger cousin on Facebook. My cousin grew up near Atlanta. He created his Facebook account when transitioning from middle school to high school. Late nights out in high school soon turned to late nights out during his first year of college. Since teenage boys don’t necessarily reveal their actions to their mothers, it was natural for his mom to turn to Facebook for help in understanding her son. What she soon found, she did not like. It was the typical partying, perhaps some hints of illegal substance use. Naturally, she approached him about his activities which, of course, resulted in him unfriending her on all social media platforms. Unknowingly I began to make comments about his activities online, thinking she could see his posts. She did not know that he had blocked her and my comments led to myself being blocked as well. When do contexts collapse? Are existing simplified privacy mechanisms simplified enough? When and/or how should third-parties (e.g. parents) have agency over someone’s (e.g. their child’s) information?

Take 3: As I scroll down my Instagram account, I am instantly presented with 5 photos of my friend’s son. The kid is 3 years old and I am being shown cute baby bum pictures and outfits that would be quite embarrassing to him in ~10 years. How will he recover from such photos? Who will have control over the information when he gets older? How can we manage privacy from actions that happened in the past?

Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, GroupMe, LinkedIn –

All are different examples of platforms for sharing information. The above vignettes highlight challenges of existing online social platforms. How can industry professionals and academics begin to solve these problems? Essentially, social  networking sites think of the individual as the unit of analysis. However, an individual’s actions online may affect the perceptions, expectations, and privacy of larger groups of people AND these actions may affect people different over time. This problem is one I tried to tackle with other researchers in the Networked Privacy workshop at the ACM conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW 2015) in Vancouver. In my opinion, I think researchers need to step beyond studying privacy of college students in terms of actions and opinions and delve more into solutions to problems of context collapse and boundary turbulence. Also, incorporating different age groups, non-Western cultures, and people with different abilities into the privacy space is important.

Who will start to address the questions above, both conceptually and technically?

thank you to Michael Dickard, Priya Kumar, and Dr. Anne Marie Piper for their contributions and great ideas during the breakout sessions at the workshop

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Wearables with Digitally-Isolated

At the moment, Fitbit reigns supreme in the wearable computing arena. But Fitbit is a device. Other forms of wearables could be more embedded into one’s environment, more ubiquitous. While this may seem creepy to some people who aren’t frequent users of technology, I propose that wearables could lower the barrier of entry to technology for those who are digitally-isolated. This isolation could be attributed to a disinterest or satisfaction with current lifestyles, or it could arise from lack of access or mobility. For people who can’t afford a $1400 laptop or unable to walk to the library/computer lab, wearable computing is the solution.

But what would wearables look like for such populations? As I hinted above, ubiquity is key. Undershirts could measure heart rate and notify a physician when there is an irregularity. Socks could include GPS sensors that can connect to kitchen appliances. They would be aware when someone is cooking but not in the kitchen, vibrating to signal that food has finished cooking.

Life Happens. Designing for It

This weekend I attended the Designing Technology for Major Life Events workshop at CHI. Although I didn’t get the one slide introduction memo, I still enjoyed the discussions that took place. The attendees had a variety research areas that related to major life events – retirement, pregnancy, cancer diagnosis, natural disasters, gender transition and more. The major theme that resonated across the topics was that of transition. Transitions into different living environments can cause stress for college students and isolation for older adults. Grandchildren who move away from their grandparents lead to adopting new forms of communication technologies. Gender transitions can trigger reflection and the need to change one’s identity. Moving from a primarily offline world to digital culture can spark concerns of privacy and control. Cancer diagnosis changes routines, awareness and participation of patients. All of these are important life events, but what makes something important? Facebook’s attempts to decide importance with its News Feed algorithm. Can such algorithms be used to force memory to remember good major events vs. bad ones? Could this idea of forced memory be used to make transitions easier?

Life course theory posits study one’s experiences over time. The study of the lifespan is unique because, although it affects everyone, it does so differently for each person in the world. That’s what makes doing research in this area so challenging.

In our breakout sessions, we brainstormed design challenges of technology as it relates to major events and opportunities resolve these conflicts. A few of these challenges are,

  1. technology can be seen as a negative influence,
  2. we unintentionally design for exclusion, and
  3. building systems is risky business

While researchers face these challenges, we can also begin steps to solve them. One solution is to treat technology as a playground. As the plenary speaker, Margaret Atwood, stated – “First we imagine it, then we make it.” Researchers could benefit from a few improv or creative design classes. Often we are concerned about methodology and following the correct process that it limits the scope of our work. Do research for research sake.

Because we want to design for the majority of people who will use our systems, we often design to exclude other people either based on access, financial abilities, skills, trust, and language. However major life events happen to everyone, no matter their abilities. Therefore while our excuse to not building technology for outlier populations may be a cost-benefit reward, we must remember that low tech and no tech options can still be used to study technology use.

Lastly, building stuff is risky. It’s much easier to observe existing human behavior because no device is perfect. And, major life events typically do not happen every day. Therefore there are much higher stakes if the technology doesn’t work as expected. However, we must develop something that is functioning “enough” because no work will ever get accomplished if we build solely on what currently exists. While I am in the process of struggling with this, I have to remember that the first version will probably not be perfect and iteration will happen.

Thanks to Lana, Madeleine + Tilman for their thought-provoking discussions in the small groups and everyone else for their challenging research questions in the workshop overall.

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Home Automation 3.0

Home automation is nothing new. Hobbyists have been connecting gadgets into their appliances and fixtures for decades. But now, home automation is becoming more accessible to the amateur and a lot more aesthetically-pleasing, in terms of design. Google’s Nest allows people to control their thermostat using their cell phone. Its simple circular design most likely appealed to Google since not all of their designs are as clean.

Belkin’s WeMo allows users to control their lighting and view the cost for using each appliance with a simple phone app. Clearly the concept of ‘quantified self’ (viewing data about yourself to inform future behaviors) is extending to ‘quantified space’.


Years ago researchers at Georgia Tech began the Aware Home initiative began to think abut smarter spaces, specifically for older adults, mainly using sensors. How can we push the boundary beyond simple sensors to track presence or appliance usage, and towards innovative solutions that are easy for people of all ages to use. The added challenge is that older adults may have a higher chance of disability, and no two disabilities are alike. Universal usability, in general, may be as difficult as an NP complete problem. But, universal usability for quantified living spaces sounds feasible.

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You must believe me when I say that I have the utmost respect for HCI people. However, when HCI people debug their code, it’s like an art show or a meeting of the United Nations. There are tea breaks and witticisms exchanged in French; wearing a non-functional scarf is optional, but encouraged. When HCI code doesn’t work, the problem can be resolved using grand theories that relate form and perception to your deeply personal feelings about ovals. There will be debates about the socioeconomic implications of Helvetica Light, and at some point, you will have to decide whether serifs are daring statements of modernity, or tools of hegemonic oppression that implicitly support feudalism and illiteracy.

I found this to be entertaining. 

via James Mickens @ MSR

You must believ…

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movie-inspired adventures

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