CS Colloquium - Ather Sharif, University of Washington

Event time: 
Thursday, April 4, 2024 - 1:00pm
Davies Auditorium See map
15 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 

CS Colloquium
Ather Sharif, University of Washington

Host:  Marynel Vázquez

Title: “Making Data Visualizations Equitably Accessible to Screen-Reader Users”


Online data visualizations are used widely by content creators to communicate information, enabling users to obtain summaries, recognize patterns, and explore oddities in data that may be challenging to determine from a simple table. However, the defining visual nature of data visualizations makes these visualizations inaccessible to screen-reader users, significantly disenfranchising them from accessing online information (e.g., COVID-19 data). Additionally, traditional accessibility measures, such as adding auto-generated alternative text and sonified responses to visualizations, only provide a high-level overview of data, limiting screen-reader users from exploring data visualizations in depth. Further, these measures are inadequate for extracting information from complex visualizations (e.g., geospatial and choropleth maps). In this talk, I will present VoxLens, an open-source multi-modal JavaScript plug-in that, with a single line of code, enables screen-reader users to extract information with approximately the same accuracy as non-screen-reader users, improving their accuracy of information extraction by 164% and interaction times by 50%. I will also discuss my research on exploring user agency for screen-reader users and reducing the challenges of visualization creators in making online data visualizations accessible to screen-reader users.


Ather is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, focusing broadly on Human-Computer Interaction and specifically on the intersection of Accessibility, Visualization, and Personalization. In particular, the main objective of his dissertation work is to make online data visualizations accessible to screen-reader users. He pioneered the first-of-its-kind system, VoxLens, that utilizes voice assistants for screen-reader users to extract information from online data visualizations. He also created UnlockedMaps, an open-data map that visualizes the real-time elevator status of urban rail stations, assisting users with mobility disabilities in making informed decisions regarding their commute.