Gillian Hayes Receives Impact Award for Connecting Disability Studies to Assistive Technology

October 25, 2021

Gillian Hayes

On Oct. 22, 2021, Gillian Hayes, Kleist Professor of Informatics and vice provost for graduate education at UCI, was one of three researchers recognized by the Special Interest Group on Accessible Computing (SIGACCESS). At the 23rd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS), the 2021 Paper Impact Award was presented to Jennifer Mankoff, Gillian Hayes and Devva Kasnitz for their 2010 paper, “Disability Studies as a Source of Critical Inquiry for the Field of Assistive Technology.”

The award, presented every other year, recognizes an ASSETS paper that has had a significant impact on computing and information technology while addressing the needs of people with disabilities. It comes with a $500 cash prize, which the authors have decided to donate to the Society for Disability Studies to provide membership and conference registration for students.

As noted by Chieko Asakawa, chair of the SIGACCESS Award Committee, the authors were recognized for their “groundbreaking and influential work on bridging the gap between the assistive technology research field and the field of critical disability studies.”

Hayes explains the motivation for their work. “Our goal was to try to shift the conversation away from a deficit model that saw computers as saviors, to a model in which technologies can work hand in hand with people who experience a variety of abilities and disabilities,” she says. “I like to think the impact was a broader conversation in the field generally. For me, personally, I expanded my own reading and thinking in really generative ways while working with my co-authors on this effort, and it has been foundational to my own thinking about the role of technology in society and in relation to disability more generally.” 

The work greatly influenced Stacy Branham, a postdoctoral scholar at UMBC at the time. “Without the ability to build on that work, I don’t know that my very first paper in the field of assistive technology would have been published,” says Branham, now a colleague of Hayes as an assistant professor of informatics in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS). “The article has been foundational in introducing the scholarship of the disability studies field to the accessible computing field. In doing so, it has fostered technology development that better embodies the needs and perspectives of people with disabilities, and it has helped grow an academic community that is itself inclusive of and driven by disabled scholars,” she says. “In the time since its publication, it has enabled whole careers to be built around the social aspects of disability and technology, including my own.”

ICS alumna LouAnne Boyd ’18, mentored by Hayes while earning her Ph.D. in informatics, agrees. “The article does such a great job of briefly articulating the complexity and nuances at the intersection of disability studies and assistive technology. The reality of this complexity and the need for nuance is still very palpable today,” says Boyd, now an assistant professor in the Fowler School of Engineering at Chapman University. “The paper calls for building connections —an effort I fully endorse. I hope 10 years from now those bridges are not only beautifully built but heavily trotted upon.”

Shani Murray