The mission of the Universal Usability Laboratory is to perform research and provide educational experiences that work towards the goal of universal usability. Universal usability is the goal of making informational systems easier to use for all user populations. This includes, but is not limited to, novice users, older users, younger users, users with perceptual impairments, users with motor impairments, and users with cognitive impairments.
The lab was formally created in May, 2003 by Dr. Jonathan Lazar, based on a research group that he led since January 2002. The lab is located in Room 416 of the 7800 York Road building at Towson University (near the corner of York Road and Cross Campus Drive). The lab includes a number of assistive technology tools, such as screen readers, alternative keyboards, speech recognition, touch screens, as well as eye-tracking equipment and equipment for usability testing, including a separate room for observing participants in research studies. These tools are not only utilized in graduate research projects, but also in graduate and undergraduate classes in Human-Computer Interaction and Web Design. The director of the Universal Usability Laboratory is Dr. Jinjuan Heidi Feng.
Typically, the research at the Universal Usability Laboratory falls into one of three categories:
1. Theoretical research about how diverse user groups (primarily users with various disabilities) interact with different types of computer interfaces. Examples of this research include understanding what types of menu structures are optimal for Blind users, understanding how people with Down syndrome utilize multi-touch tablet computers, investigating methods to improve error correction by users with motor impairment using speech recognition, understanding how Blind users interact with e-mail applications, and understanding the relationship between age and IT learning strategies.
2. Interface accessibility research that is designed to inform policymakers, by investigating the intersection of interface design and public policy. Examples of this research include investigating government compliance with laws related to interface design for people with disabilities (such as federal web sites, state web sites, libraries, and universities), investigating the societal impact of inaccessible web sites such as pricing discrimination and employment discrimination, and investigating how technology can be utilized by adults with Down syndrome for workplace employment.
3. Based on real community needs, development and evaluation of new interface designs that are designed to be used by a broader population of users than existing designs. Examples of this research include more accessible security features and human interaction proofs, sonified weather maps for blind users, and improved web-based calendaring for blind users.
Dr. Jinjuan Heidi Feng
Director, Universal Usability Laboratory
E-mail: jfeng nospace at nospace towson.edu