Jennifer Mankoff, Richard E. Ladner Professor, Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Washington, will be a plenary speaker at Tapia 2019 on Thursday, September 20. Her talk is titled
Making Accessibility. We spoke with Jennifer about her background to learn about how she became interested in making computing more accessible.
Who inspired you to enter computer science? My mother had a knitting machine that she programmed using punch cards. My father was interested in mathematics, but he chose to enter medicine because he wanted a strong financial base. Both of them encouraged me to go into computer science. I was totally intrigued by computers. During the summers in college, I applied for various jobs and research internships. I ended up working with computer scientists at Argonne National Lab to design one of their first websites. I also interned at Bell Labs in the data visualization group. I attended a symposium on Women in Computing, and became so excited by the research everyone was discussing. I also volunteered at a CSE conference in Arizona and really loved going to the research talks.
You had a broad range of experiences, what came next for you? I applied to graduate schools and was accepted to Georgia Tech in HCI (Human Computer Interaction). While I was doing my PhD I experienced a bad repetitive strain injury and became unable to type more than two hours a day and could not do simple tasks like opening a door. I also had vocal problems that made it difficult to speak. At that time I realized I had a disability and began to think about making computer more accessible.
What did you do after completing your PhD? I got my first faculty position at UC Berkeley and continued to have issues with my strain injury and voice. I learned to make accommodations in class. I was lucky to have come to the one of the few universities with a disability studies department. Over time my husband made a career move and we both ended up at Carnegie Mellon University in tenure track positions.
What happened while you were working at Carnegie Mellon? After having my second child I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. I was very ill with all kinds of neurological symptoms - memory issues, clumsiness, and fatigue to name a few. And it took over a year to be diagnosed. After many months I was able to find a doctor who was able to treat me and I began to get better.
In dealing with all of this, I was lucky to have a unilaterally supportive department. My department chair generously gave me a teaching leave, and faculty friends gave me rides, co-taught classes with me, and were generally very supportive. I am also grateful for my family; my husband supported me every step of the way and my brother even flew in for a week and took over to give me a break. I completed treatment, three years after my diagnosis, gave my first plenary at the Grace Hopper Celebration, and got tenure all at the same time. However, finishing treatment was just the start of my Lyme Disease journey, which still continues today
How have your experiences impacted your work? Many of my projects have come from what I have experienced that is frustrating or challenging, which has led to the broad diversity in my projects. I'm very excited about my current projects including a paradigm shifting change to screen reader interaction and a big project around new fabrication technology that is changing the way for assistive technologies to be designed and produced.
Be sure to join us September 18-21st at
to hear Jen Mankoff and our other great speakers.