Shaun Uses Mentors to Define His Career Path

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Shaun Uses Mentors to Define His Career Path

Hi, my name is Shaun, and I am a Ph.D. student at the Information School at the University of Washington in Seattle. The Information School is an interdisciplinary program that studies the relationships between people, information, and technology. My own research focuses on how everyday computing technologies such as laptops, keyboards, mice, and mobile phones can be made more accessible, and can help people be more independent in their daily lives. The AccessComputing project has helped me by providing knowledgeable mentors--both within my department and outside of it. AccessComputing staff and mentors have helped define my technology-related goals and career path and answered a wide variety of questions along my way to a Ph.D. I especially enjoyed participating in in-person mentoring events sponsored by AccessComputing. The AccessComputing electronic community has helped me understand how others with disabilities are dealing with challenges as they, too, work towards degrees in technology. I have felt supported and encouraged as part of the community.

I have a lifelong physical disability that limits the use of my arms and hands and leaves me with very short legs, so I spend my day pretty close to the ground. Despite this, I am quite independent, and I love to explore Seattle and eat, drink coffee, and occasionally dance. I dabble in art and music, and recently have been learning to play the theremin, which is one of the more universally accessible musical instruments.

Before attending graduate school, I received a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Massachusetts. Growing up I had no interest whatsoever in doing work related to disability. I felt strongly that my disability should not define my career. Toward the end of my undergraduate career, I started learning more about accessible technology, and I was bitten by the accessibility bug. Seeing an opportunity to use my tech powers for good, I started learning more about building accessible technology and have been doing so ever since.

As a grad student, I spend most of my time designing new types of accessible technologies. First, I work with potential users to understand their needs and the limitations of current technology. Second, I work collaboratively with the users to test prototypes of new accessibility software. One summer I worked on research projects related to making touch screen tablet computers more accessible. I have also worked as a research intern at Intel Labs, where I helped develop designs for future laptop computers. In an internship at Microsoft Research, I helped design new accessibility features for large touch screen computers, such as the Microsoft Surface interactive table and interactive kiosks in shopping malls. When I finish my Ph.D., I plan to find a faculty job where I can teach and continue my research.