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Ruvolo Awarded NSF Grant for Assistive Technology Research and Education

Paul Ruvolo, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Olin College of Engineering, has been awarded a three-year, $343,842 NSF grant to develop an orientation and mobility (O&M) app that provides indoor navigation and exploration technology for blind and visually impaired users.

Olin's Paul Ruvolo smiles for a photo

“Blind and visually impaired people face significant challenges, such as a heightened risk of depression and a labor force participation rate less than half that of the general population,” says Ruvolo. “These challenges are not intrinsically linked to visual impairment, but rather are the result of environments that are not built with people who are blind or visually impaired in mind and prejudices that exist towards these groups. Our work for this grant is predicated on the idea that working closely with people who are blind to design technologies that are responsive to them as people, is important for moving towards greater equity.”

Ruvolo’s app, Clew, is a path retracing app designed for blind and visually impaired people to help them independently return to previously visited locations. It has been downloaded over 10,000 times and is used by 1,000 unique users per month from all around the world. Ruvolo’s team will create design processes and supporting infrastructure to work collaboratively with the app’s global user base. “Instead of working with just a handful of people through co-design sessions at Olin, we are seeking to collaborate with hundreds of people from around the world to make navigation technology that works for them in their local environment. Figuring out how to do this effectively is our key research challenge,” says Ruvolo.

The project, titled: Creation of Assistive Technology for the Blind Through Largescale Co-Design will feature deep integration of research and education. Ruvolo will provide a summer research experience for 18 undergraduates, at least 3 of whom will be blind.

Olin Professor Paul Ruvolo poses with a group of Olin students during ModSim course

Paul Ruvolo (pictured in middle) poses with a group of Olin ModSim students in 2017. 

Supported by this grant, Ruvolo will teach a course centered on assistive technology and user-centered design where students will work directly with people in the community to improve accessibility. He will also create faculty development workshops for building learning experiences that integrate engineering, design, and accessibility content.