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At UMD, I am advised by Dr. Amanda Lazar, who specializes in critical research towards how technologies can support aging individuals. I am a member of Dr. Lazar's lab (The Health, Aging & Technology Lab), the Human Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL) and the TRACE R&D center, all of which have conducted seminal work in computing, and accessibility. 

Prior to my doctoral studies, I worked with Dr. Robin Brewer at the University of Michigan's iSchool, exploring older adults' interactions with voice based ICTs. During my Masters in HCI at DePaul University, I worked with Dr. Sheena Erete & Dr. Denise Nacu, exploring the intersections of  technology, learning and social computing. 

Research interests
Equitable access to widely implemented technologies

Work

Contact

Email me at | poojau [AT] umd [DOT] edu

or Contact me on Twitter

Widely implemented Information & Communication Technologies (ICTs, e.g. smartphones, voice assistants, PCs, search interfaces) are positioned today as "intuitive" technologies with the potential to, or already providing democratic access to information made available through technological advancements. Yet, diverse groups of users (e.g. older adults, emerging tech users, even young children) have been reported to be on the peripheries of such a promised claim of access over time, due a lack of technology proficiency or literacy. The concept of technology proficiency, or literacy, has been used to refer to the users' "set of skills" to be used in understanding and operating ICTs. Such a "set of skills" has been an open ended concept, used since ICTs entered the realm of public consumption in the 1980s, and applied to diverse technologies (e.g. smartphones, learning management systems) across everyday life contexts (information seeking & sharing, educational activities). While it is unclear what a "set of skills" entails across changing technologies, or how these skills are developed, wide adoption of ICTs are used as grounds to suggest that certain users (compared to others) lack the skills to learn how to use, and effectively use ICTs. This reasoning may miss external factors related to skills (e.g. past work exposure, local contexts such as technology used by those in personal network), and assumes that technologies in use themselves provide favorable grounds for the development of said skills. 

 

I am interested in the question of why problems of ICT access, specifically difficulties in using ICTs for information activities, persist over time and changing technologies for diverse groups of users. I draw on theoretical frameworks and empirical methods in Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), and Sociology to study how diverse user groups, such as older adults, learn and incorporate ICTs into everyday use contexts, and how ICTs themselves contribute to their learning and use.

Anchor 2
A sketch diagram showing a user skimming through audio output of search result headings and descriptions
A diagram comparing how sighted users visually skim search result page, and how screen reader users skim-hear audio results
This image is a figure from a project accepted as a CHI'20 late breaking work. It shows the pathway followed by users in using a search engine to explore information. The image has an illustration of how sighted searchers may visually explore information on a search results page, observe color and sizes used to indicate headings and links, skim information, and follow selections to either conduct new searches or enter a search result.
This image shows an illustration of exploration pathways followed by Blind searchers in using a search engine to explore information on a topic. The illustration shows how Blind searchers using screen readers may explore headings first, delving into links within headings to gather more cues at first. In a second skimming of the same page, they may remember key results by order and identify relevant search results for which they may explore the description text. Finally, the illustration shows how screen reader users may follow some relevant links to explore websites, and either get back to the search results page to follow up on the other relevant results, or use the cues gathered such as keywords to conduct more searches. This process is different than the one followed by sighted users because of how the graphical search system is inherently built for sighted exploration. This shows the constructive tactics used by blind searchers despite the inherently visual system.

Figures: Study exploring how sighted and blind users of technology (using visual vs. non visual modalities of interaction with systems) transact with web search engines with different models of use (CHI '20)

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