Middleware Support for Cross-Disability Access

Project sponsored by Office of Naval Research (ONR) as part of the DOD Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) and NSF Career Award ANI-9875988


            Recent advances in technologies to capture, represent, transmit, disseminate, and visualize large volumes of multimedia information has truly revolutionized how people communicate and interact with each other. The impact cuts across a variety of new (and old) application domains ranging from internet chat rooms, to online virtual cyber societies, to entertainment – music, movies, games, to online classrooms and distance education. For example, in the context of distance education, high quality video lectures synchronized with power point presentations and accompanying lecture notes and online text/manuals allow students to explore the subject at their own pace and leisure in the comfort of their own surroundings. Such advances present unprecedented opportunities to society, the potential of which will be realized by the generations to follow. An important aspect in the evolution of the information society is that of “universal access” that supports mechanisms to bring the benefits of the information age to the disabled and the elderly. This is supported by the current legislation via ADA and rehabilitation laws.

              The SUGA project focuses on the development of middleware techniques to support cross-disability access to multimedia content. To date, application developers and service providers have focused on extensive functionality and optimal performance (possibly, driven by commercial needs) to ensure that customers can be delivered the best possible Quality of Service (QoS) with the least possible resource consumption overhead. SUGA in Sanskrit means 'easy access'. Hence the goal of this project is to enhance information technology infrastructures to account for user abilities (and disabilities) so that personalized content can be delivered in a cost-effective manner.


A typical scenario showing how information trasmitted across a network should be suitably adapted to the end user. It shows users with different impairments accessing the network, and samples showing how the information can be customized to cater to the user impairment

             Often times the zeal to exploit the emerging technologies to improve user experience ignores the goal of universal access to one and all. For example, increased network bandwidth and real-time video capture technologies may prompt transmission of a live event using streaming video but such a media is of little use to the blind. A case can also be made from an economic perspective as to why universal access is an important step in promoting the information economy. Perhaps it is the impaired, disabled and the aged that can benefit the most from the emergent technologies. Providing universal access in the distributed information environment requires an end-to-end approach, the realization of which requires advances in many areas in computer and information sciences. First, the design of suitable user-interfaces and assistive devices is critical and has been the focus of study in several recent research projects. Second, the generalized representation of content to allow access by individuals with varying disabilities (cross-disability access) is an important issue. Third, the extraction and delivery of personalized content in a cost-effective manner represents a significant challenge.

          A major step in the realization of the “universal access” goal is that of a content adaptation framework that supports personalized (cross-disability) access to information. Content adaptation refers (a) selection of appropriate modalities and (b) modification of the parameters of a specific modality (for instance, an image can be encoded using various resolutions, color levels and intensities) in order to enhance usability and manage heterogeneity.  In order that the adaptation is effective it is essential to characterize the accessibility of information for a user given his/her ability disability characteristics. We use studies from cognitive sciences and models of human faculty to characterize the ability requirements of users given the disability profile and to quantify the accessibility of a given modality to the user. Using the ability based characterization we develop algorithms to select the best content to the users and to adapt the selected content for vision, motor and cognitive impairments. 

           There are multiple facets to developing such a framework foremost of which is a generalized representation of content to allow access to individuals with varying disabilities. The SUGA Project takes the approach that a cost-effective solution can be realized by offering the adaptation as a service within the distributed system middleware. We explore adaptive middleware techniques for the representation, storage, delivery and presentation of multimedia content for cross-disability access. Specifically, we focus on content adaptation and transcoding technologies to achieve a balance between end-user’s goal of  QoS satisfaction and the service provider’s goal of optimal resource consumption. Content adaptation may be carried out anywhere along the datapath - at the server, client or at intermediate proxies.            





  1. Vidhya Balasubramanian and Nalini Venkatasubramanian. "Server Transcoding of Multimedia Information for Cross Disability Access", ACM/SPIE Conference on Multimedia Computing and Networking, MMCN 2003.
  2. Vidhya Balasubramanian and Nalini Venkatasubramanian, Adapting a Multimedia Distance Learning Environment for Vision Impairments, ITCC 2003.
  3. Vidhya Balasubramanian and Nalini Venkatasubramanian, "GURU: A Multimedia Distance-Learning Framework for Users with Disabilities", Demo Paper, ACM Multimedia 2004
  4. Vidhya Balasubramanian and Nalini Venkatasubramanian, "Customized Learning for Users with Impairments in GURU", submitted to ICME 2005


  1. Vidhya Balasubramanian and Nalini Venkatasubramanian. Adaptation of Multimedia Data for Cross Disability Access.  Submitted for publication.



The following links will lead you to the various resources on the internet for adaptive technology for the disabled and resources on technology for universal accessibility. 



Pulse Data HumanWare(For Persons who are print impaired)

Don Johnston (Learning Intervention Resources)

Synapse Adaptive (Speech Recognition and Adaptive Technology)

Freedom Scientific (Assistive Technology for people with vision and sensory impairments)

A.T.Kratter & Company Inc (Assistive Technology and Services)

R.J.Cooper and Associates (Assistive Software and Hardware)

Ai Squared (Software for Visually Impaired)


IBM Accessibility Center

Microsoft Accessibility


EASI(Equal Access to Software and Information)

KATS Network(Online Resources)

High Tech Center Training Unit (Alternate Media)

Trace Research and Development Center at University of Wisconsin and Madison

TechDis Website

The New York Institute for Special Education

CPC - Computer Prompting and Captioning Co.

NCAM-National Center for Accessible Media


A Guide to Disability Rights Laws

ADA Homepage


A-Prompt-Web Accessibility Verifier

Accessibility Testing Tools,Web Accessibility,at The University of Arizona

Captioning Windows Media Using SAMI with Magpie

MIT Disability Resources for Information Technology

World Wide Web Consortium


WebAIM-Web Accessibility in Mind


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