United Airlines to Utilize UMD iSchool Tech to Improve Experience for Travelers with Disabilities

United Airlines to Utilize UMD iSchool Tech to Improve Experience for Travelers with Disabilities

In an important step toward increasing access for to people with disabilities, United Airlines is replacing select airport check-in kiosks with newer models that include EZ Access® features developed by the University of Maryland College of Information Studies' (UMD iSchool) Trace Research & Development Center. These features, which include assistance in the form of audio prompts and a special keypad, make it possible for thousands of customers with blindness or low vision, physical limitations, and cognitive impairments to use the airline's self-serve systems.

The research behind this technology began in 1998 when the Trace Center began investigating the barriers to using touchscreens and self-service kiosks. The Trace Center is committed to creating a world where telecommunication technologies are accessible to all. Their work led to the development of special features, techniques, and hardware that increase independence and access for people with varied abilities. These technologies, patented as EZ Access®, are interface enhancements that can be added to the existing designs of self-serve touchscreen and kiosk interfaces. 

EZ Access® has been incorporated into information and ticket kiosks designed by numerous companies, and can be found in airports, post offices, train stations, banks, ATMs, monuments, and many government buildings. Features now made available through EZ Access® include headset jacks with built-in volume adjustments, layered audio assistance, text-to-speech options, a visual focus indicator that highlights selections on the screen, alternative text to all graphics, and system event sound effects.

“This technology brings together a set of interface techniques that can be applied to a broad range of information and communication technologies, to provide cross-disability access in the natural and intuitive way needed for public systems,” explained Gregg Vanderheiden, Trace Center Director.

EZ Access® was developed as part of the Trace Center’s Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center, funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), part of the Administration for Community Living in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Trace Center, which joined the UMD iSchool in 2016, has applied engineering and information science to the challenges faced by people with disabilities for over 40 years. Under the leadership of Gregg Vanderheiden, the Trace Center has successfully advocated for policies and developed technologies to improve accessibility.