Units Across UMD Partner on Multidisciplinary Initiatives for AI Ethics, Accessible Technology, and Literacy

Olivia Borgula & INFO Staff - December 7, 2023

Funded by UMD Grand Challenge Grants, INFO is playing an integral role in these initiatives

Photo of Testudo statue on the UMD Campus with sunshine

February 2023, the University of Maryland (UMD) awarded $30 Million to UMD faculty in support of 50 projects addressing humanity’s grand challenges. The UMD College of Information Studies (INFO) is playing a key role in seven of these projects, with significant involvement in three top-tier (highest funded) projects that entail launching new research initiatives.

The new initiatives, the Initiative for Values-Centered Artificial Intelligence (VCAI), the Maryland Initiative for Digital Accessibility (MIDA), and the Maryland Initiative for Literacy and Equity (MILE), bring together UMD faculty, staff, and students from INFO, CMNS, EDUC, ARHU, BSOS, SPP, DIT, SPHL, ENGR, LIBR, and UCC, alongside key community partners such as Gallaudet University, Adobe, Microsoft, Meta, Army Research Lab (ARL), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and Baltimore City Schools.

Initiative for Values-Centered Artificial Intelligence (VCAI)
UMD Units Represented: INFO, CMNS, ARHU

The goal of the Initiative for Values-Centered Artificial Intelligence (VCAI) is to integrate research and education across the UMD campus and engage in high-impact research with stakeholders to transform how AI is practiced globally. In 30 years, the VCAI hopes to see AI:

  • Safely and privately augmenting and personalizing medicine with doctors and patients informed and providing feedback.
  • Fairly and justly tailoring educational content to individual learners with teachers and students understanding and critiquing AI interactions.
  • Planning efficient and accessible routes across our cities with engineers and transit riders in the loop.
  • Enabling equitable, reliable communication across languages and cultures with lay users and professional interpreters alike.

The proposed solution for this transformation: To put AI in a human context by developing theories, practices, and tools to ensure that AI respects human values.

The world needs mechanisms that increase the participation of the stakeholders in guiding how values are interpreted and implemented in AI systems. VCAI aims to work within situated communities to invent those mechanisms.

The VCAI is being led by Hal Daumé III (CMNS), Vanessa Frias-Martinez (INFO), Katie Shilton (INFO), and John Horty (ARHU).

Maryland Initiative for Digital Accessibility (MIDA)

Digital technologies (such as software apps, websites, digital documents, and operating systems) are often designed without considering the needs of people with disabilities. Remediating accessibility issues in existing technologies can be a time-consuming and expensive process that still fails to include the disability community and often leads to delays in access.

The new Maryland Initiative for Digital Accessibility (MIDA) combines the expertise and passion of researchers, designers, developers and educators from multiple disciplines at the University of Maryland with a united goal of making digital technologies accessible for all. MIDA aims to involve the disability community, private and public partners, and anyone interested in accessibility issues, in technology development projects, public outreach programs and advocacy. MIDA will collaborate with others to proactively build-in accessibility when developing new technologies—known as the “born-accessible” approach.

MIDA has five high-level goals:

  • Building a community of faculty, staff, and students across the University of Maryland (UMD) who are passionate about digital accessibility
  • Creating opportunities for UMD to engage with external stakeholders including disability rights groups, technology companies, and policymakers
  • Developing technology projects to improve accessibility and demonstrate the born-accessible approach to design
  • Fundraising to further support MIDA’s mission
  • Increasing awareness of digital accessibility through public events and programming at UMD.

MIDA is being led by Jonathan Lazar (INFO), Ana Palla (DIT/SPHL), Gulnoza Yakubova (EDUC), Paul Jaeger (INFO), J Bern Jordan (INFO), and Galina Reitz (INFO).

Maryland Initiative for Literacy and Equity (MILE)
UMD Units Represented: EDUC, ARHU, BSOS, INFO, SPP

The Maryland Initiative for Literacy and Equity (MILE) seeks to address literacy achievement gaps across Maryland by transforming practices in education, speech and language pathology, and library sciences.

A large proportion of the students who graduate from Maryland public schools face barriers that prevent them from reading and writing at grade level. Achievement gaps in schools systematically increase with the number of students living at or below the poverty line, coinciding with increasing segregation by race, ethnicity, and language background.

In the field of literacy, there is a global chasm between the science of language and literacy acquisition and the practice of teaching children how to read and write. Research on language and literacy acquisition often overlooks or minimizes social and cultural contexts, leading to deficit perspectives toward culturally and linguistically diverse students, families, and communities.

MILE is harnessing partnerships and community stakeholder outreach to drive research that is contextualized with respect to marginalized communities across race, culture, ethnicity, and language, as well as neurodiverse populations.

The MILE initiative is being led by Donald Bolger (EDUC). Elizabeth Bonsignore (INFO) is a key member of the team, with extensive experience in co-design with youth, human-computer interaction, and information justice.