About the Author: Markku (Mark) Häkkinen, PhD
I have been involved with user interfaces and accessibility since my undergraduate years when I worked as a research programmer at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, Missouri, developing hardware and software used in speech and hearing research. Back in the 1970’s, we didn’t call it accessibility, though. My early graduate research examined the use of synthetic speech-based warning messages in complex human-computer environments, a topic still of interest. I spent a good part of my professional career in user interface research and development for a variety of big and small software companies in New Jersey, where accessibility was largely an unknown component in the overall context of usability.
In the early 1990’s I began to do accessibility consulting while following the rapid growth of this fascinating thing called the Web. After learning about the difficulties that users of screen readers were faced with, pwWebSpeak, a non-visual, talking Web browser was born in 1995, and a small company called the Productivity Works was created to develop and market it. pwWebSpeak’s revolutionary approach to read and navigate Web content via structural and semantic information embodied in the HTML quickly led to my involvement with the multiple digital talking book standardization efforts at the time: the Library of Congress’ National Library Service committee and the DAISY Consortium. W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative and SMIL soon followed, with standards meetings occupying much of my time. Meanwhile, Productivity Works evolved into an angel funded company, signed a licensing agreement with Microsoft and rebranded itself as isSound Corporation, where I was CTO/founder until the company closed in 2001.
Following isSound, I worked with the DAISY for All Project, which took me to Japan, Thailand, Tunisia and throughout Europe in support of open standards and software for information accessibility. During this time, the importance of communicating preparedness information to people with disabilities was highlighted by 9/11 and the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, and led to my growing involvement with research in disaster and ICT. I returned to graduate school in Cognitive Science at the University of Jyväskylä (Finland), and completed my PhD examining failures in warning and alarm design. At Jyväskylä, I held the position of Senior Researcher in the Department of Mathematical Information Technology and focused on emergency communications and notification research, and specifically, the design of accessible, multimodal notifications, primarily via mobile phones.
I have been invited expert to the W3C WAI User Agent Accessibility Working Group and the HTML Working Group’s Accessibility Task Force, and have previously been chair of the WAI Research and Development Interest Group, a member of the SMIL Working Group, member of the ANSI NISO Z39.86 Digital Talking Book Committee and chair of its original File Format Working Group, member of the Open eBook Publication Structure Working Group, among others. Currently, I participate in the W3C Pronunciation Task Force in the Accessible Platform Architecture Working Group, and support my ETS colleagues who participate in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and ARIA Working Group. I also serve as the W3C Advisory Committee member for ETS. During 2020, I resumed participation in the IMS Global Learning Consortium standards work, where I previously co-chaired the Accessible Assessments Task Force. Finally, I serve on the DIAGRAM Center Advisory Committee.
Currently I lead the Accessibility Standards and Inclusive Technology Group at Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton. My group’s work focuses on accessibility of educational assessments, with specific areas of research in STEM, simulations, multi-modal interaction, and improving access to complex interactive items. We also are active participants in accessibility standards development. My current research interests revolve around improving non-visual access to educational content, improving the rendering of spoken content for all users, and rethinking the current approach to assistive technologies.
I can be reached via email at mhakkinen ((at)) acm.org or on twitter via @mhakkinen
Note: This is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer.