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How disabled people experience their access to technology

Katta Spiel researches how people with disabilities experience their access to technology. For this work, Spiel has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant.

Portrait of Katta Spiel, in the background a written whiteboard.

© Oliver Suchanek

When developing a technology, access considerations for people with disabilities is often secondary. This occurs when a non-disabled designer fails to consider their different lived experience compared to that of a person with a disability. Therefore, as part of the Experiencing Access with Interactive Technologies (ACCESSTECH for short) project, Prof. Katta Spiel is looking at access to technology for disabled people in three defined contexts. What is unique about this approach is that the researchers themselves have the disability that is to be investigated in the context of access to a particular technology. In total, three technological contexts will be investigated in terms of their accessibility for people with a specific disability. This project is funded by an ERC Starting Grant, which is endowed with approximately 1.5 million euros. 

The ERC Starting Grants of the European Research Council (ERC), opens an external URL in a new window are considered to be one of the most prestigious and most highly endowed grants in the European research landscape for young scientists. In this year's round of awards, three of these grants were given to TU Wien – Katta Spiel from the Institute for Visual Computing and Human-Centered Technology received one of them. Julian Leonard from the Atominstitut and Xiao-Hua Qin from the Institute of Applied Synthetic Chemistry also received an ERC Starting Grant.

Experiencing technologies – with disabilities

"If non-disabled scientists research the accessibility of technologies for disabled people, there is a risk of creating artefacts that are functionally accessible but are seen as undesirable, unwanted or even harmful by disabled communities themselves," explains Katta Spiel. Since Spiel is neurodivergent themselves, they (gender-neutral pronoun) draw on first-hand experience here.

Besides the question of how neurodivergent people experience themselves and intimacy (context 1), Spiel's team explores how a mobility disability affects experiences in nature and how this is shared in social networks (context 2). Moreover, the team is looking at the social context of the use of virtual reality headsets by deaf people (context 3). In all three cases, the team follows a participatory approach through design – working closely with stakeholders and community partners. This will significantly determine the progress of the project. "With ACCESSTECH, we are striving for a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we approach disabilities and technologies," Katta Spiel sums up.

Katta Spiel

Katta Spiel studied computer science (media systems) and cultural studies (media culture) at the Bauhaus Universität Weimar. In 2014, Spiel went to TU Wien for a PhD and investigated the experiences autistic children have with co-developed technologies (project: OutsideTheBox). This work was recognised with the 2020 ACM SIGCHI Outstanding Dissertation Award. In 2019, Spiel went to KU Leuven as a postdoc for one year, before returning to TU Wien. Since August 2023, Katta Spiel holds an assistant professorship on Critical Access in Embodied Computing. Together with the Crip Collective, Spiel is researching self-determined access to technology from marginalised perspectives.


Prof. Katta Spiel
Research Unit Human Computer Interaction
TU Wien

Text: Sarah Link