Honors Seminar 3, Science & Technology in NYC

A City for Everyone: Science and Technology in NYC Benefiting People with Disabilities

 Syllabus for Fall 2007
CUNY Queens College


Course Structure * Course Topics * Assignments * Resources



Dr. Matt Huenerfauth, Assistant Professor

Computer Science Department, CUNY Queens College

Computer Science Ph.D. Program, CUNY Graduate Center
Office: Science Building A330
Phone: 7 1 8 - 9 9 7 - 3 2 6 4
Email: matt (AT) cs (DOT) qc (DOT) cuny (DOT) edu
Office Hours: Wednesdays, 5:15pm to 6:15pm.


Technology Fellow:

Aaron Liu-Rosenbaum

Instructional Technology Fellow, MHC, Queens College


Class Schedule:


Monday afternoons, 3:05pm to 5:50pm.

Classroom: Honors Center, Room 101C.


Note: There are field trips tentatively planned for off-campus on November 19 and 26.  We will likely take a bus from campus (and will return to campus).  The trips will be designed so that we depart campus at 3pm (five minutes before our scheduled start time) and return to campus at 6pm (ten minutes after are scheduled end time) on these days.  Because of unexpected traffic, there is a chance that we could be delayed beyond 6pm on these days.  If you think there will be a scheduling problem because of this, please see the instructor of this class as early as possible in the semester. 




This section of Honors Seminar 3 will examine how advances in science and technology have benefited people with disabilities.  We will focus on several forms of disability (hearing, vision, motor, learning, developmental, aging-related, and linguistic), and we will analyze the medical, social, legal, ethical, educational, community identity, and quality-of-life impact of each.  Students will explore how New York City addresses the needs of people with disabilities in the areas of public transportation, city services, government websites, museums, parks, cultural performances, and urban infrastructure (city streets, crossing signs, wheelchair ramps).  Students will learn about cutting-edge ways in which science and technology has provided assistance/accessibility for people with disabilities.  Students will learn how assistive technology researchers learn about the needs of their target users, design technology for some use, design an experiment to test the effectiveness of the technology, analyze the results, and then re-design the system.  This course will also include guest speakers and visits to locations around New York City relevant to services and technology for people with disabilities.


General Description for all sections of Seminar 3:


Major scientific concepts and their relationship to technological developments that affect New York City. Topics vary according to the scientific expertise of the instructor and may include the following: genetic engineering, ecological determinants, energy issues, and AIDS or other diseases. Students will read scientific literature and learn the fundamentals of science necessary to understand the readings. Attention will also be given to the historical, ethical, legal, social, and economic ramifications of a topic.


General Learning Goals for all sections of Seminar 3:


In the seminar, students will:

  1. Develop and demonstrate an awareness of the messiness and complexity of the progress of scientific knowledge by reading and writing about the intellectual roots of the seminar topic.
  2. Practice critical thinking through the evaluation of scientific and technological issues and the public presentation of their research.
  3. Learn to search literature on specific science and technology topics and to use the Internet to identify relevant data sources.
  4. Understand scientific principles by analyzing one or more problems in detail.




The public website for this course is: http://www.cs.qc.cuny.edu/matt/honors/

Lecture slides, assignments, and handouts are only available on the BlackBoard site. 


Course Prerequisites:

HNRS-126 (Honors Seminar 2). 

All students must be in the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY.

Required Readings/Media:

While most of the readings from the course won’t be from textbooks, we will be reading several chapters from Hardman et al.’s, Human Exceptionality – this book has some really good one-chapter overviews of different forms of disability.  We will also be reading several chapters from the book: William C. Mann (editor), 2005, Smart Technology for Aging, Disability, and Independence: The State of the Science, Wiley & Sons.  We’ll be reading several chapters from the book: Martha Davis, Scientific Papers and Presentations, Academic Press.  Arrangements are being made with the library to make selected chapters from the Universal Design Handbook accessible via e-reserves.  If this is possible, then we may arrange an in-class discussion of individual chapters from this text.

Full details about the required texts and where to get them can be found on the BlackBoard site for this course.

See the listing of readings on the calendar below.  Many of these will be made available on online or at the library.

To access books on Queens College NetLibrary, go to: http://www.netlibrary.com/   You must log-in from on campus, and you should select the “create a free account” link at the top of the page.  After you have created an account while you are on campus, then you can log-in from anywhere to read the book online.

Grading Percentages:

In-Class Quizzes


Assignment #1 (personal statement)


Assignment #2 (problem-solving)


Assignment #3 (initial report)


Assignment #4 (presentation)


Assignment #5 (final report)


Assignment #6 (poster)


Class Participation


Easy In-Class Quizzes on the Readings:

At the start of most classes for which there are required readings, we will have a 2-minute mini-quiz.  It will be three or four short-answer questions that should be very easy if you have done the readings for class that day.  These questions will be designed so that you do not need to study the readings in order to get full credit – the questions will be engineered so that they touch on a very memorable fact in the reading.  For example, if the reading for class that week had been Moby Dick, then a question on the mini-quiz might be: “What was Captain Ahab chasing?”  While in-class quizzes can take up a little time, the level of discussion in class is so much better when everyone has done the reading.  Additionally, a major portion of the work you will do for this course is the assigned reading, and I want the course’s grading to reward those students who have spent their time on this part of the work.

In-Class Graded Activities Policy:

If for some reason you are unable to attend a quiz or other in-class graded activity (it is anticipated that the quizzes listed above would be the only in-class graded activity), you should contact the instructor ahead of time to discuss the circumstances.  Since the class meets once a week for a three-hour block of time, missing one class can put you significantly behind. 

Class Participation Policy:

Your class participation grade will be determined based on your attendance and active participation in class throughout the semester.  Participating in discussions, answering questions, reading assigned texts before class, and participating during in-class activities are all good ways to show "active participation."  There are also CUNY/Queens College policies that can become applicable if there is an excessive number of lateness or absences.

Being considerate of your fellow students in the classroom is also an important part of your "class participation" grade.  You can do this by not causing a distraction for your fellow classmates -- you can remember to turn off your cell phone before class, arrive on time for class, avoid side conversation or noise during class, etc. 

A good learning environment is also one in which everyone feels welcome and comfortable; so, please be respectful of the diversity of backgrounds, beliefs, and lifestyles of the students in our class. 

Grading Questions:

Your grades will be posted on BlackBoard during the semester.  If you have specific questions about your grade on an assignment, then the best way to proceed is to send an e-mail with your question to the instructor.  You should mention which problem/question you are referring to, and you should discuss why you feel the grade should be reexamined. 

Academic Integrity Policy:

The instructor will adhere to Queens College and CUNY policies on academic integrity.  Students who cheat on quizzes/exams or who plagiarize material for papers (submitting someone else’s work, failing to properly cite sources, or copy/paste information from the Internet) will be reported to the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs and will fail (0%) the quiz, project, or paper.  The Vice President’s office may pursue additional penalties beyond those affecting the grade in the course.

Students with Disabilities:

After registering with the Office of Special Services for Students with Disabilities (OSS), please feel free to make an appointment with the course instructor to discuss any academic accommodations you may need.  It is best if this is done at the beginning of the semester.  If you need academic accommodations and are not registered with the OSS, please contact them in person at 171 Kiely Hall or by telephone at 718-997-5870.  Upon individual request, this syllabus can be made available in alternative forms.  

Students with Other Concerns:

Students with academic or personal concerns beyond those related to this course are encouraged to contact Dr. Pamela Degotardi, the academic advisor for the Honors College at Queens College.  Her telephone number is 718-997-3183, and her e-mail address is: pdegotardi@hotmail.com



The following is a tentative set of topics that will be discussed in class.  Specific calendar dates for each topic may be changed during the course of the semester.  Many weeks show two sets of topics of discussion – this will usually correspond to the portion of the 3-hour class before/after the short break.  Readings should be considered tentative until two weeks before the scheduled class period – at which time a finalized set of readings for that day will be announced.

The instructor will let you know the best way to access readings – whether online, through the library reserve room, etc.  Directions for how to get each reading will be posted on BlackBoard at least two weeks before the date by which it should be read. 


Week 1
Aug 27

Introductions, Overview of Syllabus, Course Topics. 

Terminology and Background, Forms of Disability, Science and Technology, Aspects of Disability: Medical, Legal, Social, Cultural, Educational, Economic.


Please consult BlackBoard for the most up to date listing of the readings assigned for today.

Sept 6

Special Event

“MHC Science Event”

Proshansky Auditorium of the CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY.  (At the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.)

This is a Common Event for all students in Honors Seminar 3 courses.   Students in the William E. Macaulay Honors College of CUNY are required to attend.

Week 2
Sept 10

Accessibility, Universal Design, the Digital Divide, and Assistive Technology.

Movement-Related Disabilities.


Please consult BlackBoard for the most up to date listing of the readings assigned for today. 

Week 3
Sept 17

Vision-Related Disabilities.

Legal issues.

Assignment #1 due (personal statement).


Please consult BlackBoard for the most up to date listing of the readings assigned for today.

Week 4
Sept 24

Hearing-Related Disabilities.

Disabilities Identity, Community, and Culture.



Please consult BlackBoard for the most up to date listing of the readings assigned for today.

Week 5
Oct 1

Cognitive and Learning Disabilities.

Access to Education.



Please consult BlackBoard for the most up to date listing of the readings assigned for today.

Week 6
Oct 15

Discussion of Team Projects, Formation of Project Groups.

Overview of the field of Accessibility and Assistive Technology research and major professional organizations.

Alternative and Augmentative Communication Devices.

Assignment #2 due (short assignment).


Please consult BlackBoard for the most up to date listing of the readings assigned for today.

Week 7
Oct 22

Accessibility and assistive technologies for people with hearing-related disabilities: closed-captioning, speech recognition, hearing aids, cochlear implants, and sign language technologies.

The design cycle and scientific method, user-requirements gathering, prototyping, implementation, evaluation, and redesign.  Experimental design for evaluation: controls, placebos, and other factors.

Discussion of what happened at the ASSETS-2007 conference in Tempe the previous week.


Please consult BlackBoard for the most up to date listing of the readings assigned for today.

Week 8
Oct 29

Accessibility and assistive technologies for people with vision-related disabilities: screen-readers, speech-based software, Braille technologies, optical character recognition, mobility and location aids, computer vision systems.

Building a research program at a university, writing proposals for grant money, institutional review board “human subjects” clearance, involving future users, and recruiting subjects.


Please consult BlackBoard for the most up to date listing of the readings assigned for today.

Week 9
Nov 5

Field Trip Day

Queens Museum of Art’s ArtAccess Program for people with disabilities

(Alternate) Queens Library accessibility features.

(Alternate) Baruch College’s Computer Center for Visually Impaired People (CCVIP).

(Alternate) On-campus location.


Please consult BlackBoard for the most up to date listing of the readings assigned for today.

Week 10
Nov 12

Accessibility and assistive technologies for people with movement-related and cognitive/learning disabilities: icon/picture-based interfaces, handheld accompaniment devices, speech synthesis systems, text simplification.

How do researchers disseminate their work?  Forms of scientific writing and presentation, submission and review process for journals and conferences.

Possible in-class easy quiz today.


Please consult BlackBoard for the most up to date listing of the readings assigned for today.

Week 11
Nov 19

Accessible facilities, services, and public transportation.

How to Create Posters.


Assignment #3 due (initial report).


Please consult BlackBoard for the most up to date listing of the readings assigned for today.

Week 12
Nov 26

Field Trip Day

Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, 40 West 20th Street (5th-6th Av), Manhattan

(Tentative) Accessibility tour of a subway station – if time.


Please consult BlackBoard for the most up to date listing of the readings assigned for today.

Dec 3

Special Event


From 5pm to 9pm in the Proshansky Auditorium of the CUNY Graduate Center.

No class at Queens College today!  Just go directly to the Graduate Center.  We may select a place/time for us all to meet up around 4pm to talk before the big event at 5pm.

Assignment #6 due (poster).

This is a Common Event for all students in Honors Seminar 3 courses.   Students in the William E. Macaulay Honors College of CUNY are required to attend.

Week 13
Dec 10

In-class presentations and discussion of the results of the research projects.


Assignment #4 due (presentations).

There will not be any quiz today.

Note: Assignment #5 (final report) due on December 12.


Lecture Slides:

Any lecture slides will appear in the Course Documents page of the BlackBoard site. 

An initial version of the slides will be posted shortly before class, and a final version of the slides will be posted after class.  (We will use a TabletPC in class for lectures, and sometimes we will add additional drawings/comments to the slides during lecture.)

It is anticipated that a majority of the class time will not be spent in lecture – many class meetings will involve discussions, activities, guest speakers, or field trips.



Assignments will be posted on the Assignments page of the class website on BlackBoard as they are announced.  Tentatively, there will be two brief individual assignments during the semester.  The major focus of the course will be a research project that students will perform in groups.  In addition to the reports and presentation required for this project, it is a requirement of the CUNY Honors College that students in Seminar 3 produce a poster about their project to be presented at an Honors College event in Manhattan on December 3.

If an assignment will be submitted late, then you should discuss the circumstances ahead of time with the instructor.  Such assignments will be accepted on a case-by-case basis and a penalty percentage may apply.  After students’ responses to assignment #2 have been discussed in class, then this assignment may no longer be accepted.  Assignment #6 (the poster) is for a CUNY-wide event on December 3, and it therefore cannot be submitted late. 

The text below provides an initial description of the assignments for this course.  More details will be given in class during the semester.


Assignment #1 (INDIVIDUAL) due September 17, 2007

Two-page short statement about an experience you have had with someone with a disability. 

Full details available on BlackBoard.


Assignment #2 (INDIVIDUAL) due October 16, 2007

“Problem solver” assignment where you pick one of three choices.  

Full details available on BlackBoard.


Assignments #3-#6: The Final Project

The final term project for the course will be a team project in which you will write an accessibility guide for students with various kinds of disabilities who would like to attend CUNY Queens College.  Your team will focus on a group of students with one kind of disability (vision, hearing, cognitive, movement, etc.) – each team will focus on a different group.  The entire project will consist of several assignments that are due at various times throughout the second half of the semester.

Full details available on BlackBoard.

Note: While assignments #3-#6 are done as teams, all of the students in the team will be asked to fill out an evaluation form about how much of a contribution of effort was made by each member on that assignment.  This will be taken into consideration when determining grades for the assignment.  (In general, it is anticipated that everyone in a team would get the same grade, but if someone did an overwhelming or “underwhelming” part of the work, then this will be taken into account.) 

Assignment #3 (GROUP) due November 12, 2007

Assignment #3 will be a five- to seven-page report that will serve as the first portion of your final project.  In this initial report, your team will describe the life experience of people with the particular form of disability that your team is focusing on.  You may want to create a few hypothetical future college students who reflect some typical people with that disability – the creation of these “personas” can give your report a more personal feel and allow you to think more concretely about the issues. 

After describing your users, you will then need to explain the set of activities that would be involved in that person attending CUNY Queens College.  In particular, you should spend time carefully analyzing the tasks required for any activities of a college student that would present challenges for someone with that disability.  If medical, legal, social, economic, or other factors of this person’s life may be relevant to their ability to participate in activities required of a college student, then you should discuss this as well.  You may also need to discuss aspects of the college environment, campus location, academic and other buildings, student culture, or educational practices that would affect the accessibility of activities for your user.

You also need to spend some time thinking about how the beliefs, identity, age, cultural perspective, prior educational experiences, history, and life experiences of your user may affect how you should write your guide.  What kind of terminology should you use?  What topics or examples would be things that would especially interest someone with this disability?  What aspects of college life might be most important for you to focus on in your report?  How should you use images or other media in your report?  Your team should also discuss what the best format of your final report should be so that it is most accessible for someone with the disability you are studying.  You must submit a report with a written component of appropriate length, but you may also realize that you should create a screen-reader compatible PDF file, a screen-reader friendly website, a Braille printout of the report, an audio recording of someone reading your report, a videotape of a sign language interpreter translating your report, a summary of your report in simpler format, etc. 

Full details available on BlackBoard. 

Assignment #4 (INDIVIDUAL/GROUP) due December 10, 2007

You will need to prepare a 30-minute presentation based on your final group project report (assignment #5 below). 

 Full details available on BlackBoard.

Assignment #5 (GROUP) due December 12, 2007

The final report will be approximately 20-pages (7 of which will be the text from assignment #3 that you will re-use).  You can expand upon the discussion in assignment #3, and you will now offer specific recommendations on how the challenges you have identified could be addressed through various forms of assistive technology – or through other low-tech means that involve changes in policies, additional support services, classroom assignments, etc.  For instance, users with learning disabilities or cognitive impairments may benefit from academic support services on campus, and it would be appropriate in your report to discuss what services are available and how they could benefit the student. 

Because this course is focused on assistive and accessibility technology for people with disabilities, your recommendations should include at least five different items of assistive technology that should be employed.  You should conduct some literature search for additional background information about each form of technology; you should discuss whether it is currently available or whether it is still an area of active research (and might not be included in a product until sometime in the future).  You should explain how the assistive technology would be useful for addressing the specific problems that your college student “persona” may encounter, and you should describe potential problems the student might run into when they use it.  You should discuss where each item of assistive technology could be obtained, how much it costs approximately, how the student might be able to pay for it (special government grants, funding through CUNY for special services), and experiences/comments from people who may have used this form of assistive technology before. 

Questions to consider include: Does the Office of Special Services for Students with Disabilities (or some other office at CUNY) already have a program for providing this technology or service?  How does a student go about accessing these services?  Is the proper way of addressing the accessibility problems of the “persona” require a combination of assistive technology items?  How should they be used together?  How could we evaluate how useful the technology is to the student?

Your report can also discuss whether there are changes or improvements that could be made to public places, transportation systems, policies/laws, benefit programs, or existing assistive technologies.  While these elements of the situation also play an important role in the experience of your “persona,” I would like you focus mostly on practical and immediate things that can be done to improve the accessibility of college life for students with disabilities. If you do want to propose your own futuristic form of assistive technology, that is fine, but I would like to see that you have conducted some background literature search to explain how it would connect to the state of the art, how it would be better, and how you might go about designing/evaluating it. 

Additional Submission Format: If your group decides that the report would be more accessible in a different format, then you should discuss this ahead of time with the instructor.  It may be possible to make arrangements to convert your report into an accessible website, convert it to Braille and print it on an embosser, record someone reading your report, or videotape an ASL interpreter translating the report.  While it is the responsibility of the team to make this happen, the instructor and the technology fellow may be able to assist you in this process.

Full details available on BlackBoard.


Assignment #6 (GROUP) due December 3 (may need to submit files sooner for printing)

You will need to make a poster about your final group project to be displayed at a CUNY-wide Honors Program event in Manhattan sometime during the semester.  Additional details about the design and creation of these posters will be discussed during the semester. 

Full details available on BlackBoard.



Logging-In to the BlackBoard Online Course System:

Information about Using BlackBoard: