Published: March 11, 2022

Brett Fiedler and colleagues win 2022 Dr. Arthur I. Karshmer Award for Assistive Technology Research

A physics-education and inclusive-design specialist at the University of Colorado Boulder has been recognized for his work to help blind or visually impaired people learn geometry.

With colleagues at other institutions, Brett Fiedler, a researcher at CU Boulder’s PhET Interactive Simulations project, has won the Dr. Arthur I. Karshmer Award for Assistive Technology Research for their submission “A Tangible Manipulative for Inclusive Quadrilateral Learning.”

The prize is awarded annually to the authors of the best submission to the science/research journal track of the California State University Northridge (CSUN) Assistive Technology Conference, which describes itself as the premier event in the field of technology and people with disabilities.

Brett Fiedler

At the top of page: Dor Abrahamson of the University of California at Berkeley demonstrates the use of the Quad, a device he and colleagues at CU Boulder and elsewhere created to help the blind or visually impaired learn geometry. Photo courtesy of Dor Abrahamson. Above: Brett Fiedler is a researcher at CU Boulder’s PhET Interactive Simulations project.

Winners are recognized for their exemplary submission and excellence in research and the advancement of assistive technology. The submission is publicly available on the conference website with later publication in the Journal on Technology and Persons with Disabilities in late spring 2022.

Fiedler and his colleagues designed and tested the efficacy of an interactive physical device that can help people explore four-sided shapes non-visually, by touch. The device is called a Tangible Manipulative for Quadrilaterals—which the team also calls the Quad.

The device compares well to existing tools for non-visual shape identification used by the blind and visually impaired community, Fiedler said. “It's the beginning of a line of collaborative work in building inclusive learning experiences that harness the affordances of physical manipulatives coupled to multimodal virtual learning tools and emphasize an oft-overlooked pathway to learning, body movement,” he added.

Fiedler’s collaborators include Scott George Lambert of Saint Louis University, Chloe S. Hershenow of the University of Tulsa, Dor Abrahamson of the University of California Berkeley, and Jenna L. Gorlewicz of Saint Louis University. They will be recognized at the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference next week.

A YouTube video featuring Abrahamson shows the genesis of the Quad device, demonstrates how it works and acknowledges the contribution of each collaborator. See the video here.

As the video’s narrator states, the quadrilateral device can be used by students regardless of how well they see, “whether they have 20/20 vision, 20/50 or 20/200,” adding that “it’s the ultimate in inclusive learning.”

In support of the collaboration, Fiedler helped design the Quad and interpret the findings of the studies with blind and visually impaired participants. He and PhET’s Inclusive Design team (led by PhET Director of Research and Accessibility Emily Moore) continue to work closely with their collaborators in developing the virtual display that will provide multimodal support (e.g., sounds, speech, vibrations, etc.) to the physical Quad device.

Fiedler earned his PhD in physical chemistry from CU Boulder in 2017 and spent several years as part of the JILA Physics Frontier Center-funded PISEC program, working with CU Boulder students and local K-12 students in informal science learning spaces.

Working now for the PhET Interactive Simulations project, Fiedler researches and designs new multimodal features for PhET simulations to provide all learners with access and enjoyable learning experiences with the sims.