By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

Like all international students, Natã Barbosa has gone the distance for his education. In Natã’s case, he’s done that in ways beyond the geographical sense, extending his research to developing software applications, then returning to the U.S. this week to compete in a renowned student research competition.

Barbosa came to Syracuse University from Brazil for the 2013-14 academic year. He works in Brazil as a software developer while attending college part-time. At Syracuse, he took School of Information Studies (iSchool) courses in human computer interaction from Assistant Professor Yang Wang and completed the Summer Student Sandbox with John Liddy.

Over the past year, working with Wang, Natã began research on, and eventually branched into creating the technical architecture for an early-phase app for a Department of Education-funded project. He continues to work remotely with that team from Brazil. Just last week, Natã also launched the beta phase of his own startup, which he developed this past summer in the Student Sandbox. He’s working to make a success of his business, 196sense, an app that provides “personalized and real-time travel tips by travelers, for travelers, instantly.”

Barbosa made a trip back to the U.S. this week to compete among a select group in a student research competition (SRC) at the noted International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility. His travel costs were supported by the iSchool. Hosted by the Association for Computing Machinery, the Rochester, NY conference is a focal point for accessibility issues in computing. The energetic student is presenting a poster of his research, “Strategies, An Inclusive Authentication Framework.” A panel of judges will review all student posters, selecting a group of finalists to compete in the SRC Grand Finals. Two winners, an undergraduate and a graduate student, will be recognized at the Annual ACM Awards Banquet.

“This is a great venue for our work,” Natã said. “We get the feedback of accessibility experts when we present our work, and students also get exposed to the larger academic community.” He observed, “A lot of what we do in this project has broader impact in terms of how technology can be improved to improve accessibility. Even if we’re representing authentication, hopefully lessons can be learned about the approach we took that could be helpful to researchers in the broader accessibility community.”

Natã’s work is a component of a larger project, the Disability Rehabilitation Research Project on Inclusive Cloud and Web Computing. It involves iSchool Professors Yang Wang and Yun Huang, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and University of Maryland at Baltimore County. The research is focused on finding implementable strategies to make it easier for people with disabilities to log on to the Web and streamline their user experiences. Noted Professor Wang, “Most existing authentication schemes tend to be difficult to use for people with disabilities. We're very excited about this opportunity to explore new authentication schemes that can provide better experiences for people with disability.”

Natã’s interest in the project began as a student in Wang’s human computer interaction class. He was soon asked to help with the research end, and later, his role grew into developing the early-phase technical framework for a software application to aid in authentication. He has developed not merely a technical plan for a prototype, but an extensive framework that can incorporate different authentication strategies to better serve a wide range of people with disabilities. “The strategy could be that someone would speak to a phone, or someone would shake the phone” to provide authentication and access, he said, adding that depending on the user’s disability condition and needs, the framework can be formulated differently. “The beauty of the framework is that it is easily extendable; you can incorporate different strategies in the format,” Barbosa said.

Yang said of Natã, “He’s one of the best students I’ve met in Syracuse. He’s a very intelligent, hardworking, and reliable person. It was really great to work with him; I’m so glad he reached out. He said the project is both interesting and it does good for society, and that’s why he wanted to be involved.”