Category Archives: Events

Researchers at NTID demonstrate accessible rower at Imagine RIT festival

Male student with beard and glasses writes on a clipboard while working on rowing skull.

As part of Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, researchers at NTID’s Center on Access Technology will demonstrate an accessible rower that enables deaf and hard-of-hearing rowers to follow verbal coxswain instructions during competitions. Festival visitors can sit in a canoe and test their reflex response times by using a game pad to reply to visual cues displayed on a smartphone.       

The idea for the accessible rower came about in 2016, with the addition of a deaf rower to the RIT men’s rowing team roster, with the possibility of other deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes joining the squad. In rowing competitions, rowers are required to follow commands from the coxswain, who determines the speed of the boat.

According to Wendy Dannels, a research faculty member in NTID’s Center on Access Technology and one of the project coordinators, the solution provides a visual display showing transcription and/or illustration of the coxswain’s commands. The application was developed to help the athletes synchronize with the coxswain by using a custom Automatic Speech Recognition engine. The engine is offline so the deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes can utilize the technology without internet connection.

In addition to Dannels, project team members are Steven McClusky, a fourth-year software engineering student from Blue Springs, Mo.; Joseph Stanislow, instructional/support faculty member, NTID Information and Computing Studies; and Brian Trager, associate director of the NTID Center on Access Technology.

“The Wonderful World of Oz” continues

Poster with green hills, yellow path leading to green buildings and

Performances continue April 27 and 28 for the Performing Arts Department at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf production of The Wonderful World of Oz. Encore performances will take place June 28–July 1 in celebration of NTID’s 50th anniversary alumni reunion. The production will be held in the Robert F. Panara Theatre, Lyndon Baines Johnson Hall, on the RIT/NTID campus.

Adapted and directed by RIT/NTID alumnus and former performing arts faculty member Jim Orr, the production provides a fully accessible American Sign Language/spoken English rendition of L. Frank Baum’s classic tale of adventure and discovery. Set design is by RIT/NTID alumnus Ethan Sinnott.

Several other NTID alumni are participating in the production and the incorporated video segments, and there will be several surprises for the audience.

The production is co-sponsored by MSM Productions Ltd. Special keepsake playbills will be distributed to attendees at both the April and June performances.

Matthew S. Moore, RIT/NTID alumnus and president of MSM Productions Ltd. and founder and chairperson of the NTID Performing Arts Advisory Committee, is providing sponsorship and in-kind support for the production.

“This is a major milestone for our theater program,” said Moore. “NTID has produced many exciting plays during its first 50 years. In the next 50 years, we will be doing more large-scale productions where students and community members will have an opportunity to participate.”

Show times are 7:30 p.m. April 27–28. Tickets are $12 for general audiences; $10 for alumni, faculty, staff and children age 12 and older; and $5 for students, seniors (60+) and children under age 12.

There will be four benefit performances, 2 p.m. June 28–July 1 and 7:30 p.m. June 29–30. Tickets for the benefit performances will be $35 each, with proceeds going toward renovation costs associated with the performing arts program.

Tickets may be purchased through the RIT box office online at or by phone at 585-475-4121. Tickets also will be available on performance days two hours prior to curtain.

For more information, contact Joseph Fox at

Imagine RIT creations aim to change the world

Imagine RIT Innovation + Creativity Festival logo with orange, yellow and red circles.

A record 438 exhibits will be on display at this year’s Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival. The projects, displayed throughout the Rochester Institute of Technology campus, not only motivate students to produce an innovative and creative idea, in many cases, they yield something good for the community, humankind and the planet.

The festival takes place 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. on the RIT campus. The event is free and the public is invited. 

For more information on exhibits visit

Deaf undergrads from across the country to conduct research at RIT/NTID this summer

Light skinned male and female in lab coats, safety goggles and blue gloves work on science experiments.

For eight weeks this summer, Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf will be home to the first all-deaf cohort of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), bringing deaf and hard-of-hearing students from across the country together to do research. 

The cohort of three RIT/NTID students, and one student each from the University of California, Berkeley; Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida; Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.; Ohlone College in Freemont, California; Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio and Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon, includes six women and three men, all of whom are deaf or hard-of-hearing. 

“Students were selected in a competitive process on the basis of who showed strong potential for research and fit in well with our current projects,” said Bonnie Jacob, assistant professor in the mathematical modeling program. “The projects are all from science and math, and include graph theory, astrophysics, biochemistry and analytical chemistry this year. There have been other REUs that invite one, two or a few deaf students each year, but we are the first REU to host a full cohort of students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.” 

A Research Experience for Undergraduates program generally runs in the summer for eight to 10 weeks. Undergraduate students come from different universities, along with some from the home university, to be immersed in a research experience with guidance from a faculty mentor. 

This particular REU is a three-year award from the NSF, and will run for three summers, with the grant totaling $303,000. Students are paid a stipend, receive housing and some meal support and travel. They also have an opportunity to present their research at a conference. In addition to the research experience, RIT/NTID is adding writing coaching, a research boot camp that involves mathematical and scientific training and professional development sessions tailored specifically to students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. They also will have presentations by invited guests. 

“REUs are exciting programs because faculty mentors and students work side-by-side on original research,” Jacob said. “The opportunity to simultaneously make scientific discoveries while watching the students transform themselves into researchers is awesome. A full-time research experience over the summer often is a critical part of an undergraduate student’s preparation to go to graduate school or enter a career in a scientific or mathematical field. We are very excited about our group of students this year: they come from all over the country, have a diverse set of backgrounds, and also have a variety of career goals. They will come together this summer with the common thread of being undergraduate students who are deaf or hard of hearing and are eager to do science and math research. Several students have told me that they’re excited about the program. I know I am!” 

For more on the project, visit the RIT/NTID REU website:

RIT/NTID Student Research Fair touts cutting-edge work of undergraduate, graduate students

African-American female with short hair and glasses wearing a grey shirt standing in front of a poster.

Joan Bempong, a fifth-year BS/MS computer engineering student from Irving, Texas, believes that deaf women who use American Sign Language exhibit disparities in health literacy when compared to hearing women. She says limited health literacy may be caused by inaccessibility of mainstream information and healthcare services, as well as family communication difficulties. As a result, ineffective dissemination of health information also may have a significant impact upon deaf women’s mental and physical health. She hopes that her research will help develop a comprehensive framework for understanding how such health disparities occur and what steps can be taken to improve quality of life.

Abraham Glasser, a third-year computer science student from Rochester, N.Y., and Emily Lederman, a second-year computer science student from Morgantown, W.V., are using mathematical equations to determine worst-case scenarios for monitoring electric power networks. They hope one day their research will save power companies and consumers a lot of money.

On April 13, Bempong, Glasser and Lederman joined 61 other deaf and hard-of-hearing student researchers at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf’s Student Research Fair in Rosica Hall. The event gives undergraduate and graduate students, in partnership with faculty mentors, the opportunity to present posters or give demonstrations on topics related to health science, communication studies, access technology and environmental research, among others.

Todd Pagano, associate dean for teaching and scholarship excellence and founding director of NTID’s Laboratory Science Technology program, is among the coordinators of the research fair. Pagano said the research fair is unique because of the training that is offered to students ahead of time on writing and editing abstracts, designing research posters and presenting research to audiences.

“The projects we’re seeing are very sophisticated and diverse with a good mix of high-level science, math, healthcare and access technology research,” said Pagano. “We send many of our students to professional conferences to present their work, but the pinnacle of the experience for students often is having their research published. And a lot of what is seen here at the research fair has already been published.”

Musab Al-Smadi, a fourth-year software engineering student from Jordan, also presented his research. He is working on an inclusive mobile app using Near Field Communication that will enable deaf and hard-of-hearing museumgoers to fully explore their surroundings without facing barriers having to do with obtaining information about exhibits. For example, according to Al-Smadi, many museums offer visitors paper transcripts with exhibit descriptions. However, using transcripts can be inconvenient for patrons with varying levels of vision ability, or frustrating for those for whom English is a second language. The new app can be used on Android and iOS platforms and includes a keypad where users can type in the ID number of the exhibit to get the information or use their devices to hover over QR codes.

“Being able to work with faculty on relevant research has been a very positive experience,” said Al-Smadi. “We’re taking concepts that we’ve learned in the classroom and developing them even further for applications like this.”

Heather Smith, director of the NTID Motion Lab and senior lecturer in the 3D graphics technology program, creates and applies innovative projects using motion-capture technologies for product development, research and scholarship. She is working with a team of students to use motion capture to build an interactive, visual storytelling app with 360-degree views, animation, bilingual literacy and gaming. The app, Deaf Pioneer, teaches history dating back to the late 1800s and allows users to fully immerse themselves in the story.

“I am very fortunate to be a faculty member who works closely with deaf, hard of hearing and hearing students on their research projects,” said Smith. “I feel honored being part of their research journey as I share my wealth of knowledge and fuel them to fly higher and discover what is in store for them in the future. I try to become their mentor and their ally."

Bempong emphasized the quality of her research experience. “It has been a phenomenal experience. Given that I am a computer engineering student graduating with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, this research was fascinating in that it was completely different from my field of study. Because of the mentorship of Professor Deirdre Schlehofer, I was able to gain qualitative research skills, as well as more awareness about my own community and recognize the need to improve health literacy among us.”

The Student Research Fair is funded by the NTID Office of the President and jointly sponsored by the Associate Dean for Teaching and Scholarship Excellence and the Associate Dean of Research.

Three from RIT/NTID honored at research reception

Eight males standing in a semi-circle. Third from left is Matt Dye.

Rochester Institute of Technology honored researchers who served as principal investigators on active grant awards in fiscal year 2017 at an April 18 reception.

Among those honored were three RIT/NTID researchers:

  • Matthew Dye, assistant professor and director of the Deaf x Lab, was recognized as a member of the new class of PI Millionaires, a designation given to RIT researchers who have achieved funding of $1 million or more since 2000. Focusing on how the deaf experience shapes cognition, including attention and the executive functions, Dye’s research is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. 
  • Jessica Trussel, assistant professor, who participated in a National Institutes of Health advanced grant writing boot camp and was awarded $9,000 for a project entitled “Assessing DHH Students English Skills for Placement and Planning.” Trussell will analyze the results of NTID English Placement Tests to determine if those assessments can be used to identify underprepared deaf and hard-of-hearing learners who would benefit from intensive language instruction.
  • Wendy Dannels, research associate professor in NTID's Center on Access Technology, who received a 2018 Seed Fund grant of $5,000 for her project “Accessible Dynamic Informal STEM Learning Using Mixed Reality for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing.” Dannels will collect baseline data that documents access issues for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who visit the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Analysis of the data will yield comparison data for a follow-up project that uses mixed reality technology to improve access to the exhibits at RMSC. 

Seed funding awards are $5,000 grants for proposals written over the fall semester and refined over the course of a two-day Grant Writers’ Boot Camp. Proposals are reviewed by teams of peers and revised to better position awardees for external funding.

In addition to the Grant Writers’ Boot Camp, RIT offered an advanced boot camp focused on the National Institutes of Health. Participants in the NIH Boot Camp submitted proposals for seed funding to help develop competitive proposals or revise proposals to specific NIH programs in the coming year. 

RIT investigator efforts led to $60 million in research funding in the 2017 fiscal year.

The celebration event, in RIT’s Fireside Lounge, was hosted by Sponsored Research Services, which has recognized 127 PI Millionaire researchers since 2001.

For more information on research at RIT, go to

RIT/NTID develops museum accessibility mobile app

Two men, one with white hair and one with dark hair, looking at a mobile phone in front of artwork.

Art lovers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing soon will have access to a deeper, richer museum experience, thanks to Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. The college is launching a mobile app to be used in its Dyer Arts Center that provides content in various forms, including video in American Sign Language, transcripts and audio and visual descriptions. The app was developed by members of RIT/NTID’s Center on Access Technology in cooperation with Dyer personnel and deaf and hard-of-hearing students from two of RIT’s other colleges: the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing & Information Sciences and the College of Imaging Arts and Science.

Wendy Dannels, Center on Access Technology research faculty member, mentors several part-time and co-op student employees on this one of a kind accessibility project. “It is a joy witnessing students building good character and self-confidence navigating this new technology,” she said.

The app will describe works on exhibit in three locations on the RIT campus: the NTID President’s Hallway, Rosica Hall and the arts center itself. There is a map showing the locations for the various exhibits contained within the app.

Information on the various art pieces can be accessed three ways: through a numbered system near each art piece that can be entered manually into the app, by taking a photo of a QR code, or though NFC, or Near Field Communication, a short range wireless communication technology that allows two devices equipped with NFC technology to communicate with each other and share information as soon as they are close to one another.

Additionally, the app, powered by Museum Accessibility Intelligence, or MUSEAI™, contains an option that has been developed for use by those with vision issues, using a dark background, large font size, visual descriptor and audio description. Associate Director of the Center on Access Technology, Brian Trager, foresees a huge impact in end-users’ experiences using MUSEAI.

“MUSEAI is a unique platform for museum goers to enjoy and view additional content regarding an exhibit, artwork, historical facts and more,” Trager said. “What makes MUSEAI unique is that we designed accessibility to be the forefront of this technology to enable an enjoyable experience for everyone. MUSEAI serves as the cornerstone for accessibility, and the NTID Center on Access Technology aims to raise the bar higher for museums across the globe.”

After the unveiling, focus groups will provide feedback as perpetual testing continues to refine the app and its abilities.

“We’re very excited about testing and launching the Dyer Arts App,” said Dyer Arts Center director Tabitha Jacques. “It will be especially helpful during NTID’s 50th Anniversary Reunion, happening June 28-July 1, when more than 2,500 people will be on campus – many of whom have never seen the Dyer Arts Center.”

RIT/NTID is home to one of the largest permanent collections of works by Deaf and hard-of-hearing artists in the world.

National Advisory Group Award presented to Dr. Barry Culhane

light skinned man in a dark suit and tie made of flag replicas.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf recently recognized Dr. Barry Culhane, executive assistant to the president of Rochester Institute of Technology, with the 2018 National Advisory Group Outstanding Service Award. The group was formed during the establishment of NTID in the 1960s, and this is their highest honor.

Culhane began his RIT career at NTID, first as a research associate for the division of integrated educational programs in 1974, then as department chair for General Education Programs, moving into the associate dean role in that area. He became the assistant vice president for RIT Campus Life, and later returned to teach at NTID.

In 1993, he became RIT student ombudsman and then project assistant to President Al Simone, going on to serve three RIT presidents, and receiving the RIT Four Presidents Award for Distinguished Public Service in 2004.

During his career at RIT, Culhane served on the NTID Promotions Task Force, was an advisor to the Computer Science House and the NTID Student Congress, and served on RIT’s United Way Steering Committee.

“Barry has been a staunch advocate for NTID and our deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and his student-centered approach has been the hallmark of his outstanding career,” Christopher Lehfeldt, National Advisory Group chairperson, said. “In his time working with RIT’s presidents, he has shared with them the rich history of NTID, helping them to gain a deeper understanding of our work here.”

Culhane is equally known for his dedication to the Rochester Community, serving as board member of Junior Achievement of Rochester, Rochester Area Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Al Sigl Center and many others and as chairman of the Greater Rochester Vietnam Memorial Committee.  

His dedication to veterans has bridged Culhane’s work at RIT and the community, making RIT’s annual Veteran’s Breakfast a moving tribute. In 2012 he was inducted into the New York State Veterans Senate Hall of Fame. That same year, he received the Edwin and Jacqueline Harris Award for service to veterans by the Veterans Outreach Center of Rochester, and was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award for service to veterans.

Ten years ago, former RIT President Bill Destler suggested that RIT develop a showcase for the community to experience all of the exciting happenings on campus. From that suggestion came the largest, most popular event in the university’s history—Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, which Culhane has chaired since its inception and been instrumental in its success.

“We all continue to benefit from Barry Culhane’s accomplishments both at NTID and RIT as well as in the community,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “He always gives credit to others for their hard work and accomplishments, and this was our opportunity – and great pleasure – to honor him.”

RIT/NTID’s Ping Liu to receive leadership award

Young Asian woman with long dark hair wearing sleeveless black top.

When Ping Liu first arrived at RIT, she couldn’t speak English and didn’t know American Sign Language. Today, she is one of the most successful students in her major and is being recognized with the RIT Outstanding Service Award for International Students.

Liu, 24, is from a small village in northern China where her parents are farmers. Her dream school has been RIT since she was in middle school. An applied computer technology major, Liu hopes to earn her master’s degree in human-centered computing and eventually teach in China and one day work at the United Nations to help deaf people all over the world.

Like many international students, Liu arrived in the United States unaware of the hurdles she would have to overcome and adjustments she would have to make to be successful in the American educational system.

“I had a hard time communicating,” she said. “On the first day of class, I did not think I could stay in the United States for one more day. I felt so lonely and nervous.”

She soon joined RIT/NTID’s Asian Deaf Club as the cultural director and the Deaf International Student Association as the program director, and became an integral part of the college community.

But where Liu really shines is her passionate, enthusiastic promotion of RIT. She created a website to promote RIT among deaf Chinese students. She teaches ASL on the website, fields questions about RIT and applying to RIT, gives advice on taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), including feedback on student writing for the test. 

She also wants to establish a scholarship for Chinese students who are deaf. She is at RIT/NTID on scholarship and wants to give back.

“I want to do something good while I am here,” she said. “RIT has changed my life, and I want to do the same for others.”

The leadership awards and scholarship ceremony dinner takes place 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, in RIT’s University Gallery.

RIT/NTID’s Heather Smith named an Emerging Technology Professional Woman of the Year nominee

light skinned female with dark hair and wire glasses wearing green and white top and jeans.

Heather Smith, director of the Motion Lab and senior lecturer in 3D Graphics Technology at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is one of Digital Rochester’s nominees for its 2018 Emerging Technology Professional Woman of the Year Award. 

The award honors individuals with fewer than five years in an individual contributor or leadership role. These awards are designed to recognize, celebrate and make visible the achievements of women in high technology fields. 

Smith teaches 3D-Modeling and Animation courses to deaf and hard-of-hearing students in a new 3D Graphics Technology degree program at RIT/NTID. She brings significant industry experience, including as an environmental graphic designer with a leading architecture firm in Rochester, to her classroom, where she shares her personal experience at overcoming challenges as a deaf female professional.

She received the 2016-2017 Outstanding Teaching Award for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty at Rochester Institute of Technology, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts in Computer Graphics Design. While she teaches full-time, Smith also serves as director of RIT/NTID’s Motion Capture Lab, where she works collaboratively on scholarly and creative works including 3D, animation and video with deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing students and faculty. Her goal is to be an innovator and push her colleagues further with their discoveries in the fields of 3D technologies.

Digital Rochester was founded in 2000 and is made up of professionals and companies working together to strengthen the greater Rochester area’s technology business community. Through these awards, women who work in technology professions are encouraged to stay in the Greater Rochester area, mentor young women, and contribute to the economic growth of the region. Evaluation and judging criteria for the award are based on sustained contributions to the technology profession, contributions advancing the status, opportunities, and employment for women in the technology professions, and contributions to the community. 

A breakfast awards ceremony will take place on Thursday, April 26 at 7:30 a.m. at Locust Hill Country Club. The ceremony will feature keynote speaker, Carey Anne Nadeau, founder and CEO of Open Data Nation, presenting "From Girlpower to Ladyboss." Tickets are $45 for DR members and $50 for non-members. To register for the event, visit their website.