Lessons from the Incredibles

talk – 35 min | Feb 8 – 10:25

Let’s work with children with severe cognitive and physical disabilities (the Incredibles) and see what it can teach us about general software systems design.

We have had the pleasure of working with children with cognitive and physical disabilities (the Incredibles) for much of the past decade. In my courses, we do a ‘mash-up’ of the latest, greatest technology (like skeletal tracking, augmented reality, drones) and disabilities to come up with software tools and apps that might be of some assistance. For example, we worked with a young man with cerebral palsy who only had fine motor skills in his right two toes, but wanted to fly a drone – so a student group built him an iPad app to do just that.

Oftentimes, we work for an entire semester with one specific client with a disability, and that client become the entire focus of the course. While we focus on the unique individual, sometimes the lessons apply to a much broader scope. Some of the approaches learned while working with individual clients have become part of the mainstream iOS and Android operating systems. This presentation will focus on some of the lessons learned from very unique individuals and how these lessons apply to universally designed interaction.

About the speaker

David Chesney

David Chesney


Hello. I am on the faculty of the Computer Science Department at the University of Michigan, where I have taught for the past 16-17 years. For the past decade, I have been teaching Software Engineering, as applied to social context. That is, the software that we develop must do some good for humanity. For the past 6-7 years, we have been working with children with cognitive and / or physical disabilities at our affiliated hospital. Basically, each semester we work with a very unique individual with a very specific disability and try to come up with software systems that address some specific need. Oftentimes, that unique need has much broader application to generally usable software systems.

I have earned a PhD and MS in Computer Science, as well as a MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering. I worked in the automotive industry for 20 years prior to joining the faculty at the University of Michigan in 2001.

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