The Nakamura Disability LAB @Cal

A Well Kept Secret

The Nakamura Disability Lab is one of UC Berkeley’s well-kept secrets tucked away inside one end of the Hearst Annex complex. With its mission of “Making Better Crips,” the lab has been operational since 2018 and led by Prof. Karen Nakamura who is the endowed chair for Disability Studies and Professor of Anthropology.

The group of student URAPers (Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program) at the lab include lab manager Nate Tilton and URAP researchers Olivia Cheng, Gloria Kunder, Irlanda Gonzalez, Josh Lavine, Chris Moreno, Ewan Seo, Mimi Shalf, Hari Srinivasan, Enrico Cruvinel, Christian Leycam, and Kristie Diep.

Photograph of Prof. Karen Nakamura talking to a dozen undergraduate students inside the Disability Lab.
URAPers listen as Prof Karen Nakamura discusses assistive technology at a conference she just attended

Teams at Work

  • Team Thumbless
  • Team P^3 for Sense-able computing input
  • Team Apple Pi for Sense-able computing output
  • Team Propaganda

Sense-Able Computing

The lab is working towards creating a “multi-sensory, tactile, screenless and Turing-complete programming environment” or what the lab has termed “Sense-able Computing.”

The teams were asked to develop all iterations using low cost easily disposable material like cardboard. A “fail-quickly” approach. Use of material like cardboard meant less attachment to the model which allowed for more innovation and quick alterations. Though 3D printed models mean studier housing they also lead to attachment to the model and move beyond it. The end product would however be a 3D printed model.

Low-Cost Technology Solutions

An important focus for the lab has also been finding low-cost technology solutions for people disabilities.

Community members and other guest speakers have also attended the weekly Wednesday meetings to speak on the work they were doing or add their input to what the lab was doing. 

Spotlight: Kate Allison

My name is Kate Allison and I am a sophomore majoring in psychology and legal studies.

I discovered the lab freshman year through the URAP website and wanted to be a part of the disability and technology lab because I have a background of volunteering at non-profit organizations like therapeutic horseback riding that help disabled peoples.

The mission of this lab really spoke to me because there are many unfair disadvantages that our society has created for disabled people especially in the realm of technology, that can be changed through research labs like ours that aim to design inclusive and accessible devices.

The project that I work on is called RAMP and I am part of the core team. Besides helping to lead the project, I am also the team leader of UX design which aims to create an accessible design for the radical mapping app.

My future vision for the lab is it spreading to other campuses and organizations. I am so grateful to work with such passionate and motivated people who all want to make a tangible difference in our community! 

Spotlight: Anthony Zhou

Sophomore. Mechanical Engineering. First Semester at the Lab.

How did you hear about the lab?

I heard about the lab from the URAP site

What made you want to join the lab?

I wanted to join since I thought it would a great opportunity to use my engineering skills to produce useful and impactful technologies

What do you do in the lab? What is your role?

I’m working on the backend for the RAMP project, I mainly work with database, authentication, and mapping APIs to create the functional parts of the app.

Where do you see the lab going, a future vision?

I think the lab has great promise and would one day love to see many of the projects here go on to help/improve the lives of the disabled

Spotlight: Elaine Wang

Elaine Wang, Computer Science, Senior. 

How did you hear about the lab?

From Karen Jr and URAP. This is my first semester

What made you want to join?

RAMP project and MadLab’s mission

What project are you working on now? What’s your role? 

Team Lead for Team Engine

Future vision for lab. 

To be able to deliver a map app and other tools that will benefit disabled folks!

Anything you want to share about the lab. 

the lab with the coolest people and best team meetings 🙂 

 I don’t have any funny anecdotes off the top of my head but if I may share a random website https://chickenonaraft.com/

SpotLight: Keilani Adachi

Keilani Adachi, Mechanical Engineering, 2nd year

How did you hear about the lab?

I found out about the lab through URAP. I was looking for research and read the description for the disability lab and thought it would be a great opportunity. This is my first semester with the lab. 

What made you want to join?

I wanted to join the lab because I liked its mission of being completely centered around disability. Having the driving force for projects be people with disabilities’ lived experiences makes the research much more relevant and meaningful.

What project are you working on now? What’s your role? 

I’m currently working on the RAMP app within the data research team.

Future vision for lab?

For the future of the lab, I wish to see it grow and expand to other universities, driven by the same mission. It would also be really cool if the RAMP app is expanded to be used for multiple UC campuses.

Anything you want to share about the lab. 

Lab culture is really fun and the people are wonderful and super compassionate.

SpotLight: Karen Nakamura (the student)

Karen Nakamura. Class of 2023 studying Mechanical Engineering. 

Interesting Tidbit: “Knowing the Professor Karen Nakamura through this lab has probably helped ease the awkwardness of having to tell her about all the mistaken emails I get from students and faculty that were meant for her.”

How did you hear about the lab?

I found it in the list of URAP labs, and it piqued my interest. 

What made you want to join?

Developing technology has always been an interest of mine, with my past experience in robotics and as a mechanical engineering major. What made this lab especially unique was that it was for the disabled communities, which was new and intriguing for me. 

What project have you enjoyed the most?

I most enjoyed the sense-able computing project. Developing a method to ease the learning of programming for blind beginners was an incredible and valuable project, and I had an engaging and fun time researching, designing, and manufacturing our prototype.

What project are you working on now. What’s your role? 

I am currently working on the RAMP project. I’m specifically the manager of the data and research team, which aims to gather information and resources for other teams within RAMP to use and implement.

Future vision for lab. 

I’d love to eventually see our project products implemented by people and organizations outside of our lab. 

Anything you want to share about the lab

We have a universally adored lab buddy who we don’t get to see much anymore in the virtual setting: Karen’s service dog Momo! 

SpotLight: Nate Tilton

Meet Nate Tilton – RadMad Disability Lab Manager and first year Graduate Student at UC Berkeley

How did you hear about the lab? 

I found out about the lab by looking at the URAP website. 

Q. What made you want to join the lab?

 I interviewed for two URAP’s, and after meeting Karen I knew I wanted to work in the lab. At the time we did not have a lab available and we had to meet in coffee shops or whatever spaces we could find to work on our projects like the #freebeepsproject and Blind Arudino. 

What project have you enjoyed the most?

Great question, I do not just have one. I’ve enjoyed all my – #freebeepsproject, Blind Arduino Team Gaming, Ramp

What project are you working on now? What’s your role? 

Ramp. I am on the core team, kinda like a jack of all trades. 

Future vision for lab. 

My vision for the lab, is for the lab to grow not only at Cal, but to spread to the other UC’s and beyond. 

Anything you want to share about the lab.

The lab is a wonderful space that I am so happy that I have been able to watch grow and its been my privilege to be part of it.