History of ACCESS@KIT

In March 2022, the former Study Center for Visually Impaired Students (SZS) was renamed ACCESS@KIT - Center for Digital Accessibility and Assistive Technologies. The new name highlights the topics the center has already been dealing with for many years in service, research and teaching: enabling inclusive studying and developing support systems for people with visual impairments.

The ACCESS@KIT has been dealing with the topic of accessibility for many decades. It all started in 1987 at the University of Karlsruhe (TH), today's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), with the pilot project "Computer Science for the Blind - Studies for Visually Impaired Students in Computer Science and Engineering", which was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science and Research at fifty percent each from fall 1987 to spring 1993.

The goal of the pilot project was to open up new study opportunities and occupational fields for people with visual impairments that had not been accessible to them until then - especially in the natural sciences, engineering and economics. Modern information and communication technologies played an important role then as now. The pilot proved to be extremely successful and was anchored in 1993 as the Study Center for Visually Impaired Students at the Faculty of Computer Science. Until 2011, the SZS was led by the managing director, Joachim Klaus and the scientific director, Professor Roland Vollmar.

Since 2011, Professor Dr.-Ing. Rainer Stiefelhagen has headed the Study Center for the Visually Impaired - and with it the professorship for computer science systems for visually impaired students, which is unique in Germany. Together with the Computer Vision for Human-Computer Interaction research group (cv:hci) and the ACCESS@KIT, innovative assistive technologies are being developed, such as AI-based methods for semi-automatic preparation of teaching materials or mobility support systems.

Through the supportive work of ACCESS@KIT, students with blindness and low vision can study self-determinedly and inclusively at KIT.

In 2016, the Accessibility Lab was opened with the financial support of the Quandt Foundation. The Lab develops and tests new approaches to assistive technologies and barrier-free information access, as well as accessible work and lab environments. In the print lab, tactile and three-dimensional teaching materials are also developed together with KIT students and faculty members.

Since 2020, ACCESS@KIT has also been part of the KIT "Digital Accessibility and Assistive Technologies" real laboratory, which is funded as part of the KIT Institutional Strategy.