UC Irvine informatics professor develops apps, other tools to help people affected by autism.
Last December, Gillian Hayes hosted an autism technology showcase, believing that only a few dozen people would show up on a chilly Saturday morning to review the latest research.
But at a time when most folks were finishing their first cup of coffee, more than 150 jammed into a UC Irvine conference room at to see poster presentations and product demonstrations by Hayes, her colleagues and her students.
The turnout at the Beckman Center far surpassed her expectations, and the inquisitive crowd personified an exploding demand for technologies that help individuals with autism spectrum disorders.
“I’m continually surprised by the amount of interest,” says Hayes, a UC Irvine associate professor of informatics. “But it’s great. People want this, so we have to get after it and really make a difference.”
Hayes is an expert in the field of human-computer interaction — how technology can be a tool to understand people and improve their lives — with a focus on autism, which affects nearly one in 88 American children.
Her work coincides with a growing acceptance of technology that aids those with autism, as reflected by a seemingly endless array of electronic applications. An April Los Angeles Times article on the subject noted that a search of the Apple App Store yielded 1,449 products for the iPad and 1,259 for the iPhone.