You may have noticed a new researcher in SKERI’s halls and if you approached and talked to her, you would discover that she is Irish and is named Sile (pronounced Sheila) O'Modhrain. She was born in Dublin and raised in Ireland until the age of 11. After that she went to boarding school in England. She has three older brothers and a younger sister.
She tells a very interesting story of her early years. Her parents were very influential in terms of her education, and also her career. They fought hard to ensure that, as a blind person, she could go to a school, which would allow here to reach a sufficient level of study to complete second level state exams and hence to qualify to attend university. At the time in Ireland, all blind children were sent to one of two schools for the blind in Dublin - one for boys and the other for girls. The girl’s school did not educate students to take state exams at all! And integration in public schools was not yet available, though she did attend her local primary school till she was 7. Her parents fought against this not just for her, but for a whole group of blind students in her area, many who did eventually attend college.
Her father was someone who easily mastered whatever technology he needed, from repairing machinery around the farm, to filming and recording audio for a national farming organization. (He took some of the very last civilian footage inside east Berlin, a day before Checkpoint Charley was installed in 1961 because he happened to be there attending a convention on new technology for farming.) In fact, when Sile applied to work at the BBC, he was the person who taught her how to edit audiotape. Her mother was a pharmacist and a journalist. She was probably the person who taught her to be objective in reading and writing.
Sile first came to the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship in January of 1994 to carry out research at Stanford's Center for Computer-based Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). She had only planned to stay a year, but shortly after she arrived John Chowning, who was then the director of CCRMA, came into her office and literally twisted her arm while handing her the application form for the Ph.D. program. So she stayed.
Sile’s first contact with Smith Kettlewell was during a "State of the Science" event in the late 1990's. She came up from Stanford to attend with some other members of Neil Scott's team from CSLI. But she really started to collaborate with researchers here when she met Val Morash at the State of the Science event in December 2015.
Since 2015, Sile has collaborated here on a number of projects related to haptics. These include a study looking at how braille might be displayed on very high-density arrays and, more recently, with Josh Miele, Daisy Lei and James Coughlan , and her student Hrishi. They have begun to look at techniques for interacting with dynamic tactile content on high-density pin arrays. In addition to summer months spent working with Val and Josh, she also spent a six-month sabbatical here last year, during which time she completed chapters of a forthcoming book and learned to solder under Bill Gerrey's supervision.
In her own words: “The thing that never ceases to amaze me about SKERI is the range of activities one can engage in here as a blind researcher. I have worked with Josh on developing projects for the Blind Arduino group, with Val on looking at basic percepts in haptics, and I have built an audio continuity tester with Bill. And now Josh and I are working with a full-page tactile array to develop methods for creating an entirely new form of content for blind users.”