As of January 2018 I am retired from full-time employment at the University. I remain as an Honorary Fellow, and retain an interest in research - the nice bits (e.g. doing it, rather than scrabbling for funding to support it). So, if you have any interest in these topics, do feel free to contact me.

On this page

Current Funded Research Projects


Research Interests

Person using a conventional computer interface

The human-computer interface is almost synonymous with a screen, a keyboard and a mouse, but this form of interface is unnecessarily restrictive. It does not make the most of the abilities of the user and it also disadvantages users who for whom those devices are inaccessible.  I am interested in 'novel' forms of human-computer interaction beyond this paradigm. Much of this work has been prompted by the needs of people who would be identified as having disabilities, but it soon broadens out beyond them.

Specific topics I am interested in include:

Research opportunities


As above, from January 2018 I have been retired. There will thus be no point in applying to undertake a research degree with me. I leave the following in, nevertheless, for completeness.

I am interested in hearing from potential research students interested in researching a range of topics related to those described in these pages. I am interested in people who might like to pursue any of the following topics - but I will be even more interested in related topics that I have not even thought of. A PhD is the student's own work, their original contribution to knowledge, and the best place to start is with your ideas. A vital part of the application for a research studentship is thus the Research Proposal, and I have produced some notes to help you in writing one.

Applicants may find the following blog useful, How not to suck at grad school from McGill University, Canada.

Please contact me if you are interested in any of these topics - or similar areas of research.


If you want some encouragement to come to York, these videos might help:

Non-speech sounds

Humans experience the phenomenon of visual dominance - in a number of forms, but equally apparent in human-computer interactions, where screens are often crowded with information. Cause and effect may be hard to separate, in that screens can be very efficient because of the power of vision. Nevertheless, there are many instances in which information can or should be presented in an auditory form. An obvious example is where the visual channel simply is not available, due to blindness.

Speech is one use of the auditory channel, but there is vast scope for the use of non-speech sounds, a potential which is very much under-used by the simple 'beeps' of contemporary computer interfaces. There is scope for a great deal of work to find out how better to use this channel.

Some references

Edwards, A. D. N Auditory Display in Assistive Technology (in) Hermann, T., Neuhoff, J. G. & Hunt, A. (Eds.). The Sonification Handbook Berlin, Logos Verlag.

Edwards, A.D.N., Hunt, A., Hines, G., Jackson, V., Podvoiskis, A., Roseblade, R. & Stammers, J. (2010) Sonification strategies for examination of biological cells. in Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Auditory Display (ICAD 2010). Washington, DC.

Edwards, A. D. N., Hines G. and Hunt, A. (2008). Segmentation of biological cell images for sonification. 2008 International Congress on Image and Signal Processing (CISP 2008), Sanya, China, IEEE Computer Society, pp. 128-132.

Edwards, A. D. N. and E. Mitsopoulos (2005). A principled methodology for the specification and design of nonvisual widgets. ACM Transactions on Applied Perception (TAP) 2(4): pp.442-449 (Reprint of Mitsopoulos and Edwards, 1998).

Interaction for visually disabled users

This is where my own research started, and I maintain an enthusiasm. I would be interested in any ideas to be developed in this area, particularly anything novel and radical. Some specific ideas and areas are outlined below.

A natural language interface to drawing for blind people

Graphics present a difficult challenge for blind people. David Bennett completed a PhD on transforming diagrams into a non-visual form for blind people to read, but another problem is that of creating diagrams. Student projects by Wilson and Reid investigated the possibility of creating diagrams through a natural language interface. For instance, one might issue the commands, 'Draw a circle. Draw a square next to the circle' and so on. Results were encouraging, so that there is scope to take this work further, to investigate a theoretical basis and to implement a usable package.

Reid, J. (1991) A knowledge based approach to aid construction & interpretation of computer generated graphics for blind users. Department of Computer Science, MSc(IP) Project, University of York.

Wilson, S. E. (1991). The design and implementation of an interactive graphics system with natural language interface, for visually handicapped users Department of Computer Science, MSc(IP) Project, University of York.

Internal representations of mathematics

Publications from the Maths Project frequently asserted that mathematics is a cognitive activity, something that is done 'in the head' - and therefore something that should be equally feasible for a blind person as a sighted one. Yet I am afraid that we never explored the real implications of that assertion. Some mathematical manipulation is indeed done in the head, but if that is the case, then there has to be some internal representation that the 'thinker' is accessing. To build tools like the Maths Workstation - it would be most valuable to have a better understanding of what sorts of internal representations of mathematics people use - and particularly those that might be used by blind people. It seems that the Interacting Cognitive Subsystems (ICS) model would be a good place to start.

A related interest is in the cognitive modelling of the reading of contracted braille. I had an undergraduate tackle this in his final-year project (Clapham, 2006), but it was quite an ambitious problem for an undergraduate, and there is a lot more to be looked at which would make a good PhD topic.

Clapham, D (2006) Towards a Cognitive Model of Contracted Braille Reading Department of Computer Science, Third-year Project, University of York.

Haptic and tactile interaction

We hope to investigate this both as an alternative form of interaction for blind people and as a more fundamental research/development question. This would link well to the work of the former University of York Centre for Tactile Images.

Possible topics for research include:

Ambient sounds and mode awareness

Ambient sounds are the kind that sink into the background of your consciousness most of the time, but which you are aware of if you listen for them or if they change (perhaps subtly). We are interested in the possibility of using these properties for communication, and in particular whether they can be used to make the user aware of being in a particular mode.

Research students

Useful web links for PhD students - and potential students

York-specific links

Current research student



In these days of performance indicators, it seems appropriate that I should be open about completion rates (as of 1/1/2018):

19 people have commenced PhD research under my supervision (or co-supervision).
11 successfully graduated.
1 was awarded an MPhil.
1 completed an MSc by research after 2 years. 1 returned to her home country, with the intention of completing her PhD there. 1 is currently still working on her research and on-course for completion shortly.
3 dropped out. Of them, 1 was offered the opportunity to write up for an MPhil, but declined and withdrew.
1 did not complete writing up of the thesis.

In addition 1 student undertook an MSc by research, full-time and successfully graduated

I count that as 12/20 (60%) positive results.

16 were full-time, 2 part-time.

Research students I have supervised - and their theses

  Student Year Thesis title Degree Thesis/
Current position
1 Steve Brewster 1995 Providing a structured method for integrating non-speech audio into human-computer interfaces DPhil Abstract Professor of Human-Computer Interactions
University of Glasgow
2 Ian Pitt 1998 Improving the usability of speech-based interfaces DPhil   Lecturer, University College, Cork
3 Robert Stevens 1996 Principles for the design of auditory interfaces to present complex information to blind people DPhil Abstract Professor of Bio-Health Informatics and Head of School,
University of Manchester
4 Roger Spooner 1999 A spelling checker for dyslexic users: User modelling for error recovery DPhil Thesis (PDF)  
5 Evangelos Mitsopoulos 2000 A principled approach to the design of auditory interaction in the non-visual interface DPhil    
6 Dave Bennett 2000 Presenting diagrams in sound for blind people PhD Abstract Senior Lecturer
Canterbury Christ Church University
7 Ben Challis 2001 Design principles for tactile communication within the human-computer interface PhD Abstract Principal Lecturer Music and Sound for Media
Manchester School of Art
8 John Hankinson 2001 Grammars as the basis of music and communication PhD Abstract  
9 Chris Marriner 2007 Investigation of an alternative security mechanism for pen based computer devices MSc   Deceased
10  Chris Newell 2009 Place, authenticity, and time: a framework for liveness in synthetic speech PhD   Lecturer in Digital Media
University of Hull
11 Sofianiza (Sofia) Abd Malik 2011 Older people, mobile technology and culture: An investigation of appropriate methods and personas in Malaysia and the UK PhD Thesis Assistant Professor
Prince Sultan University
12 Syariffanor (Sherry) Hisham 2011 Localising Interface Design for Elderly Users in Malaysia MPhil   Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka
13 Anna Bramwell-Dicks 2019 Music While You Work: The Effect of Music on Typing Performance and Experience PhD Thesis Associate Lecturer
University of York


Some seminars that I have given recently.

Accent the Positive
York Festival of Ideas, University of Glasgow
The CreST Network
SICSA, Edinburgh
Spam, Scam and Sperm
University of York, Dundee University
Who is old?
University of Glasgow

Completed projects

Title Description Dates Staff Funding
Co-motion This was a 'Design for Wellbeing' project investigating the links between mobility and wellbeing amongst older people. 2015-2018 (Multiple) EPSRC, ESRC and AHRC
The Creative Speech Network: CreST This network brought together people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including artists, poets, actors and technologists. 2011-2013 Debbie Haverstock EPSRC, ACE
Eliminating exclusion A collaboration with the Department of Electronics. This was a preliminary project to look at the performance of people, some of whom have Parkinson's Disease, and measuring their movements using instruments such as accelerometers and positon sensors. The longer-term objective is to develop ontologies of people and equipment in order to match one to the other. 2012 Andrew Turner University of York
The electronic Von Kempelen speech synthesizer Wolfgang Von Kempelen developed a mechanical speech synthesizing machine in the 18th centuary. The objective of this project was to build an electronic version of the machine. This was a collaboration with the Department of Electronics. 2012 Jacob Harrison A Transit scholarship from the York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA).
Lambda: Linear Access to Mathematics for Braille Device and Audio-synthesis Development of tools to aid visually impaired students to study mathematics. 2003-2007 Heather McCartney, Neil Forster European Commission
Demonstrating a principled basis for implementation of non-visual human-computer interfaces Development of a methodology for the design of non-visual (auditory and tactile) human-computer interfaces. Experiments with the combination of tactile and auditory interaction. 1998-2001 Evangelos Mitsopoulos, Ben Challis, Ian Livingstone EPSRC
Sonification of cervical smear data to improve screening accuracy Investigation of the possibility of generating auditory representations of biological cells to support diagnosis of pre-cancerous conditions. 2005-2009 Genevieve Hines, Steven Bentley EPSRC
Maths (Mathematical Access for TecHnology and Science for visually disabled students) Creating a multi-modal workstation to enable blind and partially sighted students to do mathematics; speech-based interfaces for blind people. 1994-1998 Robert Stevens European Commission
Non-speech sounds to represent complex graphical
information to blind people
Extension of sound graphs. 1994 Andrea Günther Nuffield Foundation
Development of Sound Graph software for blind students   1991-1992 Ian Pitt Viscount Nuffield Auxiliary Fund
Development of auditory human-computer interfaces Investigation of the use of non-speech sounds as navigation aids in interfaces for blind users. 1989-1991 Ian Pitt SERC (now EPSRC)


Curriculum vitae

List of all publications

27 May 2015