Kerssens Brings Digital Innovation, Therapeutics to CIDI

Chantal Kerssens sits in front of a brick wall in a Georgia Tech College of Design building.

Chantal Kerssens will be the Center for Inclusive Design and Innovation’s (CIDI) first executive director. She joins the Center on Thursday, August 1, 2019.

CIDI is Georgia Tech’s only research center devoted to technological innovation and development of user-centered research, products, and services for individuals with disabilities. The Center is comprised of three previous College of Design research units, AMAC Research Center, AMAC Services & Education, and the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA).

Kerssens said she would uphold the Center’s mission to provide access for all people, including people with disabilities. As executive director, she will lead the Center’s expansion into digital environments and digital therapeutics.

“From an innovation standpoint,” she said, “digital environments are almost like a new reality.”

“I think it’s very important to consider the contributions we’ve already made for physical environments and translate those to digital. Design research has been key to making buildings accessible, but increasingly our lives are physical and digital.”

Under her watch, CIDI will use their influence in the inclusive design realm to collaborate with medical and technology companies in their earliest stages of development. By focusing on emerging technologies that are currently inaccessible, CIDI can help make inclusion an innovative value-add instead of a luxurious afterthought.

Kerssens admits this is an ambitious goal. Although CATEA’s recent research on web apps and mobile technology is an important step on the path to truly accessible technology, Kerssens said web access or computer access is just the tip of the iceberg.

“For example, if wearables are not designed with an inclusive agenda, then those wearables will be limited to one demographic,” she said.

“I recently learned that a premier heart-tracking app is not properly designed for black skin, so it’s potentially not reflecting the actual customer base,” Kerssens said. “If a number of populations and sub-populations are not captured [in healthcare technology design], then what is the next standard of real-world data?”

During the last decade, Kerssens immersed herself in the intersection of technology and accessibility. Through working with mobile technologies designed for older adults (including caregivers and those with disabilities), she found that inclusivity is often not a part of early design or research cycles.

As a result, she said, CIDI’s mission to assure access for all people is highly motivating.

“Dr. Kerssens is the ideal candidate to lead CIDI because she combines a strong record of research with highly-praised work in assisting technology start-ups,” said College of Design Associate Dean of Research, Nancey Green Leigh.

Kerssens spent the last five years running eyiapp, a digital health consulting business. Previously she was the vice president of research & clinical innovation for SimpleC, a tech startup that developed assistive technologies for older adults with dementia. She was also an assistant professor at the Emory School of Medicine, where she conducted human memory research.

“This unique set of qualifications can help CIDI increase its impact,” Leigh said, “thereby making the world a more inclusive place for those with disabilities.

“CIDI provides essential accessibility services to the State of Georgia and has become a well-known and sought out partner for national and international accessibility work. Under Dr. Kerssens’ direction, CIDI can help the world benefit from the valuable contributions those with disabilities can make in the workplace and in the community.”

“The College of Design is very pleased to have Dr. Kerssens join us,” Leigh said.