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Elizabeth Petrick, assistant professor of history, was recently awarded the 2017 Computer History Museum Prize for her groundbreaking book on the history of computing at this year’s annual meeting of the Society for the History of Technology in Philadelphia.  

Petrick’s book, Making Computers Accessible: Disability Rights and Digital Technology, earned her the prestigious award that distinguishes “an author of an outstanding book in the history of computing broadly conceived, published during the prior three years.” Petrick’s work traces the history of advancements in “universal design” that have made computer technology more accessible for people with disabilities, as well as help drive the development of modern personal computing.

The award includes a prize of $1,000, which is granted by the Special Interest Group for Computers, Information and Society ­— part of the Society for the History of Technology.

“I was very pleased that the award committee highlighted the point that we can’t tell a full history unless we include the category of people with disabilities because without them we are not getting the full picture,” said Petrick. “I wanted to find their place in this history as users and producers and find their relationship to computer technology.”

Petrick says part of her inspiration for the project was influenced by the work of NJIT Distinguished Professors Dr. Starr Roxanne Hiltz and Dr. Murray Turoff, who began conducting groundbreaking research in the field of computer-mediated communication in the 1970s.

“They were doing work in the 1970s on computer networking and thought about people with disabilities as intended users of future networks, which we essentially think of as the internet,” said Petrick. “They very much envisioned the future of internet technology in a way that looks very realistic from our perspective today, and people with disabilities were a part of that.”

Petrick is currently researching the intellectual history of computer interfaces, specifically tablet computers and their potential to aid learning.

Petrick is a historian of computer technology and assistant professor of history and the associate director of the Law, Technology and Culture undergraduate major at NJIT. Her book, Making Computers Accessible: Disability Rights and Digital Technology, was published in 2015 by The Johns Hopkins University Press.