Tuesday, December 7, 2021

An Interview with Sydni Northe: National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Headshot of Sydni Northe
Sydni Northe
knew that she wanted to study psychology at the University of Minnesota since her sophomore year of high school. Once accepted, Northe was drawn to Dr. Gordon Legge’s research on low vision, especially given her own struggles with vision issues. Northe knows first-hand the importance of accessibility, so is driven to find her own ways to contribute to further develop and enhance accommodations for those with disabilities.

One way she has worked towards this goal is through her research with lab partner Walter Wu, graduate student, in the Minnesota Laboratory for Low-Vision Research. Together, they are exploring the effectiveness of reverse contrast to enhance visual acuity with reading. Reverse contrast, in which the background is black and the text is white, is thought to help readers with low vision speed by improving contrast sensitivity. Those with low vision tend to have trouble with contrast sensitivity, so when reading, the typical black text on a white background can look blurry. In addition to being supported by their findings, Northe has personally experienced improved visual acuity through reverse contrast, which the pandemic actually facilitated even further. Because all of Northe’s classes were suddenly online, and a common accessibility feature called “dark mode” is now an option on most devices, she could easily switch all her electronic reading materials to reverse contrast. In general, Northe has found technology to be increasingly supportive of accessibility and she hopes that her research can normalize reverse contract in both online and print formats.

Looking towards the future, Northe hopes to help others through pursuing a PsyD in clinical psychology. Specifically, she is interested in working with teenagers, “to help give them that break and that feeling of being understood...and validated. Help give [them] a name to explain what they’re feeling and...the tools to help them[selves].” Northe recognizes the importance of accessibility with regard to mental health services, particularly via options such as telehealth. She believes that all forms of therapy should have online accommodations to support patients and she looks forward to one day being a part of that service delivery.

Composed by Flora Pollack, communications assistant.