Perceptual and Implementation Strategies for Knowledge Acquisition of Digital Tactile Graphics for Blind and Visually Impaired Students (Collaborative Research: Gorlewicz)

This project lays the foundation and framework for enabling digital, multimodal tactile graphics on touchscreens for individuals with visual impairments (VI). Given the low-cost, portability, and wide availability of touchscreens, this work promotes the use of vibrations and sounds on these readily available platforms for addressing the graphical access challenge for individuals with VI. An open-source vibration library has been created and fundamental perceptual building blocks (e.g.\ shapes, lines, critical points, line width and gaps, etc.) guiding how basic graphical components should be rendered on these platforms is being disseminated.

Full Description: 

Students with disabilities often have fewer opportunities for experiential learning, an important component of quality STEM education. With continued shifts toward the use of digital media to supplement instruction in STEM classrooms, much of the content remains inaccessible, particular for students with visual impairments. The promise of technology and use of tactile graphics is an effective, emerging innovation for providing more complete access to important information and materials. Tactile graphics are images that use raised surfaces to convey non-textual information such as maps, paintings, graphs and diagrams. Touchscreen-based smart devices allow visual information to be digitally and dynamically represented via tactile, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic feedback. Tactile graphic technology embedded in touchscreen devices can be leveraged to make STEM content more accessible to blind and visually impaired students.

This project will develop a learner-centered, perceptually-motivated framework addressing the requirements for students with blindness and visual impairments to access graphical content in STEM. Using TouchSense technology, the investigators will create instructional materials using tactile graphics and test them in a pilot classroom of both sighted and BVI students. The investigators will work with approximately 150 students with visual impairments to understand the kind of feedback that is most appropriate for specific content in algebra (coordinate plane), cell biology, and geography. Qualitative research methods will be used to analyze the video-based data set.