This article documents the findings of an accessibility research and design project for Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library.
It breaks down into two parts:
- Part I: introduces the project background and relevant research in the field.
- Part II: documents the research process and our design solution.
A Little Bit of Background …
Tactileview is one of the few existing software that helps to generate tactile graphics, a medium that helps the low-vision community to “read” graphs.
Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library is the first library in the United States that opens its technology room to the public, by allowing both sighted and blinded individuals to generate and print out their customized tactile graphic.
Our small team of four was given the 1-month challenge to propose a feasible, ready-to-use solution for the library to improve the learning and/or simplify the using experience of TactileView.
The Bigger Picture
As our team is new to tactile graphics, we booked several appointments with Chancey Fleet and Rania, the technology assistant at the library and her assistant, to learn more about the topic.
What Is Tactile Graphics?
“Tactile graphics are a means of conveying non-textual information to people who are blind or visually impaired, and may include tactile representations of pictures, maps, graphs, diagrams, and other images. A person with a visual impairment can feel these raised lines and surfaces in order to obtain the same information that people who are sighted get through looking at pictures or other visual images.”
source: Paths to Literacy
Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library uses TactileView program to create tactile graphics, and print them out with a braille embosser.
“Braille” might not sound familiar, but you must have seen them at some point in your life: they are those protruding dots on metal plates outside classrooms, or on restroom doors.
Similarly, the kind of tactile graphics that the library making is also made up of those dots. Instead of forming block-shaped codes that we won’t understand unless we studied Braille language, the dots on tactile graphics are embossed on the paper with different spacing between each other, to form different shapes and outlines. Chancey showed us a thick book of compiled tactile graphics created by the library. My personal favorite is the Eiffel towel — if I were blind, I would never be able to imagine precisely its look through merely verbal description. With tactile graphics, however, I could easily appreciate the its beauty!
There are a lot of Braille books available to the low-vision group, but the idea of tactile graphics is still a nuance.
I noticed an interesting fact during my first visit. Being the largest library that provides Braille books in New York city, the entire second floor of Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library is dedicated to Braille books. However, there is only one shelf that store books with tactile graphics. While the subjects of the braille books range from computer science to leisure reading, books contain tactile graphics are limited to children’s story books, maze puzzles, and a tactile sample book made by the library.
Contrastingly, the demand for tactile graphics is the first thing that Chancey addressed. Maps and floor plans are a necessity for the low-vision group, who can quickly get an idea of the space from them. Yet this kind of tactile graphics are rarely available. “Sometimes I will fly to another city to attend conferences. I am always having a hard time going out on my own, because I don’t have a map of the city, I cannot ‘read’ streets. That way I would get lost very easily.”
Tactile Mindfulness vs Tactile Acuity
There are two terms that describe blind people’s engagement with braille: tactile mindfulness and tactile acuity.
Tactile mindfulness addresses the engagement with everyday objects, to the level of understanding of music, math, etc through touching. Tactile acuity addresses the ability to read the spatial relationship between braille elements. Most of the braille readers are trained in spatial acuity, which is helpful for text reading.
Chancey is the most braille literate person I have ever met. As soon as her hand slides through the paper surface, she understands the Braille texts immediately. She can even read bar charts on a tactile data visualization(the charts are dots with in line at various length), and tell at what percentage it is filled relative to the paper size. Being so well educated, Chancey admits that she didn’t know the term “tactile mindfulness” and “tactile acuity” until recently at a conference.According to Chancey, most people with low vision don’t get much training on acquiring tactile mindfulness at school. Students can only encounter tactile graphics on rare occasions, such as graphs for math and physics.
Once a blind geology student came to the library for a tactile map that can somehow “visualize” the magnitude and time periods of earthquakes, only to find none. Thus, she had no choice but to create the map on her own.
In order to introduce tactile mindfulness to more braille readers, Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library has set up a department dedicated to tactile graphics. There is a technology room equipped with a Windows Computer, TactileView software, an embosser, and technical support during booking hours. It is open to the public, but you can only use the room if you book in advance. TactileView program only runs on Windows Computers.
There are two existing workflows.
1. Collaboration between the sighted and the blind
In this case, the sighted work with Tactileview software. They process images, create graphs, and print out the tactile graphs. The blind are the designer and proofreader. They will give professional feedback on how the tactile graph can be improved in terms of readability.
2. The blind work alone.
Since the blind are not able to process complicated images, so they usually work with simple image converting, or create simple graphics.
Who Goes to the Library?
In order to understand the audience, our group went to the Braille Studying session on Saturday lead by Chancey to conduct observation. Surprisingly, not every people with low vision has Braille proficiency. During the Braille studying session, we met an lady in her sixties and a man in his sixties. They were not able to navigate the space easily, and they were having trouble memorizing Braille alphabets and write on a peg slate*. They are not an exception. According to Chancey, most of the people who are visually impaired do not necessarily read braille, and many of them don’t get visually impaired until later in their life.
Besides the Braille study session, Chancey and her assistant, Rania, also gave us insights into the target audience throughout several individual interviews. The need for tactile graphics come from all walks of life. There was an artist who wanted to create a stage plan for the blind audience, an students who wanted to create school projects with graphs, and a businessman who really wanted to visualize the logo of his own company.
image source: online
Designed to help teach beginning users of the braille slate. A frame is mounted with pegs tat represent the braille dots in 10 braille cells. A finger is used to push the pegs down. The frame is then flipped over to read the braille message. Made of black plastic with white plastic pegs for high contrast.
I am Miki Bin. I study Interactive Media Arts.
I love design, create meaningful things, and try something cool.
You can find out more about me on my website: https://mikibx.com/