How Much Do We Know About Tactile Graphics? — (Part II)
— Tactile graphics look like images created from Braille! We carried out a month-long on-site research project, and here are our findings.
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.
Our First Attempt to Define the Problem
Based on the interview so far, we noted down a few pain points:
- The application interface of TactileView is outdated. Imagine Windows drawing application in 2000, that is what you would expect.
- TactileView is not inviting to people who have no prior experience with design software. Both its online manual and application interface have overwhelming information. For those who are new to graphics design software, they are very likely to be overwhelmed by the number of tools and functions available at once. TactileView online manual is divided into 12 sections. Each section includes on average 6 articles to study. This overwhelming information may scare a lot of people who are slightly interested but give up the effort before they even started the journey.
- Most the tutorials target people with normal vision, rather than the visually impaired. For those who are blind, their workflow is menu driven. Instead of dragging and dropping elements around with the mouse, people use keyboards to operate in the file menu. In order to place graphic elements, they specify position through numbers(e.g., 40px to the left margin, and 40 to the top margin), rather than eye-ball a relative position. The information on the menu will be read out loud by screen readers.
- Many functions in the TactileView program are not applicable to menu-driven design. Despite the fact that Chancey has gone through all the online tutorials, she ended up creating her own workflow. “Things don’t work out the same way.” Being skeptical about her claim at first, we later encountered several difficulties in creating shapes and centering elements. Seems like there are indeed several functions missing in the menu-driven design workflow in the software.
- The only way to check if a design “feels” right is to print it out and touch it. Unlike regular print, the embosser will take around 5 minutes to process the printing. This is a loud, noisy experience. Chancey and Rania deliberately close the door every time they print. Besides, the information on printed tactile graphics will go through distortion. That is because the embossed dots on paper are larger than they seem on screen. The density and spacing will change the graphics readability. Side note: it has never occurred to me that, being able to create designs and instantly visualize changes are the two privileges I enjoyed throughout my life.
We asked Chancey what she envisioned will be helpful to improve the learning experience of this tactile graphics program. She brought up two interesting keywords: tutorial, design. She wishes for a tutorial that can help people learn Tactileview better, with more insights from the design perspective.
After aligning Chancey’s envision and our preliminary problem statement, we decided to focus on tutorials that help people who are completely new to Tactileview to create tactile graphics.
We created a persona that has the following traits:
- New to tactile graphics design
- Familiar with voiceover on computers
Rania invited girl A who to try out our mock tutorial. She didn’t get blind until sophomore year in college, and just learned how to use screen readers on her computer a year and a half ago. Beforehand, we practiced creating tactile graphics on our own, and created a set of instructions. We took some notes on how to use the keyboard, just in case she would need extra instructions.
Unfortunately, our first attempt was a failure. Having spent 2 hours working with A, she still did not proceed to the end of the process. This is mainly because A uses a Mac laptop rather than a Windows PC. Mac and Windows use separate screen readers: Mac uses VoiceOver, and Windows uses JAWS. Besides the confusion on keyboard commands, she was not able to launch JAWS on Windows in the beginning. Moreover, Google image search with screen readers and keyboards turned out to be extremely frustrating. This is something that our team was unprepared of. Ironically, 70% of the time spent on user testing was spent on figuring the keyboard commands to grab images from google.
This pushed us to reflect on our persona and problem statement. Our definition of the audience is too broad, and we need to come up with a more specific problem statement that addresses the need of a more specific group.
There is one more thing we need to know more about before we jumped into our problem statement: what do the technical support staffs need to help make their work easier?
We meet with Chancey again, and interviewed her about the sessions she spent teaching people how to use TactileView. Here is what we concluded after the interview:
Analysis and Insights
- People who want to create tactile graphics already had enough computer proficiency. The tutorial should not be focused on how to use the keyboard commands. Currently there is one person per study session. However, the ideal case for Chancey would be that, people can study on their own with the tutorial, and call for technical support if they need trouble shooting. This would allow the technical support staffs to help more people during one session.
- The tutorial should teach users basic but essential features. To create complicated images like floor plan or images, visually impaired people usually choose to work with someone who can see well. The purpose of the tutorial is to trigger interest, give a certain level of encouragement and a sense of accomplishment.
- The design of the tutorial should be engaging and interactive. Compared to a linear routine-like instructions. This will allow the user to understand and learn the software.
- The tutorial should focus on content creation rather than the format. The library is able to convert it into any form for people with different level of blindness
Introducing the Persona: Marianne
Based on the above information, we revisited our persona — Marianne.
Marianne is a woman in her 40s, she is proficient with computer, and is comfortable use screen readers. She wants to create tactile graphics on her own, but she feel somehow intimidated by the software and the tutorials.
We defined the problem for Marianne as follow:
Most of the blind people do not have much tactile awareness education, and they don’t understand the importance of tactile graphs. Marianne needs a way to boost their confidence and interest in using Tactileview software, and she needs a tutorial that comfortably leads her to further exploration in the field.
We believe that by creating an interactive tutorial with both explanatory graphics and text in an intimate tone for beginner users, we will achieve the goal of leading them to further explore the software with comfort and interests. We will know this to be true when users can easily create their first design with the tutorial, and have the interest and ability to create more designs.
We finally decided to propose an online tutorial with the following features:
- People use either Mac or Windows can navigate the website easily with that screen reader that they are familiar with.
- There is readability to both people with normal vision and the visually impaired.
- Instead of teaching through key functions, the tutorial teach by asking the users to finish different project challenges, assorted by levels of difficulty. We believe that “learning by doing” is the best practice to approach a software.
- Easy project: focus on the skill of creating graphics shapes, apply patterns, and layering.
- Difficult project: involve image processing with filter and conversion.
- The language and tone used in the tutorial should be very friendly and beginner level, as if your friend is talking.
Based on the tutorials and manuals online, we created two projects for the tutorials, and wrote the scripts accordingly. Our MVP is a prototype that contains the contents of the tutorial, and our envision of the website structure.
Or click on this link to visit the website.
Or copy and past the URL in your browser: https://tactile101.org/
“Put yourself in others’ shoes” — Easier Said Than Done.
While signs of accessibility is everywhere in our daily life, for most of us, our understanding of the disabled people is very limited. Our team made a lot of false assumptions, and we didn’t notice our mistakes until we put ourselves first as users.
When we first met Chancey, she told us that “there wasn’t any good tutorials online for Tactileview.” We didn’t really understand her point at first, because we found plenty of manuals and youtube videos online. However, when we practiced the software with keyboards and screen readers, we finally realized that she was making a point: that some functions are simply available through menu driven design. In those cases, tutorials are needed in order to explain the alternative way to achieve this effect. Even a simple instruction that tells users to find assistance will be helpful.
Listen is Important. Obey is NOT.
Chancey is one of the people that I respected the most: she is smart and decisive. She knows very well what she wants, and what she doesn’t want.
When we approached her for the research, she was very assisting. This somehow made us overly dependent on her expertise. We would tell her several solutions we had in mind, and ask about her opinion.
Later we learned that it is not the best idea in the world. While we are taking her opinions into account, we also lost control of our line of thought and analysis. When she figured that we are going for an direction she doesn’t like, she would stop feeding us information, and started to talk about her idea of the project.
We learned to ask questions more smartly. We catered several questions that simply asked about facts, rather than opinions. That made our research so much smoother.
Since I no longer live in New York, it is hard for me to carry further on-site research. However, throughout the process I have gained so much insights into tactile graphics. I am very fascinated by how accessibility is valued and developed in the United States, and I would like to look into accessibility in China, my homeland.
If you are also interested in tactile graphics, or accessibility design in general, I hope you find this article helpful. If you are a general reader, I hope you gained more awareness and interest on this topic.
Please feel free to contact me or Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library if you come up with great ideas for the tactile graphic program. I genuinely hope our effort can be turned into something that can really help the library, and you are definitely one of them.
A huge thank you to my teammates who made the research possible!
Special thanks to Regine Gilbert, my UX teacher, a UX designer at practice, and also an advocate for accessibility design. Without her, we won’t be able to have the chance to research and design something so meaningful.
Special thanks to Marianne Petit, who introduced and taught me accessibility design. I am incredibly grateful that she continues to guide me along my studies.
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/