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The Tactile Graphics Helper: Providing Audio Clarification for Tactile Graphics Using Machine Vision

Giovanni Fusco and Valerie Morash

The 17th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS 2015)
Lisbon, Portugal, October 26-28, 2015


Tactile graphics use raised lines, texture, and elevation to allow individuals with visual impairments access to graphical materials through touch. Tactile graphics are particularly important for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, where educational content is often sequestered in diagrams and charts. However, providing a student who has a visual impairment with a tactile graphic does not automatically provide the student access to the graphics’s educational content. Instead, the student may struggle to decipher subtle differences between textures or line styles, and must deal with cramped and confusing placement of lines and braille. These format-related issues prevent students with visual impairments from accessing educational content in graphics independently, because they necessitate the student ask for sighted clarification. We propose a computer-based “tactile graphics helper” (TGH), which tracks a student’s fingers as he/she explores a tactile graphic, and allows the student to ask for clarifying audio information about the tactile graphic without sighted assistance. Using an embedded mixed-methods case study approach with three STEM university students, we confirmed that format-related issues prevented these students with visual impairments from accessing some graphical content independently, and established that TGH can provide guidance in these situations.

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