This Phase I proposal is to develop "audio-tactile" reading technologies. These should greatly improve access by blind people to typical graphs, charts, and diagrams in modern news, business, or scientific literature. Such access could dramatically improve their educational and professional opportunities. Quality of life for blind people is a mission of the National Eye Institute.
The ultimate goal of this proposal is to stimulate a paradigm shift in how graphical information is read by blind people. Because very few blind people can read a tactile graphic, graphics are presently made accessible by including a word description. Words are simply inadequate for many common graphics such as maps, charts, and diagrams. Blind people can easily read a tactile graphic if good audio or braille feedback is available, but such audio-tactile technology today is considered too complex and expensive to be practical. ViewPlus intends to alter this perception by making audio-tactile technology simple, inexpensive, and user- friendly. ViewPlus'IVEO technology provides everything needed for audio-tactile access, and it is being used successfully in many special education classrooms. Simpler, more automatic software will be introduced in 2014 that makes the creation/conversion process much easier and less expensive. This Phase I proposal is intended to make the reading process also much more user-friendly. Technologies are proposed that fit the varied reading preferences of blind college students so they, and eventually all blind people, can easily read those audio-tactile graphics. If both projects are successful, audio-tactile graphics could become ubiquitous, greatly enhancing opportunities for blind people. One proposed new technology is an inexpensive pen that can read micro bar codes printed while the tactile graphic is created. The pen communicates with the student's digital technology of choice - smart phone, tablet, computer, or a special notetaker. It speaks, and/or displays on an attached braille display when the student indicates some object on the tactile graphic. An advanced version of the pen will speak on its own, not needing any other computing device. Another proposed technology is a tap pad useful for tactiles made on an inexpensive embosser not capable of printing ink. It also communicates with a computing device that speaks when the student taps on some object. The more advanced version would speak on its own. Another technology, to be developed in Phase II is a smart phone finger follower app that automatically recognizes the tactile, so the student just puts the tactile down and begins to read it. Finally another Phase II development is an option to print on the tactile a high density 2d Voiceye bar code that contains all information to be spoken. Self-contained audio-tactile graphics will become very important when blind people are able to obtain graphical information from varied sources such as libraries, forms, commercial and government information booklets, etc. This project clearly has the potential of greatly enhancing educational, recreational, and professional opportunities for blind people. Quality of life for blind people is a mission of NEI.