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[Irl-dean] RE: Irl-dean digest, Vol 1 #340 - 4 msgs

Mark Magennis Mark.magennis at ncbi.ie
Tue Oct 3 10:24:07 IST 2006


Hi Rahim,

The GRAB project (www.grab-eu.com) recently worked on this. We built  
a haptic device, allowing you to 'feel' computer graphics with your  
fingers. One of the application areas we tested was graphs and  
charts. That's the good news. The bad news is that it was very early  
research, far from being practically and commercially viable, was of  
very limited success for simple, carefully created graphs and the  
prototype hardware device alone was valued at 30,000 Euros, so it's  
probably out of your friend's price bracket :-) Other researchers  
have done similar things involving haptics and some have explored  
cheaper solutions, for example using a force feedback mouse, but as  
far as I know, there is nothing anywhere near being highly usable,  
generally applicable and commercially viable.

Sound is another area that has been explored and Gerry Ellis posted  
to this list just the other day concerning a new NASA API (http:// 
prime.jsc.nasa.gov/mde) which can access sound to some extent. This  
might be interesting but is probably awaiting some applications. We  
used sound in GRAB too and, like other researchers, had some  
successes using sounds to demonstrate progressions in data, but again  
that has just been early research in limited, controlled conditions.

The problem is quite a difficult one. Essentially, there seem to be  
four possible approaches:

1. Create an interface that allows the person to directly perceive an  
arbitrary data set through some sensory modalities other than sight,  
such as touch or sound (e.g. GRAB). Touch is expensive because you  
need to build haptic devices and it is difficult to produce anything  
like the range of kinaesthetic and sensory feedback that occurs in a  
human hand. Also, some people simply do not have the spatial sense  
required to accurately feel distances and shapes. Sound is easier to  
produce but mapping complex data onto sounds in a meaningful way is  
not straightforward.

2. Print the data set as a tactile diagram on swell paper. However,  
the physical limitations of tactile diagrams are such that it is  
difficult to get much more than a small amount of data, so some  
selection is required. It is also difficult for the user to perceive  
the data values at any point in the diagram and producing tactile  
diagrams is time consuming so cannot be used to directly read an  
arbitrary data set.

3. Get a human author to analyse the data and describe it in words.  
Essentially, creating Alt text descriptions of graphs and charts.  
This is difficult because of the sheer amount of information that can  
be extracted from a set of data. It depends to a great extent on what  
you are looking for. It is also time consuming and because it is a  
manual process it cannot be applied by the user to an arbitrary piece  
of data and is less workable for real time or frequently changing data.

4. Use artificial intelligence techniques to do what the human does  
in approach 2. Holy grail. Way off in the distance I'm afraid.

Are there any other approaches? I can't think of any.

Sorry, I realise that I'm painting a rather gloomy picture here, but  
I think what you are looking for simply does not exist and won't for  
a long time. I suspect the best practical approach at the moment is  
probably the human produced textual description - get someone else  
who understands the data to describe it or answer your questions  
about it. I'd sat it's the only approach that will allow your friend  
to easily access the information in arbitrary complex data sets.

Mark

On 3 Oct 2006, at 09:25, Rahim Nazarali wrote:

> Hi all would anyone out there have any information on how a  
> visually impaired person would access very complicated graphs, A   
> friend is doing a business degree and is taking economics as one of  
> his subjects, some of the graphs are very complex, he is a JAWS  
> user and is aware of the fact that he can tab through the fields to  
> access the information, but would love to get a better picture and  
> a  much better  way of retaining the information.  maybe a tactile  
> read out or another tool might be suitable? Any feed back would be  
> very much appreciated.
> thanks
> Rahim
>
> Rahim Nazarali
> Employer Liaison Officer
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> Central Remedial Clinic
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Dr. Mark Magennis
Director of the Centre for Inclusive Technology (CFIT)
National Council for the Blind of Ireland
Whitworth Road, Dublin 9, Republic of Ireland
www.cfit.ie

mark.magennis at ncbi.ie   tel: +353 (0)71 914 7464



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