Tag Archives: visually impaired

Museums create interactive tech for disabled youth

In addition to creating audio-tactile maps to the Descriptive Video Exchange, Dr. Joshua Miele has another project — to improve the museum experience for disabled youth.

Miele is working closely with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to create a program where people, specifically blind youth, are able to interact with pieces within a museum.“A lot of museums are things that you largely look at and you don’t have an opportunity to interact with them,” explained executive director Mark Roccobono of the NFB. “There are a lot of great technologies out there that can provide descriptions about the items you’re looking at, and it would be great for blind people who visit museums.”

At the moment, art museums have a different set of problems than science museums, but the issue of the lack of accessibility to the works still remains.

Miele and the NFB are hoping to enhance access to several science museums for blind youth and their families with the help of the National Science Foundation.

In its first month of a three-year project, the Museum of Science in Boston and the Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore are currently involved. Roccobono hopes more museums will come on board later.

“We’re trying to inspire and engage blind youth in science, but also create a relationship between blind people on the local level and the science museum by working specifically on making some exhibits accessible,” said Roccobono, noting it’s a chicken-and-egg problem. “A museum says, ‘We never see any blind people in here so it’s hard to work on access for blind people,’ while blind people say, ‘We never go this museum because they never have anything that is accessible.’ If they do something accessible, it’s done cheaply so it’s not meaningful.”

The project is also looking to build a relationship between the museum and its visitors. Ideally the visually impaired can evaluate and provide feedback on what’s happening and the museum can work to integrate tools and techniques already available.

“It’s important that mainstream technologies are also accessible to blind people and that we have to recognize technology is not what makes people successful, but rather technology provides access to information we haven’t had before,” said Roccobono as the project continues to surge forward.
Overall, Miele and Roccobono agree the vast majority of work that needs to be done is making and providing people with better access in a manner that’s more mainstream and not just focused on the technology.

“I’m here developing these innovative tools and talking about how we can use these to make information more accessible, but I’m kind of out ahead of where most things need to be,” said Miele. “There’s a lot of basic work that needs to be done and most of it isn’t incredibly hard to do. It comes down to awareness and people understanding the problems.”

Future goals for Miele include accessible maps and interactive areas not just for public transit or museums, but also places like the airport that see a lot of traffic and is in need of good information.

Also in Assistive Technology

The series explores how advancements in assistive technology are helping the visually impaired and the disabled.

Originally posted in TechPageOne.

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How B.A.R.T. helps the blind get around

What started nine years ago with the creation of the Tactile Map Automated Production (TMAP) system for California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system has developed into an audio-tactile graphic map to increase accessibility for the visually impaired.

Dr. Joshua Miele and his team at the Smith-Kettlewell Video Description Development Center are once again working alongside San Francisco’s LightHouse organization to make travelling easier with easy access to information.

“BART maps has been one of the ways I’ve been working on making information more accessible,” said Miele. “I developed a tool in 2004 called TMAPs and it was and is the only way a person can get the tactile feel of anyplace they want.”

Most people can go to Google Streetview or Google Maps and retrieve a lot of information, but those with visual impairments cannot get that same spatial context and information hence the creation of TMAPs. However, much of the Braille maps now are too cramped with information and certain areas are not labeled due to lack of space.

Miele and LightHouse are now working to launch the audio-tactile graphic maps in 43 of the 44 station stops. The project is a few months from being released.

These new maps allow people to explore the area through Braille, as well as audio stimulation. The maps incorporate Braille into its design, but it is not dense with information.

To get a more in-depth experience, you can employ a smart pen to touch the graphics and a computer will inform you about the part of the map you are touching. The use of smart pens is particularly adaptable for uses outside the public transportation system.

“There has been a lot of positive responses and the interest continues to grow,” said Frank Welte, information resource specialist and strip map coordinator of LightHouse. “A lot of people, not just the blind, are excited for the audio-tactile maps to help with their orientation of where they are and have to be.”

The importance of this technology is that once these maps are implemented, they’ll not only be useful to transit, but for other maps as well, added Wente.

“You can almost incorporate a guide book into the map, which is a future possibility,” he said.
The technology already exists in various forms but needs to be applied everywhere, said Mark Roccobono, executive director with the National Federation of the Blind, which is a membership-based organization of blind people in the United States.

“If we can get engineers and others to design technology with accessibility in mind from the beginning, we can then use technology that everybody else can use. It would be the same information, at the same time, at a different price, though we would access it through Braille or audio,” said Roccobono. “The importance of public transportation and having the technology make it accessible is helpful.”

He pointed to the audio and visual cues that most buses now have that announce which stop is coming up. In this case, audio cues are also helpful for visitors to the city or if English isn’t your first language.

There are other companies and organizations working to make information more accessible to blind people around the world, but Miele added that those projects aren’t currently at the scale of his team’s projects.

However, Roccobono noted the biggest problem facing blind people isn’t blindness itself, it is more the public attitudes toward blindness and technology doesn’t change that.

“One thing it (technology) does change is access to information,” he added.

Also in Assistive Technology

The series explores how advancements in assistive technology are helping the visually impaired and the disabled.

Originally posted in TechPageOne.

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DVX: More content accessible to the visually impaired

Created by Dr. Joshua Miele and his colleagues at the Smith-Kettlewell Video Description Development Center in San Francisco, California, the Descriptive Video Exchange (DVX) provides an audio descriptor narrating the scene or moment in the program.

DVX is still in early development where large load balancing and optimization of geographic use doesn’t require multicloud use at this time. However, Miele noted it’s called cloud-based because it helps people understand that the project is all on the Internet and not a program that runs on one’s PC or smartphone.
What’s important to note is that the server itself does not store the original videos; rather, it holds only the descriptions, identification and timing information, and works in time with a video player that plays whatever video you want to watch.

At present, those who are visually impaired are able to access videos, such as movies or television shows, and listen to the dialog and music it contains. However, what remains missing is a certain visual context that is currently unavailable for most videos.

“We are looking into the future, where the vast majority of video will not be consumed via broadcast media. It will be consumed over the Internet,” he explained. “We are looking at a day coming very soon when electronic textbooks will contain embedded video.”

Though video description was invented in the 1970s as a way to give blind people access to information on what’s occurring digitally on the screen, it was mostly for entertainment.

However, video description isn’t only about the luxury of entertainment now, said Miele.
“Now there’s a great deal of education and job training and healthcare-related information distributed to video,” he explained. “If you don’t have access to the information on the screen, blind people won’t be educated or have the same access to job training as sight people do.”

Miele points to websites, including YouTube, where people can upload their own videos that have changed the landscape of accessibility for those with visual disabilities.

In order to create a described video, users would previously have to get permission from the copyright holder, he added.

“We’re interested in the idea of crowd-sourcing video description so that anybody anywhere can describe any online video for anybody anywhere else,” said Miele, adding they are currently looking into the legal and fair trade aspects of the project. “We aren’t redistributing or copying the video, we’re not doing anything to the video other than playing with it simultaneously with the described content.”

DVX is currently available upon request.

Along with creating DVX, Miele is working with his partners to create youdescribe.org, which will provide audio descriptors for popular YouTube videos.

The site itself has a little over 100 videos currently available to watch with audio descriptors, but it allows the public to record their own audio descriptors before sharing the result to the public.

Here′s a sample of a descriptive video.

Also in Assistive Technology

The series explores how advancements in assistive technology are helping the visually impaired and the disabled.

Originally posted in TechPageOne.

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