Experiences with Lower-Cost Access to Tactile Graphics in India

  • M. Kaleem Rahman
  • Saurabh Sanghvi
  • Kentaro Toyama
  • M. Bernardine Dias

MSR-TR-2009-102 |

Tactile graphics allow the visually impaired to perceive two-dimensional imagery, which is an essential part of learning science, geography, and other subjects. In the developed world, such graphics are available to blind students from an early age, and students grow up familiar with image representations. Tactile graphics, however, require special printers whose costs are often beyond resource-constrained institutions; thus, blind students in developing regions often grow up without any exposure to these learning aids.

In this paper, we investigate the potential of a software solution for converting regular images into a form that can be printed as tactile imagery on relatively low-cost embossing device meant only for braille text. Using techniques of ethnographic design, we explore how students at a school for the blind in India interpret tactile graphics on their first contact with such material, and for a variety of subject matter. We find that our subjects were exceedingly enthusiastic about tactile graphics, rapidly able to understand and absorb two-dimensional representations, and that studying tactile graphics of the alphabet could lead to their learning how to write the alphabet for the very first time.