Tag Archives: blindness

Interested in emerging tech? Check out Cool Toys!

I’ve recently begun to write a few posts for the Michigan IT Newsletter, and will be reposting those here once they are released. This is part of my grand scheme to force myself back into blogging! Life’s crazy, so things are running late. Here’s the first piece I did for them, which was posted at https://michigan.it.umich.edu/news/2017/12/04/cool-toys/

The Cool Toys Conversation group started out as one of the many spaces on campus where people share cool tech they’ve discovered for education, research, clinical care, outreach, and productivity. Since then, it’s evolved to become more of a community of practice around emerging trends and technologies, but without ever completely giving up the original sharing of cool toys. Some of this happens in monthly meetings, usually at noon on the last Tuesday of the month (moving to BlueJeans only in January 2018), some in our email group cooltoysconversations@umich.edu (you may request to be added even if you aren’t part of UMich), and some on social media with the hashtag #cooltoysu. The scope of the resources shared is broad, as fits the scope and range of activities and interests across the university, with some of them focusing on pretty hard core tech and others focusing on links or apps or tech to do something interesting in another topic.

Here are just a few interesting things selected from the hashtag. Highlights include: augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, mobile apps, games, and productivity tools.

Seeing AI

Seeing AI is a free app that narrates the world around you. Designed for the low vision community, this research project harnesses the power of AI to describe people, text, and objects.


A fun little “photo” app, Mirage allows you to create 3D audio/video/emojis/doodles augmented reality content with your phone. You can also browse other people’s content, but right now, since it’s fairly new, you may not find a lot of content where you are. Here’s a nice introduction to augmented reality from Hackernoon.

The Evolution of Trust

The Evolution of Trust is a clever online game/interactive simulation that explores the mathematics of trust, distrust, and miscommunication through various character types.

Think Check Submit

This online checklist tool helps you choose where to publish your research. In their words: “Sharing research results with the world is key to the progress of your discipline and career. But with so many publications, how can you be sure you can trust a particular journal? Follow this check list to make sure you choose trusted journals for your research.”

Index App

Index touts itself as an alternative to Evernote, or as a one-stop-shop organizational tool. In their words: “Index is the easiest way to capture your ideas. #tag links, notes, files and anything from anywhere, and Index will organize everything into searchable, shareable #collections. Just promise you’ll use it for good and not evil.”


Tactile Graphics, An Introduction

Book Cover, Texture, Quackery All Bricked Up and Nowhere to Go ... Nailed Texture
Texture: Drain Cover Washington, DC: Donkeys: Black & Braille Rough
Montebello: Pottery Texture Woven Sculpture #4 Univ of Mich Binding Imprint

This week I attended a webinar on tactile graphics. Most people I know would say, “Tactile graphics? What does that mean?” So let’s start with that.

In a way, we’ve always had tactile graphics, in the broad sense of pieces designed for visual impact which carry tactile interest or information. Leatherworking often has designs punched into the leather; quipu knotwork carried mathematical data; old books had logos embossed into the covers; pottery might have painted ornaments layered onto the surface which can be felt and distinguished; sculptural shapes might be designed with textures that add layers of insight to the underlying meaning of the work; fabrics can have textures woven into them.

And of course, there’s always Braille, in which embossed or raised dots carry very specific kinds of meaning — words and numbers. In the center of the opening montage is an image of a sculpture of a donkey covered with Braille letters and words. This was a political statue in Washington DC. I don’t know what it says, but I imagine someone with blindness caressing the glossy blackness and curved shapes of the statue, reading the words of the Declaration of Independence, or the statements of the Bill of Rights. Such a powerful metaphor for the idea of tactile graphics. But in another sense, this explanation is a kind of digression, for in the actual world of artists creating art to be touched, the phrase they use is not “tactile graphics” but “tactile art” or “sensational art,” meaning art for senses beyond simply vision and art explicitly designed to be touched. If you are interested in this aspect of tactile artistry and graphics, you might want to be aware of the work of Ann Cunningham, who is a leader in this space.

Ann not only creates artwork that carries dual meaning through combined visual and tactile designs, but is also engaged in how this can carry over to shaping information and making “sensational books.” If you have ever tried to read a plain text (ASCII) version of a heavily illustrated book, in which the images have been redacted since they are not text, you may have some insight into the challenges of reading books while blind. You can read the text, but whenever you reach a place where an image is referenced, you read whatever description was given in the text, but that is usually minimal and refers to the image itself for further insight, and the image is not there. As a sighted person, I often go the the Internet Archive and download both the ASCII version of the book (for speed and portability) and a PDF version (which includes the graphics). I’ll read the ASCII text, and when I become sufficiently frustrated, I will open the PDF online version to see what image they are talking about.

Here is an example of what I mean, a work about Vincent Van Gogh. In the first screenshot, if you are sighted, you will see the title page and opening etching, entitled “Le Semeur.” The image shows a young man in peasant garb, grasping a large bag with his left hand, and making a gesture with his open palmed right hand. Even if you don’t read French, you may be able to guess at the meaning of “Le Semeur,” which is “The Sower.” In the second screenshot, if you are sighted, you will see the same area of the book in the raw text format. Where the image should be, there is nothing but a string of cryptic meaningless computer code, followed by the words, “LE SEMEUR.” There is no indication that you are even missing an image, no clue given as to what content it is that you are missing. Later on in the book, there will be a table listing images in the text, and that may give you a clue, but until you get to that point, you are pretty much lost.

Screenshots illustrating how images "translate" to text in OCR.
Screenshots illustrating how images "translate" to text in OCR.
Van Gogh, par Théodore Duret. Full: https://archive.org/details/vangoghvincent00dureuoft Text only:

So, very broadly then, tactile graphics are graphics which carry meaning through elements that can be touched. More narrowly, the phrase “tactile graphics” has become meaningful as an explicit technique in the creation of accessible information for persons with visual impairment. This is actually closely related to the work being done by Ann Cunningham, since the technologies used function in a similar way, often creating a kind of bas-relief version of an image so that it can be perceived and interpreted by persons who are blind. It is also work that is closely related, conceptually, to Braille, in that it explicitly tries to convert information into a format that can be deciphered by persons with blindness, in this case, visual information.

This can be done with making lines on paper that will puff up so people can feel them. This can be done with special paper, special printers, or special pens. This works fine when the images are linear, but less effective when they are more complex. It can also be done through the techniques mentioned earlier, embossing, embedding, interweaving, etcetera. There are kits, special hardware, a whole variety of technologies being developed around ways to make tactile graphics. All of those approaches tend to be very time-consuming. New technologies being used to create accessible tactile graphics include 3D printing, in which image characteristics are converted to a three-dimensional form and literally converted into a kind of flattened sculptural form of the image. There are some concerns that all the hype around 3D printing will lead to people focusing on that as the ONLY kind of tactile graphic option, which is far from the case, or that people will mistake the conversion of images to 3d format for actually making the images accessible, which may or may not be the case. A particularly eloquent description of this dilemma was posted to Facebook by a teacher of young children with special needs, Yue-Ting Siu.

3D printing and Misappropriation for Tactile Graphics https://www.facebook.com/notes/yue-ting-siu/3d-printing-and-misappropriation-for-tactile-graphics/333500170166311

This was in response to a long conversation around this topic, one for which the entire conversation is well worth digging into.

That’s a very brief introduction into the concept of tactile graphics. I’ll include a few more links at the end if you want to explore more. The webinar from the Diagram Center was very interesting. The webinar, presented by Richard Ladner of the University of Washington, included a solid background in how tactile graphics for accessibility are being created now, some of the technologies, challenges, and solutions. Some of the problems are the time needed to create the tactile graphics, the low resolution of the information, the loss of complexity in the information content, and that certain types of information don’t translate well into current tactile graphic modalities. Then Dr. Ladner described the special problems associated with complex mathematical images and equations, especially those in advance mathematics, physics, and engineering texts. Without access to those images and that content, persons with blindness can be, in essence, excluded from those professions no matter what their actual talents might be. His team has been working on some new approaches to the idea of tactile graphics, creating images that can be read with a smartphone. Wow. Now, this is still fairly early in the development life cycle, but the potential for this new approach is phenomenal.

The Storify (below) includes my notes and links from livetweeting the webinar. The webinar itself, Tactile Graphics with a Voice, will soon be posted on the DIAGRAM site.

Storify: Tactile Graphics With a Voice: https://storify.com/pfanderson/tactile-graphics-with-a-voice


Tactile Graphics: http://www.tactilegraphics.org/
– Producing Tactile Graphics: http://www.tactilegraphics.org/computerassistedtactiles.html

3D Tactile Graphics: http://3dtactilegraphics.com/

American Foundation for the Blind:
– Basic Principles for Preparing Tactile Graphics http://www.afb.org/info/programs-and-services/professional-development/teachers/tactile-graphics/1235
– Braille Writing Tools and Tools for Tactile Graphics http://www.afb.org/info/living-with-vision-loss/using-technology/reading-and-writing/braille-writing-tools-and-tools-for-tactile-graphics/1235
– Deciding Whether to Create a Tactile Graphic http://www.afb.org/info/programs-and-services/professional-development/solutions-forum/electronic-files-and-research-work-group/deciding-whether-to-create-a-tactile-graphic/12345
– Resources for Preparing Quality Tactile Graphics http://www.afb.org/info/resources-for-preparing-quality-tactile-graphics/5
– Tactile Graphics Course: http://www.afb.org/info/programs-and-services/professional-development/solutions-forum/interested-in-becoming-a-braille-transcriber/tactile-graphics-3016/12345
– Types and Producers of Tactile Graphics http://www.afb.org/info/programs-and-services/professional-development/solutions-forum/training-and-other-needs-work-group/types-and-producers-of-tactile-graphics/12345

American Printing House for the Blind:
– Tactile Graphics Image Library: http://www.aph.org/tgil/
– Tactile Graphics & Manipulatives Available from APH (Missouri School for the Blind: Outreach Services) http://msb.dese.mo.gov/outreach-services/documents/Tactile-Graphics-Products.pdf


The DIAGRAM Center: http://diagramcenter.org/
– The Accessible Image Sample Book: http://diagramcenter.org/standards-and-practices/accessible-image-sample-book.html
– Poet Image Description Tool: http://diagramcenter.org/development/poet.html
– Research Reports from DIAGRAM: http://diagramcenter.org/research.html
– Tools from DIAGRAM: http://diagramcenter.org/development.html
– Webinars: http://diagramcenter.org/webinars.html

Maker Movement Meets Healthcare

When I try to talk to peers and colleagues about the Maker Movement, one of the questions that keeps coming up over and over is what the heck this has to do with healthcare, and why am I bothering to spend my valuable time with it. So, this post has three examples illustrating the intersection of the Maker Movement with healthcare. Basically, for one of these it’s health literacy education & outreach via hands on geek project, and for the other two, there were real world problems that have expensive, time-consuming or often inaccessible solutions, for which people came up with their own solutions and alternatives. And the solutions are cool, they work, and are usually MUCH cheaper than the official solution you try to get insurance to pay for. Since not everyone has insurance, and not everyone can afford the very best possible care, I see this as a good thing. Make sure you read all the way to the end. This just gets cooler and cooler. There are more, too, this is a very small sampling, just items I stumbled over in the past couple days without even looking for them.


Have you met Sylvia? Sylvia is twelve years old, is a Maker (I’m guessing her folks probably are also), and has her own series in Make Magazine, with a really cool blog and videos. In this example, she shows people how to build a wearable technology pendant that will sense your heart beat and display the rhythm of your pulse with flashing lights in a necklace.

The Sylvia Show: Lilypad Heartbeat Pendant:

The full post at Make Magazine (Super Awesome Sylvia Builds a Pulse Sensor Pendant)

Sylvia’s Super Awesome Mini Maker Show: Make a Heartbeat Pendant:

I confess, at first I thought this seemed kind of staged, but there are enough close ups of her hands actually doing things like soldering, that I decided she really does know how to do the work, even if there might be assistance or advice from others for some parts.

Here’s where you can buy your own PulseSensor (which Sylvia connects to an Arduino for control):


Here Denver Dias, an undergraduate student in Mumbai India, was working to try to create a walking aid for the blind. Yes, we have walking canes and seeing eye dogs, but this extremely early prototype uses tech to create 3d maps of the surrounding area while walking. The maps are communicated to the user by a combination of tones and vibrations. The tech includes LEDs, sonar, ultrasound, and more.

His blogpost:
Walking aid for the blind – undergrad project…

Found via Dangerous Prototypes:


Did you look at this and think it was some fancy looking glove a kid was wearing for a costume? Well, it isn’t. This is a design for kids who, for whatever reason, don’t have fingers. This open-source, freely shared pattern makes it possible for people to create their own prosthetic ‘hand’ with a 3d printer. You can resize it and tweak it. It’s called Robohand. Watch the video if you want to see some awfully happy kids. They are hoping it will also be useful for veterans.

Complete set of mechanical anatomically driven fingershttp://www.thingiverse.com/thing:44150

Updated Robohand design:

MakerBot and Robohand — 3D Printing Mechanical Hands

Via BoingBoing, NPR, and more.

3dPrinter: Donated Makerbot 3D printers accelerate distribution of Robohand mechanical hands

BoingBoing: Sponsor shout-out: Makerbot and the Robohand

MakerBot: Mechanical Hands From A MakerBot: The Magic Of Robohandhttp://www.makerbot.com/blog/2013/05/07/robohand/

NPR: 3-D Printer Brings Dexterity To Children With No Fingers

Now, if anyone still thinks that the Maker Movement lacks relevance to healthcare, I’ll go find more, but first stop and think about Jack Andraka, whose recent discovery of innovative technology to diagnose many life-threatening cancers earlier and more cheaply, seem very much in keeping with the philosophy of the Maker Movement.

First posted at CoolToysU: