Webcam Interface for Audio/touch Graphics Access by Blind People

Period of Performance: 04/01/2008 - 03/31/2009


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Viewplus Technologies, Inc.
Principal Investigator


DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): The goal of this project is to develop a compact inexpensive alternative to the bulky expensive touchpads now required by blind people for audio/touch access to graphical information. Audio/touch is known to provide excellent access to computer-literate blind people as well as people with dyslexia or other severe print disabilities. Preparing Audio/touch materials was very expensive until ViewPlus introduced the IVEO Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) Authoring/conversion software in 2005. IVEO permits virtually any graphical information to be created or converted/imported easily to a well- structured highly accessible SVG format. Tactile copy was also very expensive before 2000 when ViewPlus introduced the Tiger embossing Windows printers that "print" by embossing. The new ViewPlus Emprint printer/embossers emboss and also print color images, creating color tactile images particularly useful for people with dyslexia and a number of other print disabilities. An audio/touch user reads an IVEO SVG graphic using the free IVEO Viewer, a tactile copy of the image, and a touchpad. The user places the tactile graphic on the touchpad and presses a point of interest. The touchpad communicates the position of that point back to the computer, and the IVEO Viewer speaks the appropriate information. Tactile text made from mainstream graphics has a distinctive pattern. When a user presses, that text is spoken by the IVEO Viewer. When the user presses a graphic object having a SVG title within the file, that title will be spoken. Objects may also have arbitrarily long description fields that can be spoken and browsed. All spoken information can be displayed on an attached braille display if desired. Graphical information is ubiquitous today, but almost none is accessible to blind people. Government agencies, libraries, companies, and agencies serving people with disabilities could easily send highly accessible IVEO graphics files and tactile graphic copies to clients with disabilities, but there is a "chicken and egg" dilemma that must be overcome before they are likely to do so. Few blind people have a touchpad (which cost $500 or more), so few could use that information. The specific aim of this Phase I proposal is to develop an affordable webcam-based prototype as an alternative to touchpads. It is based on an inexpensive webcam that is focused on the graphic and follows a finger. A touchpad press is emulated in this prototype by pressing some computer key with the other hand. This project could be the key to bringing accessible graphics to all blind computer users and is clearly of interest to NEI whose mission statement includes mental health and quality of life of blind people. PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE: This proposal is relevant to the mission of the National Eye Institute, because it could be the key to making nearly all graphical information easily accessible to people who are blind or have other severe print disabilities. Graphical information is ubiquitous in the world today but is not presently accessible to blind people except through expensive and time-consuming conversion by trained transcribers. Making all graphical information accessible would have an obviously highly beneficial direct effect on education and professional opportunities, mental health, and quality of life of blind people. Mental health and quality of life issues for blind people are parts of the mission of the National Eye Institute.