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GraVVITAS: Generic Multi-touch Presentation of Accessible Graphics

2012 June 30
by anhb

[Ed. Note: The following is a guest post from Chatai (Cagatay) Goncu of the Adaptive Diagrams Research Group, Monash University, Australia. The project that he describes overlaps significantly with DIAGRAM’s efforts and is another example of where international collaboration may be mutually beneficial. They are considering using Poet as a springboard toward an image repository of SVGs.Chatai and Kim Marriott, also of the Adaptive Diagrams Research Group, are co-organizers of the Accessible Graphics Workshop in the UK in July, where Lucia Hasty will also be speaking.] 

The Adaptive Diagrams Research Group at Monash University, Australia, has built a prototype of GraVVITAS (Graphics Viewer using Vibration, Interactive Touch, Audio and Speech) using a tablet PC with haptic feedback provided by small vibrating motors of the kind used in mobile phones. The vibrating motors are attached to fingers and separately controlled by the tablet PC through the USB port. Our prototype also used synthesized speech for textual descriptions of graphics components and 3D non-speech audio for presenting non-geometric information of graphics and for navigation. For further information please follow this link: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2042060

With help from the project partner Vision Australia we have conducted a preliminary evaluation of the prototype with blind adults and shown that they could use GraVVITAS to successfully read a variety of different kinds of graphics: tables, floor plans and line graphs. This fills us with great confidence that the application will be usable by blind students to read a variety of educational graphics.

This prototype forms the starting point for the project that we are currently working on. The project is supported by an ARC (Australian Research Council) Linkage Grant to further improve the existing GraVVITAS prototype and to re-target the development to iPad which is better suited to use in the Australian classrooms of the near future because of its built-in accessibility support.

One of the aims of the project is to find a simple way for creating, organising and distributing accessible graphics. Our prototype device currently takes an SVG (W3C standard for Scalable Vector Graphics) file with metadata that specify additional information as an input. The SVGfiles are created by the open-source vector graphics editor Inkscape. The authors create graphic components and associate the relevant metadata (textual descriptions, system parameters etc.) to these components within Inkscape. This process is generally easier for statistical graphics because we use open-source statistics software Rto generate graphs from tabular data and export them to SVG. However, for other types of graphics, such as organisation charts, node-link diagrams and maps, this process can take longer. To make this process more effective and efficient we are currently working on an Inkscape extension that makes the metadata creation process easier and faster in an existing SVG file.

As for organising and distributing accessible graphics we need to have a repository of graphics that will be used by GraVVITAS. As mentioned above these graphics will be stored in SVG files that include both graphical components and metadata. The metadata will not only describe the graphical components by textual descriptions, but also include information for GraVVITAS to operate. We think that the DIAGRAM project is a great opportunity both for us and for the wider DIAGRAM community to organise and distribute accessible graphics. As a first step, we are currently investigating the use of Poet system for our project to store and distribute the SVG content. If successful, we plan to integrate it with the Inkscape extension for use by teachers and integration aids for authoring accessible graphics. We also would like to share the graphical contents with others via the DIAGRAM project.

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