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DIAGRAM Newsletter: March 2012

2012 March 25
by Amaya Webster

Introducing the DIAGRAM Digest

This is the first in a series of regular communications designed to keep the DIAGRAM Center Advisory Board abreast of the Center’s activities and news. Although I’ll continue to send announcements and news as events warrant (and encourage you to do so as well!), this digest will serve as a quick round up of brief updates.  If you have items you’d like to communicate to the group using the Digest, please send them my way.

The Digest will arrive via email with a cc: to the Central Desktop discussion forum so that all emailed comments or discussion can be captured. I’m also hoping others will add things that I’ve missed or other details they want to share. If nothing else, I hope the Digest will serve as a friendly reminder and opportunity to share any bits of information that you haven’t already.

As with all things DIAGRAM, if you have any suggestions for improvements, please do send them either as part of the discussion thread or separately to me via email. Your active participation on the Advisory Board is vital to the success of DIAGRAM, so I’ll do my best to make that participation as easy and meaningful as possible.

New DIAGRAM Members

In March we welcomed two new DIAGRAM affiliates: Ike Presley of the American Foundation for the Blind joined the Advisory Board, and Ed Summers of the SAS Institute joined the Tactile Graphics Working Group. We all look forward to a wonderful collaboration with Ike and Ed.

Evaluation Activities and Continuation Report

Our Project Year 2 comes to a close at the end of April and our project continuation report for the Department of Education is due shortly thereafter on May 11. As part of the preparation for the reporting, Mike Sharpe and Maureen Hawes, our formal evaluators for the OSEP award, and I have been working closely on drafting an evaluation plan and measures to gauge our success. As this work solidifies and gets approved, you may be hearing from them as they begin their assessment activities, which include reaching out to DIAGRAM participants. Metrics can be a wonderful thing, so I’m hoping Mike and Maureen will also share their findings along the way so we can all get a view from that perspective.

DIAGRAM Reading Technology Survey

As part of DIAGRAM’s research into reading tool use, NCAM staff recently conducted a short survey designed to track trends in how people with print disabilities obtain and access reading material electronically. Results of the survey are forthcoming.

Related Projects of Interest


DIAGRAM has embarked on an exciting collaboration with another OSEP-funded project, the Mathematics eText Research Center (MeTRC) out of the University of Oregon, led by Mark Horney. Together we will engage researchers to evaluate the efficacy of text descriptions of math-related images for visually-impaired students. This project is still in its very early planning and design stages, with research slated to begin this fall, but we anticipate that the results will inform our description guidelines and possibly also lead to new development. This is a wonderful opportunity to work with a new partner to gather information that will be of vital interest to all of us. From DIAGRAM, Larry Goldberg and Bryan Gould from WGBH/NCAM and Betsy Beaumon and I from Benetech are the primary participants.

Description Leadership Network and VDRDC

The Description Leadership Network, a group formed under the auspices of the OSEP-funded Video Description Research and Development Center (VDRDC) at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, held its first annual meeting on March 22-23 in San Francisco. The DLN is a coalition of organizations involved with the practicality, policy, and technology of blindness and video accessibility. Larry Goldberg, Gerardo Capiel and I attended from DIAGRAM. The first day of the meeting was devoted to technology, and we learned more about some VDRDC development efforts, including DVX, a system for managing crowd-sourced video description. On the second day, we learned more about the people and processes behind description, including a Professional Development Workshop co-organized by the National Federation of the Blind for blind adults to acquire skills in the technical aspects of video description production.
Although video description and image description do have different processes and technology, there appears to be a lot of potential for overlap between DIAGRAM and VDRDC, especially as we both develop tools for crowd-sourcing description and are concerned with influencing the standards bodies that control how that description and related materials are interchanged. As educational content combines more image and video content and as interactive content, which possesses elements of both, becomes more prevalent, this intersecting space will be one to watch.

Describing Images for Enhanced Assessments

A partnership between NCAM, the University of Northern Colorado and the state education agencies of Utah, Kansas and Colorado has recently completed research into the use of image description as a viable accommodation for students with visual or print disabilities. The project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, conducted testing with over 300 K-12 students in 3 subjects. Preliminary findings show that braille readers were more likely to select the correct answers when given image description without tactile graphics and that all other students in the study were equally likely to select the correct answer when given image description or not. These findings suggest that as online assessments become more common, image description can be a standardized, cost-effective and unbiased accommodation for use in assessments.

The project website provides more information about the research and results, guidelines for describing images for assessments and professional development for educators. Continue to visit the website for regular updates over the next three months.

(from Bryan Gould)

DIAGRAM Subcontracts

We are making good progress on finalizing subcontracts for additional DIAGRAM-sponsored research and development to be completed in the next year. National Braille Presshas begun writing a report assessing SVG conversion software with a focus on optimum usability, accessibility and affordability for content providers.  The report will also look at the state of 3D printing and other evolving technologies.

Other subcontracts that will soon be finalized include:

  • Steven Landau of Touch Graphics (working in conjunction with Josh Miele of The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute and Lucia Hasty) will pilot automated image classification software designed to create an efficient process that can flag images that are likely to be amenable to re-interpretation as a tactile graphic and/or verbal description, and that are necessary for full comprehension of the book’s content, while also eliminating many images from consideration.
  • gh, LLC, will develop an open source, web-based math input tool for algebra, which will allow students to have a simplified math interaction and equation input capability online.

Additional subcontracts are in the works and details will be available as we get closer to finalizing the agreements.

Software Development Update


Poet, DIAGRAM’s recently released web-based tool for crowd-sourcing image description, has been adopted by Bookshare, whose volunteers will provide a large and active group of Poet users, well beyond the planned pilot. Bookshare is using the first release of Poet to describe thousands of images, primarily in STEM content, that will go back into the Bookshare library for students to use in their coursework in the fall. More information about the volunteer effort behind this image description work can be found on Benetech’s Bookshare blog:

Benetech is also embarking on the next release of Poet, which will include support for DIAGRAM’s proposed content model. We’ll also be reviewing user feedback on Poet to enhance usability.


Last quarter’s enhancements to Tobi, USFDAISY’s multimedia authoring tool for accessible books, include implementing a full-text full audio image description workflow providing output in DAISY 3. The complete workflow associated with the narration of image descriptions was engineered, including incorporating audio importing, editing and recording capabilities in the user interface dedicated to image descriptions. Development of Tobi continues with EPUB3 support currently in the planning stages.

Standards Update

The Content Model Working Group continues to move forward on two primary fronts: establishing the DIAGRAM content model as a data model for image description, and advocating with standards bodies for support of external image descriptions. On the first front, the DIAGRAM content model was introduced as a feature of the draft DAISY AI standard last year. In addition, a profile was created that allows an entire publication to be created with essentially only descriptions using the DIAGRAM content model. This allows the distribution of a stand alone document with only descriptions. A primary publication, such as EPUB 3, could then link to the descriptions in this separately distributed document. Last quarter, NISO management issued this new work under a new number and enhanced name:

NISO Z39.98-2012
Authoring and Interchange Framework for Adaptive XML Publishing Specification

The Content Model Working Group has also been very actively working with standards bodies to retain or incorporate features that support DIAGRAM’s content model as an external description. These efforts continue to include advocating with W3C working groups to retain the longdesc attribute that would allow HTML5 to support external descriptions of graphical material. In the absence of longdesc, the group is proposing that the next update of the EPUB 3 standard include an epub:describedAt attribute to reference external descriptions. More detailed information about these proposals can be found at the DIAGRAM Center website under the Standards and Practices section.

As a DIAGRAM team member affiliated with the IMS Global Learning Consortium, Madeleine Rothberg of NCAM, is also working with its Access for All group to consider the DIAGRAM content model as it moves forward with its next release of standards for accessibility, inclusive design, and personalization of online learning resources. The next step is to create and publish a crosswalk between the DIAGRAM content model and the IMS Digital Resource Description metadata model.

Upcoming Events

March 31 Proposals due for speaking at the NFB Tactile Graphics Conference
April 13 Proposals due for speaking at 2012 STEMtech Conference
April 24 Larry Goldberg speaking at the Vision Serve Alliance conference, Boston, MA
April 30 DIAGRAM Advisory Board Meeting, teleconference
May 6-8 Anh Bui at Ed Tech Industry Summit, San Francisco, CA
June 13-14 DIAGRAM Off-Site Meeting, Asilomar, CA

If you attend or speak about DIAGRAM at any of the above events or at other events, please do let me know!

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