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Empowering Blind Creators

Drawing and designing are often seen as purely visual activities. Both the physical and digital tools developed for these tend to be dependent on eye sight for effective use. However, what if a blind person wants to express her or his imagination through visual designs, especially in today’s digital age?

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| Aim

The purpose of this research was to investigate the need for technology that allows blind people to not only access, but also manipulate and design, visual information themselves. The idea was to rethink the design of creative tools by exploring how they could be adapted to harness the capabilities of the sense of touch.

When blind individuals explore the world with their hands, 3D object representations provide richer mental images than 2D ones. Thus, in the study, different tactile materials were examined to identify the physical and usability attributes that blind creators desire in a creative haptic tool.

 
 
 

 
 
 
Blindness is too often conceptualized as simply an impairment; rather, blindness creates its own unique worlds seen from a different angle.
 
 
 

 
 
 

| Research Design

First, an in-depth interview was carried out with a blind game developer to gain an understanding of his creative perspective, context, and challenges. The results of this user-case validated the need for developing a solution for blind people interested in creating visual designs. Then, two participatory design workshops were conducted with a mix of blindfolded designers and the introduced blind user to explore ideas for a creative tool, examining a set of tactile materials.

I followed a systematic approach for the methodology and synthesis of results to ensure objectivity and credibility. For instance, I had well-defined research goals, supported the research design with a comprehensive literature review, annotated precise experiment procedures, and performed a thorough thematic analysis of both explicit and implicit data patterns. The outcome encompasses the recommended system requirements for a creative haptic tool.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Materials & Workshop Set-ups

 
 
 
 
 

| Project Reflection

Not many studies had featured participatory design methods with blind users, and so I had to reimagine and adapt the workshop dynamics, so that it was appropriate for differently abled people. Brainstorms generally rely heavily on visual elements. As a result, I was challenged with creating a new approach of communication and group activities, focusing on the sense of touch, to facilitate engagement among participants. This method also allowed for mutual learning to occur between the sighted and blind designers, bringing attention to the importance of inclusive design and developing usable tactile interfaces.

With this project, I wanted to highlight a perspective rarely examined in the areas of Human-Computer Interaction and assistive technologies. The notion that we need to develop tools that serve as a means of growing professional skills and nurturing the creative minds of blind, and visually impaired people, who want to design visual information. There is over 75% unemployment rate among this audience, and so we need to go beyond accessibility and create solutions that not only allow access to visual information, but also facilitate its tactile manipulation and the design of new creations.