FW: [UACCESS-L] Researchers Develop Adaptive Technology for Visually Impaired Engineers

  • From: "Lloyd Rasmussen" <lras@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <programmingblind@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 15 Oct 2007 20:07:21 -0400

An interesting project which may have applications beyond chemical 
engineering.  Contact information is near the end of the message.

>From: Gregg Vanderheiden <gv@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
>To: uaccess-l@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
>Subject: [UACCESS-L] Researchers Develop Adaptive Technology for Visually 
>Impaired Engineers
>Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2007 18:36:36 -0500
>I do not know anything about this other than the article - but thought it 
>would be of wide interest.
>  -- ------------------------------
>Gregg C Vanderheiden Ph.D.
>*Researchers Develop Adaptive Technology for Visually Impaired Engineers*
>FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - By adding features to commonly used 
>chemical-engineering software packages, researchers at the University of 
>Arkansas, the University of Akron and Chemstations Inc. have developed 
>adaptive technology that allows blind or visually impaired students and 
>working professionals to perform the essential functions of 
>chemical-engineering process design.
>Led by Bob Beitle, professor of chemical engineering in the College of 
>Engineering at the University of Arkansas, the research team created a 
>system that combines tactile, Braille-like representations that can be 
>"read" by visually impaired chemical engineers. The system also includes 
>an audio, screen-reading component and audible indicators of certain 
>software functions. Researchers have also overcome a major obstacle 
>associated with the user function of dragging and dropping or copying and 
>pasting. A tablet computer with a customized overlay, a tablet pen 
>functioning as a computer mouse, and alignment holes mapped to the tactile 
>objects help facilitate the drag-and-drop function, which is the method 
>that connects unit operations.
>"We are far enough into this project for me say that we have significantly 
>minimized the differences between visually impaired and sighted engineers 
>who do process design," Beitle said. "While we haven't eliminated all 
>differences, we have reached a point where a blind chemical engineer can 
>conduct himself as any engineer by manipulating process-engineering 
>software to achieve improvements or investigate alternatives."
>The system has been extensively tested at a process-engineering firm by 
>Noel Romey, a graduate student in the Ralph E. Martin Department of 
>Chemical Engineering. Romey, who has been blind since birth, came to the 
>university to study chemical engineering. Since May, he has tested the 
>system by simulating and designing various chemical facilities. The 
>extensive designs are used by clients of the design firm to improve 
>manufacturing systems.
>The teaching and practice of chemical-engineering design traditionally has 
>had a strong visual component due to many visual tools that describe 
>concepts and processes. This reality, combined with the fact that 
>industry-specific software does not include any adaptive-technology 
>features, means that professors and engineering professionals have little 
>experience with visually impaired students, which may contribute to blind 
>and visually impaired students avoiding the profession.
>Beitle's team converted GUIs into TUIs. GUI stands for graphical user 
>interface, which describes software that relies heavily on icons and 
>visual tools to represent concepts, functions and processes. Of course, 
>behind any GUI are codes programmed to execute various user commands, such 
>as opening programs or dragging documents. To accommodate those who can't 
>rely on visual cues, the researchers had to alter this visually dependent 
>system into something that could be felt - a tactile user interface. Their 
>system includes a TabletPC or CintiQ - personal computers/screens that 
>simulate notepads - and a pen-based mouse. Most importantly, the system 
>uses custom-made tactiles - small objects embossed with patterns that 
>represent various GUI icons that symbolize parts, such as valves, pumps 
>and reactors - and an overlay that is placed on the screen. The tactiles 
>adhere to the overlay. Alignment holes on the tactiles allow users to 
>place them at desired locations on the overlay and thus build process-flow 
>diagrams. Tactile and graphical interfaces are the same size because when 
>a tactile is clicked, the design is built on the computer screen under it.
>In addition to the computer modifications, the research project has an 
>equally important psychological component, one that Beitle thinks will 
>help both sighted and visually impaired engineers. Whether in the 
>classroom or at an engineering firm, engineers must work as a team on 
>design projects. This reality made Beitle think about the importance of 
>language and the verbal exchange of information between blind and sighted 
>professionals. How can design team members convey technical information 
>when a visual diagram cannot be relied upon?
>To answer this question, Beitle and his design students collaborated with 
>Douglas Behrend, professor and chair of the psychology department in the 
>J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, and Rachel Schwartz, a 
>psychology graduate student. Led by Schwartz and Behrend, who is an expert 
>in cognitive and language development, the researchers studied individuals 
>with different communication styles and measured the reliance on vague 
>language, visual cues and gestures. When working with Romey, sighted 
>students seemed to modify patterns of communication styles in ways that 
>suggested they were considering the dynamics of working with a visually 
>impaired colleague. Behrend said this may be explained by group members 
>using metacognition, which psychologists broadly refer to as individuals' 
>knowledge of and about their own and others' cognitive processes.
>"This added dimension of this project will prepare sighted members of a 
>design team to communicate effectively in a technical fashion with less 
>reliance on visual cues," Beitle said.
>Bob Beitle, professor of chemical engineering, Louis Owen Professor of 
>Green Chemical Process Design and Development, Ralph E. Martin department 
>of chemical engineering
>College of Engineering
>(479) 575-7566, rbeitle@xxxxxxxx <mailto:rbeitle@xxxxxxxx>
>Douglas Behrend, professor and chair, department of psychology
>J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
>(479) 575-4256, dbehrend@xxxxxxxx <mailto:dbehrend@xxxxxxxx>
>Matt McGowan, science and research communications officer
>University Relations
>(479) 575-4246, dmcgowa@xxxxxxxx <mailto:dmcgowa@xxxxxxxx>

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