Fw: Researchers Develop Adaptive Technology for Visually Impaired Engineers

  • From: "tribble" <lauraeaves@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <blindmath@xxxxxxxxxx>, "NFBnet NFBCS Mailing List" <nfbcs@xxxxxxxxxx>, <program-l@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>, <programmingblind@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>, "Science, Technology, Mathematics, SCI-FI, and more." <sci-tech@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2007 20:05:45 -0400

Sorry for the cross post, but this sounded interesting.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Lloyd Rasmussen" <lras@xxxxxxx>
To: <gui-talk@xxxxxxxxxx>; <nfbcs@xxxxxxxxxx>; <program-l@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Monday, October 15, 2007 9:34 AM
Subject: [gui-talk] Fwd: [UACCESS-L] Researchers Develop Adaptive Technology 
for Visually Impaired Engineers

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>

Lloyd Rasmussen, Acting Head, Engineering Section
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress    (202) 707-0535   <http://www.loc.gov/nls>
HOME:  <http://lras.home.sprynet.com>
The opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent
those of NLS.

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