Remember sitting in math class learning about shapes, graphs, angles, and similar topics? How did you learn these very visual ideas? Perhaps you were shown what a line was, watched as a triangle was drawn, or were given examples of different types of charts or graphs. Whatever your experience, it is very likely that most of us were first exposed to graphical math concepts via sight. In other words - we looked at pictures, and we began to understand these highly visual ideas by seeing them.
Now, imagine having to learn math (or any other Science, Technology, Engineering, or Art subject) without being able to see these pictures. How would you do it? Where would you start?
This is the challenge that students with blindness or low vision face in and out of our classrooms today. Indeed - think about how often you rely on a picture throughout your day. Whether it be in class in a textbook or during a lecture, or outside of class on a social media feed or on signs that you pass - the list goes on. We live in a visual world, and we even speak in phrases such as “A picture is worth a 1000 words!” Visual access to information has and is continuing to be the predominant means of teaching and learning. So, what is a student with a visual impairment supposed to do?
Currently, students with blindness or low vision rely on their senses of touch and hearing to interpret visual concepts. The most common approaches to accessing graphical material are to either use a text description of the image or to create a tactile graphic of it. A text description is exactly what it sounds like - it’s a word-based description of the image that can be read aloud. A tactile graphic is a graphic that can be felt - it’s haptic! Tactile graphics are typically created using embossers (printers that create raised-dot graphics) or through supplies such as swell paper or manipulatives. Such graphics enable students to see, in some capacity, through touch. That’s what haptics is all about! Haptics refers to the sense of touch, and it’s about gathering information through feeling. Most of us experience haptics on a daily basis in a very basic form when our phones vibrate to tell us someone is calling - we don’t have to look at our phone, we don’t have to hear it - but we feel it.
Unfortunately, with educational content rapidly moving to the electronic space (e-textbooks, simulations, online classes, and the like), teaching and learning are only becoming more visual. The digital accessibility gap is growing. We are leaving students behind.
Here at Vital, we intend to change that. Our touchscreen-based software brings an image to life, and provides it with dimensions of sight, sound, and touch. In short, we create digital, haptic graphics - graphics that go far beyond what the eye can see and can convey information through several sensory channels at once. Imagine running your finger on a screen and not only seeing a bar graph, but hearing and feeling it. That’s right - feel vibrations as you move from bar to bar, hear sounds that change pitch with bar height, and listen to the labels and values read aloud to you while you explore. We’re taking visual images to the next level. Feel, hear, and see the image - in class, at home - in minutes. There is no need for expensive embossers or special materials - just your mobile touchscreen or tablet will do. We’re here to provide equal opportunities for all students - ALL students - and to help them succeed in and out of class. Come check out the “buzz” (pun intended) with Vital, and see the next generation of inclusion unfolding.