|Introduction: Here’s wishing you and yours the best for the holiday season and a fantastic 2024. As we wrap up 2023 and head towards the new year, I find myself reflecting once again.I’ve struggled with using the word “inclusivity” because of all its underlying implications, as well as my fear of sounding sanctimonious. However, I believe I’m starting to see a significant difference between striving for inclusivity versus merely “making things accessible” for the blind. Perhaps it’s about having inclusivity as the goal from the design start, rather than trying to fit in accessibility at the end. Maybe, like the pursuit of happiness, it’s more about the journey than the destination – a mindset of continued improvement for all by considering usability for different user groups.
Struggle to Provide Accessible Student Content: What I continue to see is the struggle to make content accessible and the impact it has on blind students. Whether these are due to unconscious bias or willful ignorance, I’m not sure. Blind students often have to fight for or demand access to subjects and skills where they are constantly told not to bother. They are asked, “Why would you ever need this?”. Imagine if all students were given the option to skip classes or subjects they wouldn’t use after completing school. I see motivated students struggle just to get access to information needed to explore certain subjects. I’m not a researcher, but I am a parent. Inspiring self-learning is what most parents aim for by exposing their kids to a variety of different experiences, hoping one or more stick to help them find some purpose and empower them to explore. Do blind kids get these same opportunities if they don’t have direct access to the technology used, or at least don’t have access at home? If there is always something or someone in the way, how far can we expect kids to get? Specifically, I wondered about the benefits of having access to a braille and tactile graphics embosser at home. During COVID, we heard how some families benefited from bringing devices home, and how their use expanded beyond basic education. Could this be extended to entrepreneurs as well? Who better to understand what blind people would appreciate in terms of inclusion than blind techies? With a little help, could there be opportunities to create a business by blind people for blind people? The blind techie community is a pretty tight group, and I’ve stumbled upon several projects where I could lend a hand. I’ll report future developments in this space, but I’d love to hear from you if you see opportunities for blind techies having access to an embosser rather than waiting for a “seeing eye human” to assist them.
Gratitude and A Personal Appeal
Thank you for reading this far. I want to address a topic close to my heart, albeit a bit self-serving. In discussions with global leaders in blind education, the necessity of multi-dot height for complex tactile graphics is repeatedly emphasized. However, promoting this feature, specific to ViewPlus, faces resistance in standardization efforts.ViewPlus has been a pioneer in this niche, advocating for growth and standards in the blind accessibility space. Our involvement in projects like the liblouis project and the eBraille global standardization effort, led by American Printing House for the Blind and the DAISY Consortium, demonstrates our commitment. Learn more about the eBraille project.Our embossers, unlike traditional models from Index and Enabling Technologies, offer functionalities akin to modern printers. They support a wide range of applications, including direct braille entry and graphics creation through tools like Tiger Designer, Adobe Illustrator, and CorelDraw. This versatility contrasts sharply with the limited capabilities of models like the Index Basic-D and Enabling Technology Juliette.The ViewPlus Delta, for instance, surpasses the Index Everest in both price and performance, reflecting our focus on innovation and community involvement. We provide comprehensive local sales and service support in the United States and Germany, emphasizing responsiveness and quality.I invite you to consider the advantages of ViewPlus products. If you agree that our solutions are superior, I’m curious to hear why others might still choose alternatives. Your feedback is invaluable.
Color in Tactile Graphics and ATiA Conference: The most rewarding thing for me in 2023 was the massive growth of interest in bringing color into tactile graphics. For those of you who haven’t witnessed our color mapping to specific textures firsthand, I’d love to see you at ATiA in Orlando, Florida, this January. Over the past two or three years, I’ve seen the power of discussing possibilities for embossing graphics beyond our core focus of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Adding the ‘A’ for Art definitely creates STEAM, or at least keeps the 90% who hate math from running away. The full effect of what was happening really hit home after the tremendous response to our inclusive coloring book and braille-labeled crayons. As the world re-opens after COVID, I’m seeing how these ideas translate equally well in Europe after my trip in May and, most recently, in China.China Visit: I recently returned from a two-week trip around China, where I visited a number of blind schools, assistive technology showrooms, libraries, and museums. All expressed interest in understanding how to include blind people. Nowhere did this hit home as directly as during a two-day meeting in Nanjing with 95 teachers and administrators from 40 different blind schools and special education centers, where access to graphics was discussed and experts shared tips and tricks.
I wasn’t sure how well things would translate over the language barrier, so I asked my interpreter some questions over lunch before my presentation on innovations in tactile graphics production. I inquired about the most recognizable cartoon or pop culture animated character in China. The answer – Monkey King. Live, in front of the entire conference, I found a representative image online, cut and pasted it into Word, added some text and translated the text to braille. The completed graphic with text and braille labels was then ready. Using the SpotDot in the room, I embossed a copy after showing them several previews on the screen. They were most blown away when I flipped the switch to enable the color mapping to textures for the image. The combination of color ink printing, interline text, and braille, all created in a couple of minutes, was a big hit.
Beijing Sightseeing: While in Beijing, I did manage to fit in some sightseeing trips to see the Great Wall and the Summer Palace.
Microsoft Example and Inclusio Project: Transitioning back from China to other significant events late in the year: During the recent annual accessibility partners meeting, Microsoft shared how a key part of Windows 11 was completely redesigned with inclusivity considerations from the very beginning. The design team and management discussed how the result was better for all users and it ended up being a much more efficient process than bringing in the accessibility expert team at the end. As more of the tech industry comes to the realization that inclusion is more cost-effective and results in better products for all, the world may actually change. ViewPlus expects to be a catalyst for this change. We recently were informed that phase II funding for our project was awarded, so we should make some serious strides in inclusive content. Our project name is Inclusio. Check out the overview video from phase I and the phase II press release from Saint Louis University, the lead university for our team – here.
Looking forward to a great 2024 and hoping to connect with you around the world.