The ViewPlus IVEO Scalable Vector Graphics Technology for Universally Usable Complex Information

Abstract

The new ViewPlus IVEO Creator computer application enables authors easily to make graphical information in Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) format with features permitting universal accessibility. Simple graphics can be authored in IVEO Creator, but its greatest power is its ability to import almost any format computer file and easily convert to SVG with necessary accessibility features. Files can be displayed visually in mainstream SVG viewers, but non-visual access requires the ViewPlus IVEO Viewer. The IVEO Viewer is a free Windows application that displays IVEO files visually, in audio, and, with any major screen reader, in Braille. Most people can use IVEO Viewer without additional hardware, but many people with dyslexia and other learning difficulties will find a touch screen or Tablet PC helpful. Blind people and people with other severe print disabilities may need an embossed copy placed on a touch pad or Tablet PC. Blind users can make a tactile copy with any ViewPlus embosser. Sighted people with severe print disabilities can make a color print embossed copy on the new ViewPlus Emprint Haptic Printer.
1 Introduction

Plain text in well-authored electronic documents of nearly any format is accessible to blind people and those with other print disabilities who know how to use a computer and screen reader. A great deal of common information is generally not presented as plain text however. Charts, diagrams, and graphs are common in business, scientific, and most professional literature. Maps and geographically-oriented data such as weather maps and complex census information would be virtually impossible to present in words. Until recently it has not been possible for authors of mainstream literature to present graphical information of these kinds in a format that could be accessed directly by people with print disabilities. Object-oriented graphical information can now be prepared using the new ViewPlus IVEO Creator, permitting authors easily to create or convert graphical information to a form usable by all people, including those with print disabilities. This new universal technology has been enabled by two recent developments – emergence of the mainstream Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) language and introduction of the Tiger embossing technology by ViewPlus.

The SVG format permits graphical objects to have title and description attributes, and these attributes are used to ensure that SVG graphical information can be accessed by people with print disabilities who cannot easily understand the visual representation. These attributes are not visible when the SVG graphic file is displayed in a conventional SVG viewer but can be displayed and, if desired, spoken by users of the IVEO Viewer application. The titles are displayed/spoken when selected with the mouse. Blind users can emboss a tactile copy of the SVG graphic, place it on a touch-sensitive pad, and select objects by pressing on the tactile copy.

This technique of enhancing tactile information with additional audio was pioneered by Parkes (Parkes 1988, Parkes 1991, Parkes 1995, Parkes 1998; Parkes and Brull 1997) and used extensively to provide graphical information to blind users (Loetzsch 1994; Loetzsch and Roeder 1996; Landau 2003). Properly used the tactile plus audio information is known to provide excellent access to blind users. Bulatov and Gardner (Bulatov and Gardner 1998; Gardner 2002; Gardner and Bulatov 1998, Gardner and Bulatov 2001, Gardner and Bulatov 2004, Gardner, Bargi Rangin, Bulatov, Kowallik, and Lundquist (1997) explored the feasibility of using mainstream graphics languages accessed by the tactile/audio method. Their work contributed to ViewPlus’ development of IVEO.
2 Scalable Vector Graphics

SVG development was begun in 1999 as a project of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C 2005) with major participation by Adobe, Apple, Canon, Corel, Hewlett-Packard, Macromedia, Microsoft, Kodak, Sun and many others. The SVG 1.0 (W3C 2005) recommendation was published in September 2001. Nearly all graphics authoring applications permit authors to export graphics as SVG, and there are numerous SVG-specific applications commercially available.

SVG is a powerful language permitting animation and interactivity, but its most prevalent use is currently as a compact format for conveying static vector graphics on the web and in other electronic media. Its compactness and scalability are the major advantage of SVG over bit maps, currently the most common format for web and other electronic graphics. The inclusion of title and description attributes in the SVG specification along with other features promoting accessibility make SVG a nearly ideal language for creating accessible graphics. Accessibility is not automatic however. An author must include adequate titles for important graphic objects and arrange text in semantically sensible fashion if an SVG file is to be accessible. Some chart or graph creation applications could include all titles and data so that the resulting SVG export could be automatically accessible. At this time, only IVEO Creator can make SVG files that are fully accessible with the IVEO Viewer application.
3 Tiger Embossing Technology

The Tiger embossing technology was developed within the Science Access Project (Science Access Project 2005) at Oregon State University (Sahyun, Bulatov, Gardner, and Preddy. 1998, Sahyun, Gardner, and Gardner 1998) and subsequently expanded and commercialized by ViewPlus. Tiger technology is capable of embossing with a resolution of 20 dots per inch or equivalently 400 dots per square inch, and with variable height dots. The ViewPlus embossers utilizing this technology include the Pro (100 Braille characters per second, paper width to 16 inches), the Max (60 Braille characters per second, paper width to 11.5 inches), the Cub (50 Braille characters per second, paper width to 8.5 inches), and the Cub Jr. (30 Braille characters per second, paper width to 8.5 inches). The new ViewPlus Emprint Haptic Printer uses HP ink jet technology and Tiger embossing technology to create high resolution color images that are also embossed. The Pro, Max, and Cub are intended primarily for blind people whereas the Emprint is usable as well by sighted people with print and other disabilities who can absorb information better if presented in visual/tactile form. IVEO adds the capability of audio presentation, providing three modes to absorb information – visual, tactile, and auditory.

All ViewPlus embossers are accessed by Windows applications through the normal print command just as are standard Windows printers. Graphics are reproduced normally as height-resolved grey-scale images in which black areas produce high dots, and light grey areas low dots. Text and graphics can co-exist and be embossed. Braille text will be embossed as Braille whereas standard fonts, e.g. Arial, Times New Roman, emboss as graphic images. The variable dot height embossing capability and standard Windows printer interface for ViewPlus embossers permit users to create a tactile copy of most graphic images whose major features are tactually identifiable. Variable height dots are a critical necessity for blind users and many with severe print disabilities to access mainstream graphics. Tactual accessibility can be optimized by users through a variety of user commands that presently or in the near future include ability to change tactual contrast and brightness, to emboss outlines only, and to emboss colors as distinctive patterns.
4 Using the IVEO Products

IVEO Creator V 1.0 permits authoring of simple diagrams. Version 2.0 will have considerably broader capabilities including the ability to author highly accessible forms and tables. Creator permits the user to import nearly any Windows file format and convert it to an accessible document. Standard Windows documents are converted to SVG format by printing to IVEO Converter, a utility that is part of the IVEO Creator application suite. The resulting SVG document converts text to SVG text and usually preserves the structure of graphical objects more faithfully than do the direct SVG exports from applications having that capability. For example, a map of the United States authored with Adobe, Corel, MS Visio, or MS Office applications in which each state is an object will retain those states as proper objects in the SVG file. If the two parts of Michigan are created as individual objects, they will be individual SVG objects, but if they are created as parts of a larger Michigan object, they will be sub-objects of Michigan in the SVG file as well. The effort required for an author to add information to objects is considerably decreased by using IVEO Converter rather than direct SVG export.

IVEO Creator provides a view of the object tree as well as the SVG image and permits users to combine smaller objects such as the two parts of Michigan into larger objects if desired. Such simple improvements take very little time. However, if a SVG file has each line exported as a separate object, as is common with files exported directly, the combination of such objects into states could be extremely time-consuming. Use of overlay objects, described below, is probably preferable by most people for adding object information when graphical objects are not well structured.

SVG text is accessible in principle, but many applications export text in “span” units uncorrelated to screen position. IVEO Creator automatically rearranges SVG text units so that text can be selected and spoken in an intuitively sensible way. In many cases, readable text is sufficient to make the graphical information accessible. However in many cases an author can improve accessibility or make an otherwise inaccessible graphic accessible by adding information to graphical objects. The United States map, for example, is easy for a blind person to understand if each state has title attributes giving the state name. For a well-authored SVG document in which each state is an object, the Creator user needs only to select each state in turn, click an edit icon or press ALT-ENTER to open an editing dialog, type the name in the title field, and save. Objects may be selected on the visual image or edited directly in the object tree. A Description field is also available, permitting the Creator user to add a description. The length of the description is subject only to practical file size limitations.

Creator can also import non-vector graphic files such as standard bit map images. Although not vector graphics, bit maps are permitted within SVG files. One may import a file or scan paper copy directly into IVEO creator. An optical character recognition (OCR) routine is automatically called to convert text into proper SVG text. Although Creator uses the most advanced accurate OCR technology available, some errors are inevitable, and the author can easily correct these. The graphical “objects” in bit maps must be identified by outlining them with a mouse, one of the few Creator capabilities that cannot be done by a blind person. This procedure creates invisible objects that overlay the bit map graphic and may have title and description attributes just as can any vector graphic object. The technique of defining overlay objects may be used with vector graphic images as well, something that some authors may prefer if the vector object structure is poorly defined.

Creator includes all viewing features of the IVEO Viewer as well as the authoring capabilities described above. Both applications have user-selectable screen displays including a maximized full screen view without icons or toolbars that can be accidentally clicked by blind users. Creator saves documents in SVG or the compact SVGZ format readable by all standard SVG viewers as well as the accessible IVEO Viewer, downloadable at no charge from the ViewPlus web site http://www.ViewPlus.com.

Blind and severely print-impaired users need a tactile or ink print/tactile copy and some kind of position sensitive pad to gain full access to an accessible SVG document. Tactile copy may be created on any ViewPlus embosser, and an embossed color image can be made on the new ViewPlus Emprint. The ViewPlus IVEO Touchpad is a convenient high-resolution device made especially for viewing with tactile copy. Once the touch-sensitive pad is installed, a blind user having access to a ViewPlus embosser needs only the accessible SVG file. The user opens the file in the IVEO Viewer, prints a copy on the embosser, and places the copy on the touch-sensitive pad. The software needs to be calibrated the first time it is used in order to assure that the tactile and screen images are precisely aligned. That calibration takes only a few seconds and never needs to be done again.

Figure 1: Photograph of blind woman examining a US map using the ViewPlus IVEO Viewer computer application and ViewPlus IVEO touch pad. The ViewPlus Cub tactile graphics and Braille embosser is on her left.

Once the tactile image has been embossed and clamped onto the touchpad, the user can press on an object and hear the computer speak the name of that object. For example, on a map showing all the states of the US, a user can press on a state and hear its name. If the author has included additional information about that state in the optional description field, the user is alerted and can hear the description by pressing a shortcut key. If the user wants to review information, she can switch to a text window and browse anything that has been spoken. This capability makes it possible for authors to include wordy descriptions. All spoken information is also readable in Braille using any common Braille screen reader.

Figure 2a: SVG screen image of US map example.

Figure 2b: Embossed image of the US map with dot height represented by grey scale intensity.

The map of the US includes large and small states. While it may be possible to distinguish California, Oregon, Texas, Pennsylvania, and other large states on an 8.5×11 embossed image, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and other small states are difficult to distinguish tactually. Fine details even of large states are also often not tactually distinguishable. Therefore a user will probably want to zoom the image to enlarge features of interest. There are a number of ways to do this. IVEO Viewer permits one to zoom in or out and to pan left, right, up, or down. These features are very useful for sighted users and are useful for fine adjustments by blind users. However the most useful zoom features for blind users are the ability to select an object or region and zoom it to maximum size. For example, if a user is lucky enough to click on Rhode Island while browsing the full map, she can click on the “fit selection to window” item in the View menu. Alternatively a user may select the “zoom rectangle” menu item, then select two points that define the diagonally-opposite corners of a rectangle that will then zoom to maximum size permitted by the current window. One makes a copy of the zoomed image on the ViewPlus embosser, clamps the new copy on the touchpad, and then explores the zoomed image. One can always return to the full US map with the “fit to window” menu item.

Figure 3a: SVG image of US map after Rhode Island is zoomed to fit the window.

Figure 3b: Tactile image created by ViewPlus embosser.

When a user prints an image on the embosser, the computer saves the parameters of that image. If at a later time one wants to return to that particular image, one can place the tactile copy on the touch-sensitive pad and call back the original file with zoom parameters matching those of the tactile copy. The dots at the top of the tactile images shown in Figs 2 and 3 are a “tactile bar code” identifying the file and zoom parameters. The tactile copy also has a Braille index on the left margin that can be typed in instead of using the tactile bar code. If the tactile image is made on an Emprint or Ink Pro embosser, a standard black ink bar code can be printed as well, and an inexpensive bar code reader can be used to input the information. This ink bar code feature is not implemented in Creator or Viewer 1.0.

In some cases, users may need to read graphics files in locations remote from a ViewPlus embosser. In such a case the reader would need the SVG files and embossed copies of all files. If several zoom views are needed, the specially recorded zoom information recalled by the user would also be needed. These can be prepared by the user and taken to another remote computer or can be prepared by another person. The zoom parameters are retained in a bar code library file that should be created and transmitted with the files if the bar code or index is to be used to recall zoom views.

Few mainstream graphical documents are made without some text, a title, or labels on some objects, or as scale factors on graphs and bar/column charts. Typical text made for mainstream use is far too small for a tactual image to be meaningful without being enlarged by a factor of three or more. Consequently, text in a SVG graphic is usually not even possible to identify as text with fingers alone. Nonetheless, when a text object is pressed, the text is spoken, so a blind user can “read” titles and text labels on graphics. A user option permits one to replace the 20 dpi text images (that are little more than tactual noise) as special “text patterns” that are more readily identifiable. These text and graphics user options can make most well-authored graphical information relatively straightforward for blind readers to understand. A patient, experienced blind person can use Creator to convert a great deal of graphical information into usable forms even without sighted assistance.

Figure 4a: SVG image of a US W2 tax form.

Figure 4b: Tactile image at standard resolution. The text is “tactile noise”.

Figure 4c: Tactile image embossed with a special text indicator pattern permitting users more easily to identify what is text. Braille can be substituted for the regular text only in materials having very large text fonts – an unusual circumstance for mainstream information.
5 Acknoledgements
[1] Bulatov, V., Gardner, J. (1998). Visualization by People without Vision. Proceedings of the Workshop on Content Visualization and Intermediate Representations, Montreal, CA, August 15, 1998, pp 103-108.
[2] Gardner, J. (2002). Hands-on Tutorial on Tiger and Win-Triangle. Proceedings of the 2002 CSUN International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities, Los Angeles, CA, March 20-23, 2002. http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf/2002/proceedings/300.htm.
[3] Gardner, J., Bulatov, V. (1998). Non-Visual Access to Non-Textual Information through DotsPlus and Accessible VRML. Computers and Assistive Technology ICCHP’98. Proceedings of the 15th IFIP World Computer Congress, 31 August – 4 September, 1998, Vienna and Budapest, Edwards, A., Arato, A., Zagler, W. eds, Austrian Computer Society on behalf of the IFIP, Vol 118 pp 136-140.
[4] Gardner, J., Bulatov, V. (2001). Smart Figures, SVG, and Accessible Web Graphics. Proceedings of the 2001 CSUN International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities, Los Angeles, CA, March 21-24, 2001. http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf/2001/proceedings/0103gardner.htm
[5] Gardner, J., Bulatov, V. (2004). Complete Access to All Paper and Computer Forms, Tables, and Charts. Proceedings of the 2004 CSUN International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities, Los Angeles, CA, March 17-20, 2004. http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf/2004/proceedings/162.htm
[6] Gardner, J., Bargi Rangin, H., Bulatov, V., Kowallik, H., Lundquist, R. (1997). The Problem of Accessing Non-Textual Information on the Web. Proceedings of the 1997 Conference of the W3 Consortium, Santa Clara, CA, April, 1997. http:/dots.physics.orst.edu/publications/www6.html
[7] Landau, S. (2003). Use of the Talking Tactile Tablet in Mathematics Testing. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 97, 85-96.
[8] Loetzsch, J. (1994). Computer-Aided Access to Tactile Graphics for the Blind. Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Computers Helping People, Vienna 1994, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 860, Springer-Verlag, 575-581.
[9] Loetzsch, J., Roedig, G. (1996). Interactive Tactile Media in Training Visually Handicapped People. New Technologies in the Education of the Visually Handicapped, Proceedings of the Conference, Paris, June 10-11, 1996, Burger, D. (Ed) INSERM John Libbey 1996, 155-160.
[10] Parkes, D. (1988). Nomad: an Audio-Tactile Tool for the Acquisition, Use and Management of Spatially Distributed Information by Partially Sighted and Blind Persons. Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on Maps and Graphics for Visually Handicapped People, King’s College, University of London, eds Tatham, A. F., and Dodds, A. G., 24-29.
[11] Parkes, D. (1991). Nomad: Enabling Access to Graphics and Text Based Information for Blind, Visually Impaired and Other Disability Groups. Conference Proceedings, Vol. 5. World congress on Technology 1991, Arlington, Virginia, 690-714.
[12] Parkes, D. (1995). Access to Complex Environments for Blind People Multi-Media maps, Plans and Virtual Travel. Proceedings of 17th International Cartographic Conference, Barcelona, V. 2, 2449-2460.
[13] Parkes, D. (1998). Tactile Audio Tools for Graphicacy and Mobility. A Circle is either a Circle or it is not a Circle. The British Journal of Visual Impairment, 16, 98-104.
[14] Parkes, D., Brull, M. (1997). It May Not be Easy, but it is Possible a New Form of Literacy. The World Blind, Journal of the World Blind Union, 14, 48-50.
[15] Sahyun, S., Bulatov, V., Gardner, J., Preddy, M. (1998). A How-to Demonstration for Making Tactile Figures and Tactile Formatted Math Using the Tactile Graphics Embosser. Proceedings of the 1998 CSUN International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities, Los Angeles, CA, March 1998. http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf/1998/proceedings/csun98_103.htm
[16] Sahyun, S., Gardner, J., Gardner, C. (1998), Audio and Haptic Access to Math and Science – Audio graphs, Triangle, the MathPlus Toolbox, and the Tiger printer. Computers and Assistive Technology, ICCHP ’98, Proceedings of the 15th IFIP World Computer Congress, 31 August – 4 September 1998, Vienna and Budapest, Edwards, A., Arato, A., Zagler, W. eds, Austrian Computer Society on behalf of the IFIP,V. 118, 521-523.
[17] Science Access Project (2005) Philosophy and Objectives of the Oregon State University Science Access Project”, retrieved February, 2005 from http://dots.physics.orst.edu/philosophy.html
[18] W3C (2005) “Scalable Vector Graphics”, retrieved February 2005 from http://www.w3.org/Graphics/SVG/

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