Accessible Visualization for Blind Users

This project’s goal is to improve blind and low-vision people’s ability to use their other senses to analyze big data. Scanning tabular data is slow even for a sighted person, but this problem is exacerbated for blind individuals because of the low bandwidth of current accessibility tools such as screen-readers. Charts, graphs, and other data visualizations help democratize data access for a general audience through graphical representations, but such representations are a closed-off avenue for blind and low-vision users. Tools that convey data through hearing and touch do exist, but these efforts are scattered, inconsistent, and often rely on expensive hardware. Even if these devices were readily available, few practical tools support realistic dataset sizes consisting of thousands or hundreds of thousands of data items. This project aims to close these gaps through work to make large-scale visualization and data analytics accessible to blind individuals, which may have a fundamental impact on millions of visually impaired and blind people, while also providing new ways for people without visual impairments to analyze data.

The project team will define a comprehensive model of accessible visualization: high-bandwidth data representations based on sound, touch, and physical computing to enable blind users to view, analyze, and understand large-scale datasets as effortlessly as sighted users. The research is organized into two aims: (1) understanding current contexts of use for large-scale data among blind information professionals through interviews, observations, and tool reviews; and (2) designing large-scale accessible data applications that are practical, realistic, and inexpensive solutions to enable blind professionals to interact with large-scale data. The research team consists of two investigators with complementary expertise in visualization and accessibility. While the team will explore a wide variety of different devices, a fundamental goal will be to design solutions that are inexpensive and compatible with the accessibility equipment blind users already possess. To facilitate this, the team will work with the blindness community and technology organizations to review accessibility in leading data analytics tools, to use these tools as baseline comparisons, and to suggest future guidelines and tools to support accessible data graphics.

10/1/2022 - 9/30/2024

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