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accessibility exhibits publications

Redefine/ABLE exhibition catalog

I begin this post by quoting from an announcement for a new book that contains essays that I co-authored with my excellent colleagues and one piece that I wrote as a sole author.

“Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility aims to inform audiences about disability issues, to share the challenges and success stories of those with disabilities, and to identify ways we can create more accessible, inclusive spaces.”

This book includes content from the Redefine/ABLE exhibition hosted by the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture as well as essays contributed by project collaborators. Instructions to get a copy are at the end of this post.

The Redefine/ABLE exhibition was a collaboration between University of Maryland graphic design students and members of the disability community in Maryland. It was scheduled to open in two physical spaces, the University of Maryland, College Park, and in downtown Baltimore, in mid-March 2020. Like so many events, the physical exhibitions were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Redefine/ABLE was also scheduled as an online exhibition to open in March 2020, but the pandemic delayed the website launch to July 2020. Between March and July 2020, many of the contributors wrote, or re-wrote their essays in response to the pandemic.

Two essays describe the online exhibition and associated programs that were held in July and August of 2020.

•            An Exhibition Redefined by a Pandemic by Audra Buck-Coleman

•            Redefining Redefine/ABLE: From Access to Inclusion at the Peale by Nancy Proctor

Content Written Before the Pandemic

The exhibition panels designed by University of Maryland Students present what they learned about accessibility for people with disabilities in a pre-pandemic world (fall 2019 semester through March 2020). The panel titles are:

•            Discover/ABLE: What does it mean to be disabled?

•            Deny/ABLE: What isn’t accessible?

•            Access/ABLE: How are objects and spaces inclusive?

•            Confront/ABLE: What does it mean to be ableist?

•            Relate/ABLE: What do we have in common?

One essay does not mention the pandemic. It is “Listen Very Carefully” by Ruth Lozner

Content Written During the Pandemic

As we prepared for the website launch in July 2020, we wrote two essays that expanded on the exhibition themes.

“The interconnected-ness of Covid-19 to discrimination against the disabled” gives examples of pandemic responses that had negative effects on people with disabilities. Both Audra Buck-Coleman and I have undergraduate degrees in journalism. Writing this piece on current events drew on that training.

“Bearing witness to the ableism embedded within the pandemic” is a Q&A between Audra, me, and a third colleague, Robin Marquis, offering our personal reflections on this topic.

Contributors discussed how access to museum exhibits changed during the pandemic. I wrote a first draft of my essay “Please Do Touch the Art!” in February 2020. Later, I expanded the essay to incorporate my thoughts about ways museums could continue to display touch objects during the pandemic.

I also recommend the essay by Kevin Bacon and Lara Perry “Technology, Covid-19, and accessibility: Challenges and opportunities for museums”.

Finally, Audra Buck-Coleman, NALIYAH KAYA, and I described “Five Accessibility and Inclusion Insights from Producing an Exhibition During Covid-19”.

How to Get This Book

This book is available as a free download from The Peale Center’s website  A pay-for-print version via Blurb.com will be available soon. Check the same link for an order form.

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accessibility

News About The Braille on the FDR Memorial

The National Park Service (NPS) has finally acknowledged that there are issues with the size and spacing of the Braille Carved into the Walls of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This update is posted on the accessibility page for the FDR Memorial.

Here is part of their statement.

“The artists used elements of Braille in several of the sculptures, but the size and spacing is inconsistent and was only meant to be an artistic representation.”

And “The Braille in Room 2 on the bas relief panels are the different New Deal program acronyms, but larger than life and disjointed. Those that read Braille will find them difficult to decipher.”

I documented problems with size and spacing of Braille in a report commissioned by the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee.

Here is my description of the Braille.

 “The Braille ranges from somewhat readable to completely unrecognizable. This includes the quote in the Prologue Room and the letters on the workers mural and the quotes on the columns in Room One.  My assessment is based on two facts: differences in horizontal and vertical spacing, and contrasts in raised versus indented dots.”

Although the NPS did not credit my report, I am glad that the agency recognized that the Braille is abstract and artistic.  This is a small step towards improving accessibility at the FDR Memorial.

It is important to note that the NPS published this site update on July 26, 2021, the 31st Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Also on that day, the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee held a public ceremony commemorating the ADA and honored disability leaders past and present, especially those who fought to add the wheelchair statue to the FDR Memorial. Two speakers at the event, Senator Tammy Duckworth and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton sponsored a Resolution calling on the NPS to improve accessibility at the FDR Memorial. Senator Tammy Duckworth discussed the problems with the Braille in her speech.

Kym Hall, National Capital Area Director, National Park Service also spoke at this ceremony. Director Hall did not mention the Braille, but she talked about audio described tours and other accessibility improvements.

I found the updated text about the Braille when I was on the FDR Memorial accessibility webpage looking for the audio described tour.

Dr. Fogle Hatch touches a column in the Memorial with her left hand. She holds a white cane in her right hand.
Categories
accessibility exhibits

Braille on the FDR Memorial

Dr. Cheryl Fogle-Hatch touches the Braille letter F in Franklin in the prologue room, FDR Memorial

Recently, I evaluated the accessibility of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Memorial located on the National Mall in Washington D.C. My observations describe the experience of people who are blind or have low vision.

I describe my observations, and recommendations for improvements, in a report commissioned by the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee.

The Braille Carved into the Walls of the FDR Memorial

The Braille ranges from somewhat readable to completely unrecognizable. My assessment is based on two facts:

differences in horizontal and vertical spacing, and contrasts in raised versus indented dots.

I know that the Braille is not an accurate representation of my first and primary writing system—the pattern of dots that I learned as a child. Yet, I am impressed by the inventive and abstract nature of the artwork. The lack of interpretation about size and spacing of the Braille carvings means that sighted visitors cannot know the contradictions expressed by the abstract artwork that invites tactile experience. They think that the Braille is accurate, but it is distorted when read by touch.

Signs created in print, and Braille at the correct scale, would explain this fact.

My evaluation of the oversized and abstract Braille depicted on the FDR Memorial has been left out of previous accessibility reviews conducted by the National Park Service, the federal agency that manages memorials on the National Mall. These issues of representation are important, and I believe that aspect of the artwork deserves a place in any newly-created signs or interpretive media. I would welcome the chance to discuss such issues with park staff and consultants.

I think the inaccurate representation of Braille is comparable to the large statue of FDR where a desk chair with wheels was substituted for his actual wheelchair.

An acknowledgement of this parallel between inaccurate Braille and the desk chair with wheels enriches the experience of everyone because it shows the extent of misconceptions about crucial tools that people with disabilities use to perform so many essential daily tasks.

I wrote this post about the archives of the campaign for the wheelchair statue.

I made other recommendations in my report including:

•            Create tactile models of the oversized statues and the memorial itself

•            Add Text-based directions and wayfinding to the brochures and website

•            Build barriers around the broken fountains

My review of documentation provided by the National Park Service indicates that park staff have proposed solutions for creating tactile models, wayfinding, and mitigating safety concerns. In those cases, my recommendations are offered to strengthen future projects. Unfortunately, these documents do not include an acknowledgement of the oversized and abstract Braille carved on the walls of the FDR Memorial.

Press coverage

FDR memorial braille not easily readable – The Washington Post

A disabled president’s memorial still isn’t fully accessible to disabled visitors, a new report finds.

By

Theresa Vargas

Columnist

May 19, 2021 at 7:07 p.m. EDT

Event recording

I presented highlights from my report in a webinar “Accessibility is NOT Optional” on May 20, 2021. Here are the recording and transcript of that event.

Categories
accessibility Sonification

Hearing the Light

My colleagues at the SPACE TELESCOPE SCIENCE INSTITUTE  in Baltimore are doing great work on sonification (representing data with sound). They developed a program that adds an audio component to graphs of data.

Watch this presentation  Hearing The Light on YouTube for more details.

Then listen to this podcast to hear their reflections working on this project during the pandemic.

I will be writing more about sonification in the future. Stay tuned.

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3D-printing accessibility tactile

Making and Sharing Tactile Graphics

This post highlights websites where people can search for or request the creation of tactile graphics. These projects let people share their expertise and equipment and they offer a way for people to distribute the files or the completed tactile graphics.

See3D is a non-profit organization that manages the printing and distribution of 3D printed models. People who are blind can request a model, and anyone with a 3D printer can volunteer to print it. The site has details about making or filling a request.

BTactile is a website that allows users to perform a keyword search across the databases of several libraries worldwide. The search feature includes check boxes to filter results by kind of material (3D print, braille, tactile drawing etc.). Search results include the graphic name, repository, and most files are free to download under a Creative Commons license.

The Tactile Library contains diagrams made and donated by teachers of blind children. The database can be searched by subject and filtered by the child’s age. It is free and there is no registration or licensing required.

The American Printing House for the Blind maintains a Tactile Image Library serving teachers of blind students. An account registration is required to use this database.

In addition to the tactile libraries listed here, people can refer to my post on finding 3D models.

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3D-printing accessibility exhibits research tactile

MCN 2020 Presentation, Accessible Touch Objects

Last week, I gave a presentation on accessible touch objects in partnership with my colleague Lauren Race from the NYU Ability Project. Our talk was part of the MCN2020 virtual conference. Here are the highlights and links for further reading.

Defining the problem

Most information at museums and historic sites is presented visually, but some people learn through tactile exploration. For accessibility, we need to be considering all senses when presenting information at museums.

Yet, tactile access has faced looming threats, notably the lack of expertise and funding, before Covid-19, and the current pandemic is accelerated these issues.

Some museums have responded to Covid-19 by closing hands-on exhibits with tactile components. For example, the Please Touch Museum extended its closure into 2021.

Knowing that touch objects are threatened, it is important to determine which are worth saving in the future.

Summarizing the research

Lauren described interviews that she conducted with 15 museum access specialists from art museums and historic sites across the United States. Then she considered common themes from their responses in conversations with 6 accessibility experts who are blind or have lo vision.

There are 4 findings.

•            1. Tactile experiences must be preserved

•            2. They should be consistently created

•            3. They read as infantile when poorly-crafted

•            4. They cannot be replaced by audio (verbal description) or digital-only solutions. People who are blind receive touchless experiences secondhand, filtered through the observations of a sighted person.

Recommendations

We made the following recommendations.

•Tactile experiences must be preserved

•Digital fabrication over poorly-designed techniques

•Provide tactually accurate reproductions

•Choose materials that can withstand frequent cleaning

•Establish tactile design guidelines

For my section of the presentation, I discussed ways to preserve tactile access despite Covid-19. I described my other projects that complimented Lauren’s interview findings.

People are problem solving in the moment. When the pandemic began, I had ongoing conversations with tactile artists about ways to safeguard tactile access.

Two colleagues, Ann Cunningham, and Matt Gesualdi and I identified specific examples drawn from our work that we proposed as models for safe practices during the Covid-19 pandemic. We described this work in a blog post for the American Alliance of Museums.

Staying in touch: addressing concerns to allow tactile exploration at museums

 I will summarize with this quote.

“We imagine a scenario where visitors could borrow tactile handouts, use them for reference as they tour an exhibit, and then return them to the museum for treatment and later re-use.”

That blog post included photos of small- and large-scale examples of tactile handouts. At small scale, the 3D-printed replica of a stone spear point can be manipulated with one hand. The attached wooden coin is a QR code that when scanned directs a smartphone to read more information about it such as might be found on an exhibit label.

At larger scale, people can be encouraged to maintain physical distance as they explore separate tactile panels. This idea is loosely based on an interactive art installation titled “Mission to Nocterra,” created by Matt Gesualdi. He incorporated use of antibacterial wipes into the exhibit with a story line that the puzzles were alien artifacts that must be protected from human germs.

Highly-skilled tactile artists can create accurate tactile reproductions using hand-crafted techniques. These individuals plan and construct their work very carefully and they account for scale and accuracy. With questions of high-fidelity in mind, we ranked different techniques by their cost in the same blog post.

Returning to Lauren’s interview findings, we recommend digital fabrication methods such as 3D printing over poorly-designed, hand-crafted techniques. In our opinion, digital fabrications are preferred for the accuracy of tactile reproductions. This is contrasted with the analog nature of most poorly-designed tactile objects that her interview findings indicated were produced by interns or volunteers with no training in tactile design.

Due to Covid-19 and safety concerns, we recommend fabricating touch objects from materials that can withstand frequent cleaning. This would favor plastic or acrylic resin commonly used to fabricate 3D-printed replicas.

We mentioned other work that supports accessible touch objects. Fortunately, we are not the only people seeking ways to safely conduct tactile exploration. Here is an international example.

Tactile Studio posted their proposed solutions including the development of a tactile sanitation station for touch objects.

I am encouraged by these proposed solutions because the work to preserve access to tactile objects in museum exhibits is ongoing and it will require sustained efforts in the Covid-19 era and beyond.

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about accessibility

user journey to building a website

I created MuseumSenses last year, but I added most of its’ content after the Covid-19 pandemic started. Since many of us are spending a lot of time online now, I decided to write this post to draw back the curtain and reveal the process of creating a website and sharing content from it to my social media feeds.

##Step 1: Choose a Domain

Most people are familiar with common domains like .com, .org, and .edu, but there are other options. A domain name is the internet equivalent of a street address and purchasing a web domain is like buying a vacant lot. Just as titles are registered to property owners, domain names are assigned to the users who purchased them. There are directories of registered domains, and searching these sites is the best way to determine if a name is for sale.

##Step 2: Choose a Web Hosting Service

Creating the website that will appear when a domain name is entered into the address bar of a browser is like constructing a building on a vacant lot. Selecting a web hosting service is like commissioning an architect to design a building, and then hiring a construction company to build it. I suggest that anyone wishing to build a website should carefully evaluate the various web hosting services because they differ in features and pricing. Some services combine domain registration with hosting.

Creating a website that is accessible to all users, including people with disabilities, is like building ramps and stairs to enter the house. This article is a great overview of common accessibility problems.

benefits to accessible design

Designing sites to be accessible can save time and money when compared to retrofitting them for accessibility later.

##Step 3: Creating Content

Creating content is the most enjoyable part of building a website. It is like moving into a new house, painting the walls, and arranging the furniture. The content on a website is accessible if it complies with guidelines set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Some considerations when designing an accessible site include:

•            text color contrast

•            properly-labelled buttons and edit boxes

•            heading structure

•            alt tags (improves accessibility and search engine optimization (seo)

There are many more considerations, and I suggest that before people design a website, they should familiarize themselves with any accessibility guidelines provided by the web hosting service(s) that they are thinking of using. For example, this is a WordPress site, and accessibility information from WordPress can be found at this link.

##Step 4: Sharing content

There are scheduling tools that will automate the sharing of content from a website to specific social media accounts. To extend the comparison of domain and street address one last time, This process is like leaving a forwarding address at the post office to send mail to a new location.

As with websites, it is important to be mindful of accessibility considerations when creating and sharing social media posts.

facebook.com/accessibility 

twitter link

I will finish this post with a word of caution about comments online. When I launched this site, I set comments to require my approval. I was bombarded with spam and messages to visit porn sites. That is why I always turn off commenting on my posts and pages. If you wish to reach me, please use the links in the social menu found on every page.

Categories
3D-printing accessibility tactile

Tactile Access and The 3D-printing Process

This post discusses the 3D printing process and its potential to enhance tactile experience for blind people. There is a critical resource shortage where tactile graphics are concerned, and 3D printing is a technology that can help to bridge the gap. I strongly encourage the interested reader to access the resources linked here for more details.

Robert Jaquis Writing in the Braille Monitor (April 2012), explained the problem this way. “Sighted students have access to a wide variety of images in books, videos, and the Internet, but blind students must rely on text or verbal descriptions or the occasional tactile graphic.”

He explained that tactile 3-dimensional replicas are particularly useful for conveying the shape of exceedingly small, or extremely large, objects. I strongly agree with this statement.

Once, I examined a 3D-printed replica of the DNA helix. It was about 2 inches long, and I held the replica in one hand tracing the spiral shape with the fingers of my other hand. In that moment, I finally understood the description of the DNA molecule as a “twisted ladder”.

I am sure that I had read or heard the words “spiral” and “ladder” used to describe the structure of the DNA molecule before examining the 3D-printed replica. However, I did not intuitively make the connection between the description of the DNA molecule and the physical spiral shape of the double helix until I had time to explore a tactile representation of it.

I will return to this powerful idea near the end of this post. For now, I will discuss the 3D printing process and link to examples of projects that can increase tactile access for blind people.

An Overview of the 3D-Printing Process

There are three steps to producing a 3D-printed replica of an object.

•            Scanning the physical object and saving data in a digital file

•            Creating a 3D model of the object

•            Sending the 3D model to a printer that creates a physical replica of the object

In this process, a physical object is converted into a digital model that can be viewed on a screen. Tactile access can only be achieved by sending the 3D model to a 3D printer that produces a physical replica of the object.

Many individuals and organizations have completed the first two steps of the process—scanning objects and using that data to create 3D models of the scanned objects. The models can be viewed online or downloaded to be sent to a 3D printer.

Check out my post about finding 3D models on the web.

Notes About the Accessibility Challenges of Using 3D Modelling Software

Computer-aided design (CAD) software lets people create   3D models.

In some instances, blind people who access computers with screen readers, that provide voice output, can access features of these CAD software packages from a text-based command line.

For example, OpenScad is a free software package for creating 3D models. Claire Kearney-Volpe  created this curriculum that shows how some features of the software package can be used with a screen reader.

Here is another useful resource for learning OpenScad. link

However, researchers at Stanford’s Shape lab wrote this paper Explaining one drawback to using OpenScad.  Although The program has a text-based command line for inputting measurements, the output is displayed as a visual graphic on a computer screen. These researchers prototyped a design in which a blind person receives a tactile representation of the model on a refreshable braille display connected to the computer.

The team at Tactile Universe uses a different CAD software package called Blender to create and print their 3D models. Read these technical blog posts to learn more about their process.

A quick google search indicates that people can create 3D models in Blender using the python programming language. Read this manual for instructions.

Not all cad software packages have functionality with a screen reader. In my opinion, Tinkercad  is not accessible because there are many unlabeled buttons on the home page. The designers did not label their buttons properly with alt-text, and so I did not create an account or evaluate their 3D modelling tools.

Printing 3D Models and Creating Physical Objects

Blind people benefit from the last stage of the process when a 3D model becomes a physical object that can be touched.

To do this, the 3D model is exported to a stereolithographic (STL) file that contains detailed instructions for the material to be extruded by the printer.

Here is a step-by-step guide for exporting a 3D model into an stl file.

Here are two more examples of how 3D printing can be used to increase tactile access for blind people.

Mike kolitsky wrote this paper that showed how 3D printing can be used to create physical replicas of digital learning objects, so blind students can have access to visual material presented online as images. Examples of 3D Prints made from 2D photos are at the end of his paper.

More recently, two co-authors and I wrote a paper describing another way to access information about 3D replicas. We attached QR codes to 3D-printed replicas of stone projectile points (arrowheads). Scanning these QR codes with a smartphone prompted the user to access a webpage with more information about each projectile point.

I know that many people are exploring the educational benefits of 3D-printing, and I expect to learn of other projects in the future. Meanwhile, I hope that the resources that I have gathered here will be useful in this endeavor.

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3D-printing accessibility exhibits publications research tactile

Designing an Exhibit of 3D-Printed Replicas

I’m pleased to announce the publication of Designing a portable museum display of Native American stone projectile points (arrowheads) to ensure accessibility and tactile quality written with Joe Nicoli and Donald Winiecki  in the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research.

We describe making 3D-printed replicas of artifacts found in the collections of the Maryland Archaeological and Conservation Laboratory. Then we prototyped a design that attached QR codes to the replicas by a lanyard.

Scanning these QR codes with a smartphone prompted the user to access a webpage with more information about each artifact. Participants at a Tactile graphics conference were successful in scanning the QR code with their smartphones and following the link to the associated webpage.

I also included this project in another paper about using smartphones to access information about exhibits. Start by reading this blog post from April 2020 to learn more.

13 3D-printed replica stone points, with3D-printed replicas of projectile points attached by lanyard to QR codes. QR code coins.

Categories
accessibility exhibits publications tactile

Please Do Touch The Art

My second essay written for the Redefine/ABLE exhibit is titled Please Do Touch the Art

The essay is a discussion of tactile art. When I wrote the first draft in February 2020, it was about the need for more tactile objects in museums.

Then the coronavirus pandemic started, touching objects became taboo, and that essay required significant revisions. Now, it includes recommendations about safely touching objects in museum exhibits, and it links to a few resources. I offer this essay as a conversation-starter because I plan to revisit this topic in the near future.