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3D-printing accessibility

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

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.

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accessibility exhibits publications

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.

Categories
accessibility exhibits publications

Redefine/ABLE

Redefine/ABLE

During the 2019-2020 academic year, I consulted with the 2020 University of Maryland, College Park graphic design cohort that researched and created an exhibit about disability, ableism, and the benefits of universal design. Ableism is the discrimination against those with disabilities. Universal design counteracts ableism. Universal design is an approach to creating systems, spaces and objects that meet the needs of all people.

Originally designed as a multi-site, cross-platform exhibition, due to the COVID-19 pandemic Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility is now an online experience that addresses diversity, inclusion and ableism. It seeks to engage audiences about the successes and challenges of persons with disabilities in Maryland and beyond.

The Covid-19 pandemic became a discussion topic for this exhibit. The project director and I wrote this essay examining the effects of post-pandemic responses on people with disabilities.

We also submitted this Q&A to another University of Maryland blog.

Additional content will be added to the Redefine/ABLE project website during July and August 2020. It will remain online after that date. I would like to thank the project team for their dedication to this project and their determination to display it virtually.

Categories
3D-printing accessibility exhibits publications

Creating Re-Usable Tactile Handouts

I’m pleased to announce publication of a guest post on the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) blog about creating tactile handouts. Special thanks go out to my co-authors, Ann Cunningham and Matt Gesualdi, for their contributions.

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating new norms that discourage touching all manner of objects to curtail the spread of the virus. However, when public spaces reopen, understandable concern about disease transmission may lead museums to prohibit tactile exploration of objects, creating an unintended access barrier for people who are blind. 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.

Read more on the AAM website.

Categories
accessibility

Planning Accessible Virtual Events

In the time that we have been at home to limit the spread of covid-19, I have attended three online conferences, presented in a webinar, and had numerous zoom calls. Even as we re-open, I expect online meetings to continue to be common. I am sharing resources with information on planning virtual events that are accessible to people with disabilities. This list of helpful links was prepared by Robin Marquis, an Accessibility in the Arts Consultant who works in Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Resources

Rooted Rights: How to Make Your Virtual Meetings and Events Accessible to the Disability Community

National Endowment for the Arts: Resources to Help Ensure Accessibility for your Virtual Events for People with Disabilities

https://www.arts.gov/accessibility/accessibility-resources/resources-to-help-ensure-accessibility-for-your-virtual-events-for-people-with-disabilities

Cooper Hewitt Guidelines for Image Description

https://www.cooperhewitt.org/cooper-hewitt-guidelines-for-image-description/

National Center on Disability and Journalism: Disability Language Style Guide (available in Spanish and English)

We presented this Online Inclusion Webinar for the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture. The video is near the bottom of this events page under the heading for online lectures and webinars.

Categories
accessibility publications research

Attitudes of Blind People About Museums

In 2018, my colleague, Don Winiecki, and I conducted an online survey that collected data about the museum experiences of adults who are blind or have low vision. We documents strategies that survey participants employ to gain information about the content of exhibits despite facing access barriers to their participation. Strategies can be characterized as either in-sourcing (using resources provided by museums, or out-sourcing (gathering information from sources not provided by the museum, for example a sighted companion or third-party accessibility application on a personal device). I presented a paper about the survey results at MW20.

Categories
3D-printing accessibility exhibits publications research

museum information on cell phones

The smartphones that many of us use daily have the ability to receive content about museum exhibits. People who are blind or have low vision can use their preferred accessibility settings on their personal devices to access content in museum exhibits. I presented work on this topic at the MW20 conference. Here is the link to my paper.