Since 2005, Professor Richard Ladner from the University of Washington in Seattle has introduced tactile graphics to his undergraduate computer vision students. Traditional computer vision classes introduce students to image analysis and interpretation of three-dimensional information from two-dimensional image data. Traditional topics also include image segmentation, motion estimation, object recognition, and image retrieval. Dr. Ladner goes a step farther and asks his students to consider how individuals who are blind could access the graphs.

He explains to students that the tactile sense is another way of "seeing"--albeit with low resolution and a field of vision that is the size of a finger tip. Students study the features of Braille that are suitable for tactile perception and how images need to look to be tactually perceived. Students also learn how some of the computer vision techniques presented in the class apply to the Braille translation process. Dr. Ladner explains how tactile graphics are important for the advancement of people who are blind in fields such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Dr. Ladner’s inclusion of this content in his computing course is a promising practice in introducing computer science students to accessibility issues early in their studies. His slides for the lecture are available for incorporation into any undergraduate computer vision class.

For more information on how to rapidly translate figures from textbooks into a tactile form, visit the Tactile Graphics Project developed at the University of Washington.