Looking Ahead

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The technologies that can make images accessible are evolving rapidly, and this sample book reflects technologies and practices as they are currently available.

There are many emerging technologies in development and a few are highlighted here.

The rise of the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format portends an exciting future for accessibility of digital images. Imagine assistive technology that could allow a user to easily navigate around a complex graphic such as a triangle, free-body diagram, plant cell structure, or even a mathematical equation. The user could read multiple hierarchies of embedded information either aloud, using text-to-speech, or by touch, using a refreshable braille display. Educational media producers could provide SVG files to be converted into a tactile graphic or 3D manipulative. Although not all of these tasks are possible today, as technology continues to evolve the future possibilities for accessibility using SVG are enticing. As of this writing, SVG 2.0 is pending.

Haptic technology uses force, vibration, or other movement to convey information to a user via the sense of touch. A common mainstream example is a mobile phone that vibrates with an incoming message or call. A number of groups, including the developers of the GraVVITAS device out of Monash University in Australia, are experimenting with haptic feedback devices that can allow a user to feel the outline of common shapes by exploring a touchscreen using a haptic glove. Others are experimenting with electrostatic haptics to create different sensations.

A “smart image” is a digital image that carries different layers and types of information with it, which allow it to be accessed and explored in a variety of modes. An example of a smart image would be a scatterplot or map that can be explored on a touchscreen, with a user isolating a specific point in which to delve more deeply and get more granular information.

3D printing is one example of a technology that has emerged from a futuristic ideal to a practical reality. What used to be a costly, high-tech tool is now commercially available for many applications such as: classroom investigation of museum artifacts, macroscopic rendering of microscopic structures, and recreation of models in any desired size for manipulation. Application of 3D printing in the classroom can contribute to instructional environments that are enjoyed and accessible by all students regardless of disability. 3D printing is quickly moving from grassroots efforts in local schools and libraries to district-wide adoption; applications to tactile graphics and models will be a boon for tactile learners. For example, in the future, an image of a brain might come accompanied by a 3D printer file that a teacher can use on a school printer to create a 3D model. The model can be used by any student who can benefit from the spatial representation.

Interactives refer to a wide variety of situations in which a student can interact with digital media. This can include relatively simple interactions such as an editable text box, a drop-down menu, or a drag-and-drop activity. More complex interactives include sortable tables, graphs, and reactionary images. These images react to real-time data updates, games, and 3D images (e.g., an atom or a mechanism) that can be rotated, magnified, and otherwise explored. Some interactives can be made accessible using HTML5 and ARIA, which will not necessarily change the look and feel of the interaction for students who are not using a screen reader. Others can be provided in a less interactive format that covers the same essential information, such as a series of drop-down lists rather than a drag-and-drop tool. Digital interactives may also be simulated using manipulatives, such as a plastic model of a carbon atom in place of a digital 3D interactive carbon atom. For interactives that are complex and heavily visual, however, solutions are still in the future. As gamification and data visualization become more expected in education, new modes of access must be developed.

We hope that this sample book has helped to illustrate the possibilities and considerations around making images accessible to all students, no matter their disabilities or learning differences. We are eager to hear your comments, suggestions, and questions. Please send them to info@diagramcenter.org. Please check the DIAGRAM Center website (http://diagramcenter.org) for the latest news and tools for accessible images.


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Ideas that work.The DIAGRAM Center is a Benetech initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Cooperative Agreement #H327B100001). Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the U.S. Department of Education.


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