Research: Information & Innovation

The DIAGRAM Center both conducts its own research and partners with other organizations to conduct research to identify and prototype tools, technology, and best practices for accessible educational materials. Reports on our research can be found below, but more information on specific areas of interest can be found on pages dedicated to areas like image description, math, 3D printing, and born accessible publishing.

Research Projects

3D Printing

Based on our preliminary examination, we believe that 3D printing has an enormous potential to significantly improve access to spatial and visual information—and to enhance STEM education for all students. Furthermore, the significant advances made by the library and museum communities in the space of 3D printing and education well position them to become hubs of local 3D printing resources for teachers and students. We are therefore thrilled to have the opportunity to seek new ways in which 3D printing can improve the STEM education landscape with support of a Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Research Reports

Integrating Haptic Feedback for Image-based STEM Content within HTML and eTextBooks

– Mark Hakkinen, ETS

This project builds upon existing research at ETS in tablet-based haptic displays of graphical information and extends it to explore the inclusion of this technology to eTextBooks based on EPUB 3. ETS developed a prototype of a haptic-enabled version of an EPUB 3 sample eTextBook containing approximately 10-16 interactive quiz items incorporating line graphs and shapes, implemented using a prototype of HapticCSS. The sample publication is tailored to visually impaired students in grades 6-8 and focuses on questions regarding identification of geometric shapes and line graphs. A pilot study was conducted to evaluate the usability of the interface and the accuracy of haptic image identification by students with visual impairments.

Accessible Dynamic Scientific Graphics

– Kyle Keane, Wolfram Research

This project surveys the current best practices for making dynamic scientific graphics accessible to persons with severe visual impairments in order to better understand the most effective practices for providing pedagogically-equivalent information about common scientific visualizations using audio feedback and verbal description. The product of this research is a freely available report available for download as a Word document, and a single working example which can be used by creators (publishers and authors) of dynamic scientific graphics to provide equivalent information to end users with severe visual impairments. The results presented are general in scope and applicable to any technology that can perform similar functions to the capabilities of the Wolfram CDF Player.  Download the slides from Kyle’s presentation about this work at EDUPUB in October 2013: EduPub2013Wolfram

3D Printing for Accessible Materials in Schools

– Yue-Ting Siu, TVI and NLCSD Fellow

Do 3D printers in schools represent a practical solution for teachers to output low-cost, reproducible tactile graphics in a timely manner to students? This research focuses on delivering information about how tactile content may be handled in schools, the use of 3D printers to deliver such content, and identifying teachers’ needs with accessible instructions materials (AIM) and how they must be supported to adopt new strategies. The work plan includes preliminary research, a survey, and at least 3 case studies of 3D printer use in schools. The full report is available for download as a Word document.  Also available is the closed-caption recording of Ting’s DIAGRAM webinar on this topic, along with handouts and a written summary of the Q & A for the webinar: 3D Printing for Accessible Educational Materials.

Image Description Metadata for Accessibility

This working paper, “Potential Use of Image Description Metadata for Accessibility”, originally published in March 2011, outlines the current barriers and opportunities for providing image description within publishing tools, technologies, and production processes. Ongoing discussion with standards groups, Adobe and other tool developers is exploring the feasibility of extending support for alt text and longdesc within image formats and authoring tools. The original report can be read online as a PDF or downloaded as a Microsoft Word document.

In April 2012, an Addendum to the report was produced, covering relevant developments over the past year, including the release of DIAGRAM-sponsored tools for image description and the content model for image description metadata. In May 2013, a further Addendum was published, including a detailed summary of latest developments, including the status of @longdesc vs aria-describedat vs epub:describedat. In April 2016, a third Addendum was released with improvements, changes and breakthroughs that have occurred since May 2013, including the 2015 publication of the HTML5 Image Description Extension (longdesc). The 2012 Addendum can be read online as a PDF. The 2013 and 2016 Addenda are both available for download as Microsoft Word documents.

Product Analyses

This report, “DIAGRAM Center Product Analyses” captures the status of the field as of June 2011 and provides baseline data to measure future progress within the field related to support of specific accessibility features within DTB and e-book technologies. Throughout the life of the DIAGRAM Center, the WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) will continue to conduct and revisit product evaluations and the matrix will be regularly updated to provide all stakeholders with a current listing of capabilities and feature sets. The report is available for download in both PDF and Word formats.

Reading Technology Survey

In February 2012, the DIAGRAM Center conducted a Reading Technology Survey in order to better understand what technologies are being used currently by blind and visually impaired readers. Most of the 230 respondents were blind and employed, retired, or in school. In every category of reading material, the same five reading technologies dominated the responses, with screen readers leading the way. As anticipated, the brief survey provides fodder for additional follow up studies. In 2015 DIAGRAM conducted a followup survey to better understand and identify the trends in how people who are blind and have low vision obtain and access reading materials. The 2012 survey write-up is available to download as a word document or read online as a PDF, and the 2015 survey write-up can be read online as an HTML file.

 SVG and 3D Printing Report

In the DIAGRAM-sponsored report “Assessments of Raster-to-Vector (SVG) Conversion software and 3D Printers for Tactile Graphics” National Braille Press assesses SVG software to find a version that is affordable, and easy to use for publishers and individual content providers, so that they can incorporate SVGs in materials at the beginning of the production cycle. The report also looks at the viability of current 3D printing technology for use in the creation of tactile graphics. It can be read online as a PDF or downloaded as a Word document.

Publisher Interviews on Image Accessibility Practices

During Year 3 of the DIAGRAM Center project we conducted interviews with targeted publishers to discover current practices and challenges surrounding image accessibility in order to provide guidance for ongoing DIAGRAM activities. These interviews delved into existing and planned digital publishing processes and are intended to help us better understand the changes necessary for adequately supporting accessible images and graphic content. The in-depth interviews were conducted by NCAM’s Bryan Gould and Larry Goldberg from June 2012 through April 2013, with three mainstream publishers and one publisher of accessible instructional materials. The responses from these highly cooperative publishers have already begun to guide DIAGRAM’s work, and many answers echo what we’ve learned from our close working relationships with many publishers, from our advisory board and from attendance at numerous conferences throughout the year. Results from the publisher interviews about image accessibility practices are available on on our website.

Teacher Survey on Use of Image Descriptions in the Classroom

In the fall of 2012, DIAGRAM conducted a survey of teachers to better understand their use of image descriptions in instruction. From the summary in the report: “A recurring theme in responses reflected priorities for flexibility in meeting different students’ needs, and to account for the range of descriptions from those that did not need to be described, to those that required supplementary tactile representation. All of the respondents attributed the benefit of image description to enhancing students’ independent learning.” The full teacher survey report, based on 60 respondents, is available for download as a Word document.

Stanford Student Research Paper: “3D-Printed Teaching Aids for Students with Visual Impairments”

In the spring of 2014, three Stanford University undergraduates took up a challenge to write a research paper that would design and document the foundations of a library of 3D printable objects for use in STEM education for students with visual impairments. Paper authors Ayna Agarwal, Shaheen Jeeawoody, and Maya Yamane graciously agreed to let us share the final product. It is available for download as a Word document (18 pages).

Resources for Providing Accessible Multimedia

As accessibility solutions for still images and electronic books have become more common and more stable, accessibility solutions for multimedia and interactive resources continue to change. NCAM in partnership with DIAGRAM have written a paper that catalogs the known stable solutions, explores the areas of rapid flux, and gives best practices that will remain useful even as technology changes. This resource is available for download as a Microsoft Word Document.

The DIAGRAM Report

Introducing the first annual DIAGRAM Report, a guide to some of the most important ways technology is changing the educational landscape for students with disabilities. The report includes a high-level overview of these technologies and technology trends in order to offer information about relevant opportunities and challenges as well as resources and suggested next steps for those interested in pursuing more information. Each year, we will refresh the DIAGRAM report to include the latest information about the top technologies and add new technologies that should be on your radar. We, therefore, welcome your feedback so that the report can be improved.


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.


  Copyright 2017 I Benetech

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?