inTACT Insight

Tactile Graphics for Blind and Visually Impaired

Tactile Graphics for Athletic Training and Coaching

Dustin Walsh, shown in competition in the photos above,  is the sole author of the article on athletics and tactile graphics posted below. Dustin is a Canadian Paralympic athlete.  Here is a brief profile copied directly from the Canadian Paralympics webpage, where you can read more about Dustin: Growing up in Coquitlam B.C., Dustin Walsh participated in many sports, including athletics, cycling, and downhill skiing. After competing in the T11 400M at the 1997 Canada Summer Games, Walsh chose to focus on athletics, and joined a training group coached by Don Steen. Over the next 10 years, Steen coached Walsh to two Paralympic games, including a fifth place finish in the Athens 2004 400M, and the 2006 IPC World Championships, where he achieved a fourth place finish in the 400m. Since 2011, Walsh has been coached by Laurier Primeau, and in that time he has been a member of the 2012 Paralympic team, and the 2013 IPC World Championships. He has also lowered his Canadian record in the T11 400m to 53.00 seconds. Here is his article: Tactile Graphics for Athletic Training and Coaching, by Dustin Walsh When you stop to consider what might be among the most common pieces of corrective advice a track and field coach would offer his athletes what do you think of? For those with a background in the sport, instructions such as higher knee drive or run tall may come immediately to mind. Others less familiar with the sport might expect motivational comments such as run hard or finish strong to be more popular. As a completely blind athlete training for the... read more

Doodling, Creativity, and Tactile Graphics

What is doodling? It has various definitions, but the best one I think is simply this :  drawing any kinds of marks in any kind of way, that just feels good, might have no purpose, and might be entirely unrecognizable to someone else!  It’s like (nearly) mindless daydreaming or humming or tapping your fingers on a table. But in these activities and doodling, often times, patterns, themes, and repeated symbols form and reappear.  And, of course, you can do it with pencil and paper, or with a stylus and tactile drawing sheets. Might doodling be connected to creativity? I have no problem believing that doodling is connected in some way to creativity, to freeing the mind, to opening up brain pathways to better graphical communication and thinking.  It feels that way for me, and I am comfortable promoting it that way as a selling point for tactile graphics fluency and tactile graphics tools. But, unfortunately, there is very little scholarly work to show that doodling or sketching is connected to creativity, and no rigorous research that I could find.  There is a lot of anecdotal supporting evidence, especially among famous people identified as being creative.   (Almost everywhere, doodling is referred to as a visual activity – we need to change that!) This is the only thing I could find, and it is an essay:  Schott, G. D. (2011 September) Doodling and the default network of the brain. The Lancet, 378 (9797), 1133-1134. Quote from the article: “The authors found that doodles were produced during states of idleness, boredom, leisure, meditation, and “affective tension”—indecision, concentration, expectation, and impatience. But... read more

inTACT Year in review 2014

What a perfect time and place to be writing this blog. 5:00 AM on January first. So quiet. The loudest sound is the clock ticking in the kitchen. Here in the living room, the Christmas tree is still looking robust and proud of itself. The strings of lights are unplugged but each of the fifty or so ornaments shines with its own unique significance. Oddly, these treasures include five old Thanksgiving turkey wishbones somehow saved in the box of Christmas decorations. Perfect! It’s a tree of metaphor – celebration, gratitude, memory, pride and continuation. It helps me arrange my inTACT reflections from 2014. There’s so much to celebrate. A stranger returning to our space after a year’s absence would be struck by one big change (not just one hundred square feet of new office space. ). Products! A year ago, most conversations with consumers felt like this. Them: “When?” Us: “Soon”. Now the shelves are loaded to capacity with labeled boxes of parts and materials and an inventory of inTACT Sketchpads and Erasers and packages of drawing sheets ready to ship. These past s many months the conversations have felt more like this: Customer: “We’d like to order”. Us: “How many?” Customer: “two of each”. Us: “We’ll ship Tuesday”. So much to be grateful for, most of all the blind individuals and organizations – maybe a hundred for each of the twelve days of Christmas – who confirmed with their words and their purchases that the need and the drive to draw is not limited to people with sight. So many parents and teachers to thank for deciding that... read more

Blind People can be Visual Learners, Too

Tasha Chemel is a blind artist and writer. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree at Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she will study adolescent literacy and creative writing. She also hopes to develop innovative opportunities for  blind people to participate in visual culture. Her poems have been published in Barking Sycamores, Subliminal Interiors, Elephant Journal, and Wordgathering.   When I mention that I am a visual learner, even though I am blind, most sighted people give me the verbal equivalent of a raised eyebrow. But if you’re blind, you might know exactly what I mean. Is it easier and more enjoyable for you to read a book in Braille or using text to speech, rather than an audio book? Do you prefer reading tactile maps to listening to auditory directions? If you answered yes to either of those questions, you’re probably a visual learner, too. You might be wondering why I call text-to-speech visual, when it is clearly auditory. When I was in elementary and middle school, I was totally fine using audiobooks as sources for reports and presentations. But as texts grew more complex, I realized that I preferred using Braille because I had much more control over how I interacted with a text. For example, I could pause on a particular word and concentrate on its spelling. In addition, as I used text-to-speech more, I and more, and at faster and faster rates, I found that I could exercise that same level of control. There is something about being able to scroll through a text document or a Webpage, letter by letter and word by word,... read more

First notes from a tactile graphics study Part 1

First a disclaimer. We at E.A.S.Y. LLC have probably taken note of the tactile graphics skills and attitudes of close to two hundred BLV people, and half again as many sighted individuals with personal and professional ties to the BLV world. Despite this exposure, I can’t claim to be a scholar of this topic. I’m not a perceptual psychologist and I haven’t done controlled studies of the drawing capabilities of people with limited or absent vision. (Partly, that’s because the 24-7 task of building our start-up and developing our products has made it difficult to find the time for research – a painful truth for a life-long academic.) So there; I’ve implicitly apologized for any inaccurate observations or naive interpretations presented below. Reader beware. Mike Coleman from the UVM Engineering Faculty; Susan Edelman from Education; Gayle Yarnall, access technology consultant and advocate in Massachusetts; and I do have a small pilot project underway, funded by the UVM REACH Program. We’re trying to get a sense of the major influences on kids’ ability to explore and understand tactile graphics, and their skill in making original raised-line drawings. We’re doing home-made evaluations of a dozen BLV children and youth in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts with the cooperation of numerous teachers and parents. In these trials we are sampling the tactile, spatial and linguistic experiences and abilities of BLV youngsters in the hopes of predicting what skill with tactile graphics might reasonably be expected from each of them. By the end of this week (April 25th six of our participants, ranging in age from 3rd that the primary outcome of this... read more

Experiencing the NFB Louisiana Convention

March 14 to 16, Crowne Plaza, Baton Rouge Louisiana. That was the time and place of the Louisiana NFB Affiliate Convention. I attended as a representative and salesperson for E.A.S.Y. LLC, the Vermont start-up making waves in the world of tactile graphics. This must be the sixth State Convention I’ve attended, and one thing became clear fast; NFBLA has it’s act together. Two hundred and forty people were registered, organization was impeccable, and spirit was high. As an engineer, entrepreneur and sighted human, NFB gatherings are always interesting, but this one was a standout. I shared the exhibit hall with Rick Payton of Southern Assistive Technology. Just two booths seemed a little light, but Rick is a 30-year veteran in access technology and had a lot of product areas covered. The room attracted little traffic on Friday but my concerns were eased when a non-stop stream of people came through on Saturday. And what people they were. I met a couple who had met each other years earlier at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. They were accompanied by their daughter, now at the Center, accompanied by her boyfriend, whom she met at the Center. “Center” indeed. At the booth and at the Banquette I heard for the first time (I am, after all, an outsider) about Convention children who… ahem… whose birth could be directly attributed to the good times enjoyed by their parents at Convention. I met a young blind student, American, who used our inTACT Sketchpad to draw tactile Chinese character and speak for me the phrase they represented; and then switched to writing Greek, verbalizing in... read more

Drawing Outside the Lines

Here’s a story that proves that experience can be humiliating, instructive and inspiring at the same time. Quick background: our young company, E.A.S.Y. LLC, has been around long enough that we’ve got a really solid base of experience with our intended customers. After all, no product design engineer worth her or his salt can be successful in the marketplace without an intimate knowledge of the people s/he hopes to serve. In our case, that’s people who are blind or have low vision. We’re in the tactile graphics business, meaning that we design, build and sell the suite of “inTACT” products, which make it possible for people make, edit, save, send and receive raised-line drawings of pretty much anything for pretty much any purpose. Problem is that whenever we think we know what “any purpose” includes, we re- discover the limitations of our own imaginations. And so the story: Setting: Kids’ Camp at the NFB National Convention in 2013. This is one of several events in which E.A.S.Y. has engaged children in making, changing, adding to and exchanging raised line drawings. We’ll be doing it again at the 2014 Convention. Cast: a dozen or so blind and low-vision children, ages six to twelve, to be coached in tactile drawing by us – Mike Coleman, Josh Coffee and me, the founders and brain trust of E.A.S.Y. LLC. These boys and girls are visually impaired for a variety of reasons; some have drawn before and others have not. Plot: We are to occupy these energetic and suitably demanding young Federationists for about an hour and a half with tactile drawing. We have... read more

Everybody’s gotta draw

Once a year, my grown daughter and I, minus her kids, take a long weekend off in New York City. We take in a show, walk miles, eat more than we should, and find delight in the endless surprises the Big Apple always supplies. We did this again last weekend, and the experience was, as always, punctuated by the unexpected. But here’s one element of our jaunts through the Boroughs that, dazzling as it is, no longer takes us by surprise: art is everywhere. Literally everywhere. I’m not talking about the museums of the upper East Side – magnificent as they are. I don’t mean just the back-to-back galleries – flakey, friendly, futuristic and freaky – that seem to have colonized places like the 23rd Street and 25th Street on the West side. No; I really mean everywhere. Drawings are no less the surface and substance of New York than pavement and brick and gray slush. The act of drawing seems to be what New Yorkers do, as commonly and casually as they honk their horns, sing on the subways and call out to each other in all the languages of the planet. Begin a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and look South at the projects and playgrounds. No wall is too small, too big, or too hard to access to be the canvas for an unofficial mural. Graffiti goes way beyond “Jake was here!!” to become brilliant chaotic expression of attitude, imagination and mood. (No money for paint, brushes, canvas or art school? So What! Steal a spray can.) Cross the Manhattan bridge and turn left on Bedford Street... read more

Reflections on an NFB Theme

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m an engineer. There it is; right up front; out of the closet. Among other quirks and peculiarities, this means that I tend to look at things schematically. I like words and they generally like me, but my bias is that if I can render an idea as a diagram, I feel more certain that it has some validity. Maybe this is not surprising, given that my company, E.A.S.Y. LLC, is inventing and marketing tactile drawing tools for blind people and people with low vision. But that’s a topic for another time. And so to the point. If there is one theme heard and echoed at virtually every NFB Convention my company partners and I (all sighted) have attended, national and affiliate, it’s captured in this simple assertion: a frequent obstacle to the development of independence in young blind people is low expectations. We hear this again and again, an NFB mantra. Phrases like “Let me do that for you” or “You’ll need help with that” or worst, “You won’t be able to do this” – this sort of spoken or demonstrated expectation of failure is an almost physical barrier to growth. Well OK; sounds plausible. But how to integrate this with my mental graphic of what I have witnessed, for example, in the development of my own (sighted) children and now grandchildren. My diagram had looked like a circle. A the top, the youngster takes a courageous gamble and tries something new – riding a two-wheeler for example. A one skinned knee later, to her surprise, she’s riding without Dad holding on.... read more