Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Experimenting with Automatic Text-to-Diagram Conversion: A Novel Teaching Aid for the Blind People

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Experimenting with Automatic Text-to-Diagram Conversion: A Novel Teaching Aid for the Blind People

Article excerpt

Introduction

In many branches of study, we often encounter texts or problems that are visually represented by figures or diagrams. For example, in geometry, physics (mechanics) and in several engineering branches like mechanical, electrical, and electronics such texts appear very frequently. While solving a problem, usually, a problem statement (text) is first translated into a sketch (diagram) which visually articulates the essential problem parts; mechanical models, freebody diagrams, electrical/electronic circuits, geometry diagrams are instances of such transformation. From the point of view of understanding a problem, the representative diagrams are not only a mere convenience but also an inherent component in a person's cognitive representation of the text or problem. A blind person might rely on and need such diagrammatic representations just as much as a sighted user does and appropriate tactile representation may play that role.

For the sighted users, standard textbooks of science and engineering are widely available that contain numerous examples illustrated with diagrams. On the contrary, similar textbooks with embossed illustrations are not easily available to the blind students. This may be attributed to the fact that producing tactile versions of large number of figures for textbooks is a time consuming, labor intensive and costly process. In a classroom of sighted students, teachers can explain any topic or problem with free-hand sketch of suitable diagrams on blackboard. They can also use computer-based teaching (CBT) tools for better presentation of text and graphics. For the blind students, there are Braille image embossers and compatible graphics programs like IVEO Viewer (Viewplus, 2013), PictureBraille (PictureBraille, 2013), TGD Pro (Duxbury Systems Products, 2013), Tiger Software (ViewPlus Tiger Software Suite, 2013), TACTICS (Way & Barner, 1997), etc. using which a teacher can generate tactile diagrams from printed or digital diagrams. Also there exist sophisticated audio-tactile, audio-haptic, and multimodal interfaces, developed to produce diagrams in a form accessible to the blind students. Some of the examples are IC2D (Hesham & James, 1999), TDraw (Kurze, 1996), NOMAD (Parkes, 1991), Talking Tactile Tablet (Landau & Gourgey, 2003), Touch Tiles (Bussel, 2003), IVEO touchpad (Krufka & Barner, 2005), DESENVOX (Borges & Jansen, 1999), AudioTact(Barbieri et al., 2008) Math Class (Albert, 2006), and SALOME (Gouy-Pailler et al., 2007). Some interesting applications have been developed by Minagawa & Ohnishi (1996), Jayant et al. (2007), Watanabe et al. (2006), Guha & Anand (1992), Lahav & Mioduser (2008), and Toennies et al. (2011). But all such systems including Braille embossers are very expensive (cost of embossers ranging from US$ 5000 to 26,000) and hence not available in most of the blind schools in India. At best the schools can have access to traditional Braille text printers that cannot print tactile image.

Thus a large population of blind students in developing countries (Casely-Hayford & Lynch, 2003) like India grows up without any exposure to modern learning aids for diagram-based subjects like geometry. Historically, teaching geometry to these students is limited to giving basic theoretical definitions only and exercises requiring frequent diagram drawing are deliberately avoided. Though nail board or wooden pieces are sometimes used to perceive simple diagrams in lower grades, the lack of frequent access to tactile diagrams of wide varieties results in students memorizing facts as verbal assertions and this seriously limits the development of their scientific skill. In many parts of India, even today, blind students are forced to leave studying science subjects after 7th or 8th grade because of inconvenience of learning diagrams (Rahman et al., 2010). Herein lies the need for affordable and easy-to-use technology that could facilitate diagram drawing in tactile form upon reading a geometry text or problem. …

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