How It’s Possible to Create an Accessible Tactile Drawing

April 19, 2022
Chancey Fleet, Meryl Evans, and Thomas Logan stand in front of book stacks with Braille books
Image Description: Chancey Fleet, Meryl Evans, and Thomas Logan stand in front of book stacks with Braille books

Thomas Logan and I met with Chancey Fleet at New York Public Library’s Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library. We explored the library where we found many books filled with the dots of Braille. The labels on the ends of the book stacks had the Dewey Decimal System in text and Braille.

End of book stack showing J-R, FIC, S-Y with Braille under each

It was exciting to see stacks and stacks of books with Braille.

Thomas smiling while holding "Out and About: Our Favorite iOS Travel Apps" Braille book

With a Braille book open, Meryl examines its pages

We saw a variety of tactile and Braille technology. One caught our attention.

What Is an Interactive Tactile Graphics Display?

Chancey showed us Graphiti® from Orbit Research, which is an interactive tactile graphics display. It provides non-visual access to graphical information, such as charts, drawings, maps, and images.

This allows blind and low vision users to experience graphics in real-time on an array of 2,400 independently refreshable pins organized in 40 rows and 60 columns. The screen can display shapes, graphs, diagrams, and maps. It has the ability to set each pin to a different height to show different elements such as colors, shades, and topography information in maps.

Graphiti tablet with something that looks like a hot dog with legs, a tail, and a horn

The device connects to computers, smartphones, and specific talking graphing calculators through USB or Bluetooth. The system sends image information from the screen and recreates what’s on the screen on the Graphiti with the pins. The device also has an HDMI port that can connect to microscopes, telescopes, and video cameras to recreate the images in a tactile way.

The tablet can be used as a drawing board. Users can draw with a finger or use multi-touch gestures, such as pinch-and-zoom. What the user creates on the device can be sent to a calculator or other device to create the graph visually. Graphiti also provides haptic (vibrations) feedback.

Test-Driving the Interactive Tactile Graphics Display

Meryl sat down in front of the Graphiti tablet while Thomas played camera person slash narrator and filmed the action. Here’s the video.

The video begins with Meryl doubting her artistic abilities as she tries to figure out what to draw on the tablet. An idea comes to her as she points to her sweatshirt with a rainbow and a11y beneath it.

Meryl proceeds to draw three arcs of the rainbow with her left index finger. Next, she writes “A11y” below the rainbow. After finishing, Meryl points to her drawing with pride and gives two thumbs up.

Meryl gets up out of the chair to switch places with Chancey. She puts her hands on the drawing.

This was one of the memorable moments of our trip to New York City. Graphiti is a compelling technology that let us have a new collaborative experience.

Accessibility Consultant | Plano, TX
Hearing-free aka deaf accessibility marketer, accessibility consultant, professional speaker, and trainer pushing for more accessibility and high-quality captions. 🤟

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