How can design help the visually impaired?

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When Simon Dogger went blind in 2010, the museum world became inaccessible to him. While many museums offer monthly audio and tactile tours for its visually impaired and blind visitors, Dogger found these lacked choice and independence, given that the tours were offered on a specific and limited schedule and were led by museum educators.

Dogger, who was the first blind designer to graduate from Design Academy Eindhoven in 2017, wondered: how would I like to have independent access to art? This led to Dogger’s Feelscape concept, which interprets 2D content (like paintings) as tactile 3D objects. The designer began to collaborate with the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven to develop his inclusive ideas, starting with Feelscape.

The Van Abbemuseum has a worldwide reputation for its groundbreaking work in the area of ​​inclusion, diversity and accessibility, and it invited Dogger to make its visual content accessible to the visually impaired. The work of art, its history, even its artist, translate into material, form and position. Some of the works that Dogger has developed in a Feelscape version, in collaboration with visual designer Stijn Boemaars, include Piet Mondrian Composition in White and Black II (1930), Carel Willink The painter and his wife (1934) and Andrzej Wróblewski Dążenie do doskonałości (1952). The Van Abbemuseum then acquired the Feelscapes for its permanent collection as critical companions of the original works.

Simon Dogger: designing for inclusiveness

Tik-Tik app enables visually impaired users to independently access and navigate in public buildings

Dogger has also developed Tik-Tik, a safe, reliable and accessible indoor navigation app for the visually impaired that runs on iOS. He says this design was inspired by his own loss of personal independence in navigating public places, such as museums. The app guides the blind user to a destination using vibrations. Dogger worked with the Van Abbemuseum to test the navigation of the app in his building. Tik-Tik provides navigation cues and GPS tracking to a selected destination in a mapped spatial environment, turning the smartphone into a more sophisticated and knowledgeable version of the white cane.

Dogger is in the early stages of partnering with an entrepreneur to make Tik-Tik more accessible. He hopes the app can be used not only in museums, but also in train stations, town halls, streets, shopping malls and other public spaces.

Tik-Tik

There are approximately 285 million visually impaired people in the world, each of whom can benefit from inclusive inventive design. Dogger is adamant that he is rigorous and thorough in his research into all of his designs. The transformation of an idea from concept to prototype to final product is guided by conversations with specialists, interviews with stakeholders, research of available and current literature, research of users, pilots and research of validation. He also admits that he has learned valuable lessons through trial and error.

Dogger rates Apple for offering superior access technologies, with iPhones still proving popular with the visually impaired population. Tik-Tik relies on augmented reality to function successfully, which is addictive to software from Apple. He says: “Logically, I have to keep up with new technological innovations and find out if I can develop external software as a plug-in function to improve the quality of my products. Ultimately, he believes that technology or software development shouldn’t just depend on iOS or Android systems. For example, Tik-Tik may use external or self-developed technology to improve the quality of navigation.

“My work tries not to be limited to existing technology and software,” says Dogger, who is also well balanced in his approach to access, which encompasses four key characteristics: mental, physical, social and financial. When these four goals are met in his design projects, he thinks he has a quality product.

Emotion whisperer

The Emotion Whisperer concept consists of a pair of camera glasses, an app with emotion recognition software and a tool that translates facial language and signals into vibrations. Photography: Phil Barker at Future Studios for Wallpaper *

Another of Dogger’s projects, on a more intimate scale, is the Emotion Whisperer, which translates facial language and signals into vibrations. Although Dogger thinks emotions are auditory enough – for example, he says he can hear very well when someone is angry or sad through the intonation and volume of their voice – nuanced emotions, like a raised eyebrow or a cautious smile, are silent. Sighted people take the nod and eye contact we make during a conversation for granted, but Dogger says those signals are just as important as the voice. Its creation involves a pair of camera glasses, worn by a blind user, which sends images of their interlocutor to an application with facial expression recognition. The expressions are then analyzed and translated into a series of tactile signals on the arm of the blind user.

A pair of camera glasses, worn by a blind user, sends images of their interlocutor to an application with facial expression recognition, which translates them into a series of touch signals on the blind user’s arm. “You can actually feel someone smile,” says Dogger

As the Dogger website states, “you can actually smell someone smiling.” For Dogger, the Emotion Whisperer is just the first step in many other possibilities and ideas, and it expresses a desire to explore scent recognition, translate sign language through tactile information, and use vibrations on the skin to navigate in public space, like Tik-Tik.

Accessibility and museums

I ask Dogger what he thinks about how the world, and museums in particular, have been plunged into the virtual realm by the coronavirus pandemic over the past year and a half, and what that means for him. disabled public. Dogger’s response is that there is still a lot of room for improvement in these virtual environments – for example, digital meeting rooms require better audio connections and more logical interfaces for blind and visually impaired users. He hopes museums and other organizations will continue to work on improving these alternatives once pandemic restrictions are lifted.

I share with Dogger a recent article in The New York Times, who pointed out that, according to a staff member at the Guggenheim Museum, one of the positives of the pandemic was that it found a new, larger global audience, and therefore its reach expanded exponentially. This is particularly applicable to disabled users who may not have been able to experience the museum in person. Many museums now plan to continue online programming once their physical doors are once again open to the public. While Dogger sees the benefits, he also points out that the physical site of a museum will always be an important space to experience its full “meaning”, whether through the smell when one walks through the doors of a museum. entry, cross the halls and soak up other bodies through proprioception, sit and reflect on a bench in a quiet corner, listen to a curator speak or enjoy a musician playing a new instrument.

Dogger is reluctant to call himself a design activist and spokesperson for people with disabilities. However, he realizes that he is a role model because he is blind and finds a way to graduate from a discipline that relies on the primacy of vision in our ocular world. Dogger is motivated to break the monosensory approach that we have in society and, as a designer, he is able to remind others in the field of their and their limitations. His inventive designs raise awareness to encourage all of us to become more inclusive, diverse and accessible. §


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