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Tactile displays increase STEM access for the blind and visually impaired

Persons with visual impairments make up a very small percentage of professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, primarily due to the lack of adequate technology for tactile display of technical and graphical information. However, a team of engineering students at Texas A&M University (TAMU) and middle- and high-school students at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) have developed a device that converts both graphics and text to Braille.

Cris Schwartz, formerly at TAMU and now at Iowa State University, worked with TSBVI to develop a summer enrichment course entitled "ProblemBusters!" in which visually impaired students are immersed in the product design process and learn about the mechanical world through design, mechanics and thermodynamics activities. As part of the course, TSBVI teams designed vibrobots, solar ovens and tactile-optimized paper.

In one activity, a group of TSBVI students identified the lack of tactile display products that could recognize text and convert it to Braille. They then developed the design requirements for TAMU engineering students to meet. The results have provided a platform for continued partnership between university students and TSBVI, and for continued research inquiry into improving tactile display technologies for science, math and engineering information.

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  • a student and researcher work together to produce raw materials for tactile paper
A student and researcher work together to produce material for tactile paper.
Maylene Bird, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

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