Spatial Reading System for Individuals with Blindness

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Virginia Tech


In this research we introduce a novel reading system that enables Individuals with Blindness
or Severe Visual Impairment (IBSVI) to have equivalent spatial reading experience to their
sighted counterparts, in terms of being able to engage in different reading strategies e.g.
scanning, skimming, and active reading. IBSVI are enabled to read in a self-paced manner
with spatial access to the original layout of any electronic text document. This system
renders text on iPad-type devices, and reads aloud each word touched by the user's finger.
The user could move her finger smoothly along the lines to read continuously with the
support of tactile landmarks. A tactile overlay on the iPad screen helps IBSVI to navigate
a page, furnishing a framework of tactile landmarks to give IBSVI a sense of place on the
page. As the user moves her finger along the tangible pattern of the overlay, the text on the
screen that is touched is rendered audibly to speech. The system supports IBSVI to develop
and maintain a cognitive map of the structure and the layout of the page. IBSVI are enabled
to fuse audio, tactile landmarks, and spatial information in order to read.
The system's initial design is founded on a theoretical hypothesis. A participatory design
approach with IBSVI consultants was then applied to refine the initial design. The re"fined
design was tested in a usability study, which revealed two major issues with the tested
design. These issues are related to the lack of instant feedback from the system (psycho-
motorical problem), and the lack of conveying the semantic level of the page structure.
We adapted the reader design to solve the usability problems. The improved design was
tested in an experience sampling study. The results showed a leap in the system usability.
IBSVI participants successfully self-paced read spatial text. Further reading support was
then added to the system to improve the user experience while reading and interacting with
the system. We tested the latest design of the reader system with respect to its featured
function of enabling self-paced reading and re-finding information. A decomposition study
was conducted to evaluate the main components of the system; the tactile overlay, and the
intelligent active reading support. The results showed that both components are required
to achieve the best performance in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, and spatial perception.
We conducted an evaluation study to compare our reader system to the state-of-the-art
iBook with VoiceOver. The results show that our reader system is more effective than iBook
with VoiceOver in finding previously read information and in estimating the layout of the
page, implying that IBSVI were able to construct a cognitive map for the pages they read,
and perform advanced reading strategies. Our goal is to to enable IBSVI to access digital
reading materials effectively, so that they may have equal learning opportunities as their
sighted counterparts.



Active reading, Audio rendering, Spatial cognition, Multimodality, Blindness, Touch devices, Assistive technology