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Interactive Accessible Charts Creation for Users Who are Blind or Have Low Vision

An increasing number of tools are available to “enable users to make online data representations, like charts, that are accessible for people who are blind or have low vision.” Most of these resources, however, require an existing visual that is converted into an accessible format. This presents barriers that limit users who are visually impaired from building their own data representations and can constrain the ability to explore and interpret information. “A team of researchers from MIT and University College London (UCL) wants to change the way people think about accessibility data representations.” They have devised a new software system that makes it possible for users with vision loss to “create interactive, accessible charts,” without the need for “an initial visual chart.” Individuals who use screen readers can access a dataset and design customized data representations combining visualization, descriptive text, and sonification, which provides an audio depiction of data. The process is direct, with no need to draw information from a previously created visual. Five “expert screen-reader users” involved in the study leading to this innovation found that the new system, called Umwelt, “could facilitate communication between people who rely on different senses.” This makes it possible for users to communicate with others who utilize a range of sensory input about data. “’Enabling the full participation of blind and low-vision people in data analysis involves seeing visualization as just one piece of this bigger, multisensory puzzle,’” explained Jonathan Zong, an electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) graduate student and lead author of a paper introducing the new software. His team will be presenting the paper on the study at the ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) Conference on Human Factors in Computing in May. Moving ahead, the researchers “plan to create an open-source version of Umwelt that others can build upon.” Read more in the MIT News article announcing that New software enables blind and low-vision users to create interactive, accessible charts.