November 2014 Issue  Volume 15  Number 11

Product Evaluations and Guides

TactileView: Leveling the Playing Field With Raised Images

When you've been trolling conference exhibit halls for article ideas for as long as I have, it's a memorable moment indeed when a single product or idea is so cool you don't want to leave the booth! That's what happened about a year ago when I stopped by the IRIE-AT table to see their wares.

The company sells a line of low vision and blindness products, including braille displays and magnifiers, but the single combination that rendered me spellbound was the TactiPad with TactileView software.

The rectangular device, roughly 11 by 14 inches, was displayed along with a few intriguing samples of tactile graphics. I can't remember now what they were-probably a human brain, an animal or two, maybe a New York skyline. It is so amazing to put your hands on such things when you have never seen them!

"Just draw on it," Jeff Gardner, the company CEO, advised.

He handed me a pen, just an ordinary ball point pen, and I began to draw.

Having been blind since age five, drawing is not a skill that comes intuitively to me. I probably made some printed capital letters or drew a stick figure or some random shapes.

In any event, the result was amazing. As I drew, the lines raised beneath my fingers.

And, Jeff Gardner quickly pointed out, it gets much better than that.

The TactiPad was connected to a computer running the TactileView software. My "drawing" became a digital image that could then be saved and embossed--as many times as you might want it to be--on an Index braille embosser.

In other words, this was a combination of tools that could create instant pictures, maps, graphs, games, or just random whimsical doodles in an instant.

The TactiPad

The TactiPad is a rubberized pad housed in a hinged frame. Open the frame like a book and insert one of the plastic sheets (a pack of 50 is included initially to get you started). Closing the frame holds the sheet firmly in place.

The TactiPad comes with a huge assortment of tangible tools for customizing tactile images, including a protractor, compass, triangle, and straight edge.

The Digital Pen

Although you could make one-time drawings with any pointed object--a standard pen or stylus, for example--the unit comes equipped with a special digital pen for creating drawings to be saved on the computer.

In your hand, the digital pen feels pretty much like any pen, but is basically a mini computer in its own right. One tricky feature in drawing with this device is the need to remember to keep your gripping fingers above the sensor (located about an inch above the tip of the pen) that the computer needs to "see" the lines you create. Audio cues are built into the system, so that whether you can see or not, you know when the pen is functioning properly.

TactileView Software

The TactileView software is entirely menu-based, rendering it completely accessible to a blind computer user. It was invented by Jaap Breider, a man who is blind. You can, for example, choose from an impressive menu of shapes and angles, and tell the software exactly where you want each to be placed on the page in relation to the top, left, or right edges. You can size, texture, and angles when drawing complex shapes.

If you are more interested in examining drawings than making them, the software has hundreds of images already created for you to download and emboss. Images can be labeled in contracted or uncontracted braille.

For additional or in-depth labeling, the software and accompanying pen also make it possible to add audio labels to tactile drawings. A teacher drawing a map of a small shopping area, for instance, might label the businesses with braille abbreviations and then add audio tags with more extensive information like "This is an electronics store," or " A great place to get pizza!"

Index Basic V4 Braille Embosser

IRIE-AT sells a line of Index braille embossers made in Sweden. I used the Index Basic V4 model, which is such a compact, sleek little unit that it could easily be transported, say, from school to school by a teacher of visually impaired students.

Weighing about 16 pounds and measuring 5 inches high by 20 inches wide by 10 inches deep, the Index Basic-D is a small but mighty powerhouse of an embosser.

Besides producing excellent tactile graphics, it is a fabulous embosser for text of all kinds as well. Embossing 100 characters per second and on both sides of the page, it's a great choice for most personal, professional, or educational needs. It handles tractor-feed paper of all sizes, and loading it is simpler than any embosser I've handled to date.

Answering a Huge Need For Tactile Graphics

A pending lawsuit that has garnered some attention in educational spheres is that of Aleeha Dudley, a blind college student whose vocational goal has, for as long as she can remember, been to work in veterinary medicine. As an entering freshman with loads of scholarships and honors, she was welcomed by Miami University in Ohio. Her chosen course of study would, she knew, require plenty of accommodations, and the university said they could deliver the graphs, charts, and tactile images science and mathematics classes would require for her to comprehend and compete. The university has not delivered, after all, and Dudley, with help from the National Federation of the Blind, is suing the school.

There have been blind professionals involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers for years, but their struggles have been monumental and their numbers small. The primary obstacle, of course, has been the inability to access images of bones and brains and periodic tables and the like. A package like the TactileView suite takes the difficulty out of the equation.

Raised images can assist in educational and professional environments in countless other ways as well. A map you can "see" with your fingers can put some logic into that mental map you're trying to build for competent and efficient mobility.

Such tools have a place in a more personal context as well. When you are building or remodeling your own home and you can't see those pesky blueprints, the architect who can make a tactile picture is decidedly one step ahead of the rest.

When I was a child, my friends would draw a game of hangman or Tic-Tac-Toe by pressing into paper vigorously (sometimes breaking the pencil) so that I could feel the lines and play the game. With a TactiPad, blind children can even draw their own games to play with others.

Conclusions

This is a fabulous suite of products that can bring images to the fingertips of a blind child or adult. It will require a bit of a learning curve, but IRIE-AT has dedicated, capable tech support staff as well as some excellent tutorials on the company website. It's a bit pricey, but then, equality is rarely cheap.

Pricing and Contact Information

TactileView tactile design software: $295
TactiPad tactile drawing tablet, including carry case, drawing paper, and drawing tools: $499
Audio Reading System, including ClickPad and digital pen, $349
TactileView Design Suite, including all of the above items, $995
Index Basic-D V4 braille embosser: $3,295
Index Basic-D with TactileView Design Suite: $4,195

Special discount for AccessWorld readers: A $250 discount will be offered to AccessWorld readers purchasing the Basic Tactile Graphics Suite if purchased within three months of this issue's publication date,

Other more advanced packages are also available.

For more information: IRIE-AT, Inc., 888-308-0059

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