WGBH Issues Guidelines for Describing STEM Materials to the Visually Impaired

Despite the technological strides made in recent years to aid the blind and sight-impaired--voice simulation reading software, peripherals that translate text into Braille, audiobooks in virtually every category--such readers have continued to face obstacles in the form of visual enhancements to STEM-related texts, such as charts, graphs, diagrams, and photos. However, Boston-based public television station WGBH has taken the next step, issuing a book of guidelines on how best to describe, in detail, such visuals.

Working in collaboration with the American Foundation for the Blind, as well as researchers and experts at several companies and organizations that specialize in accommodating the visually impaired, and with funds from a National Science Foundation grant, WGBH's Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) has published the online manual "Effective Practices for Description of Science Content within Digital Talking Books." Using data compiled from a four-year study encompassing surveys and interviews with scientists and students with vision loss, the book describes the methods most preferred by the target audience for describing visual information in texts and scientific journals.

The book covers in depth how best to verbally describe many commonly used visual enhancements, including bar charts, line graphs, Venn diagrams, tables, pie charts, flow charts, and complex diagrams and illustrations.

In addition to the book, NCAM is offering free 90-minute Webinars to train users in implementing the guidelines, scheduled as follows:

  • Wed., Sept. 30, 10:00 a.m. EST;
  • Tue., Oct. 20, 1:30 p.m. EST; and
  • Thu., Dec. 3, 12:00 noon EST.

Additional webinar dates are also planned for 2010. To register, send an e-mail requesting your preferred date and time here.

About the Author

Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.