Creative haptics: an evaluation of a haptic tool for non-sighted and visually impaired design students, studying at a distance

Bowers, Lisa and Hayle, Ryan (2021). Creative haptics: an evaluation of a haptic tool for non-sighted and visually impaired design students, studying at a distance. British Journal of Visual Impairment, 39(3) pp. 214–230.



Design students who are blind or sight-impaired face distinct challenges when studying a visually centric discipline such as design practice. Students who are sighted use computer-aided design (CAD) which is presented via high definition using a PC mouse. However, design students who are blind or sight-impaired are not able to use visual display technology; therefore, this creates a barrier to access for this community. The aim of this study is to present a haptic prototype trial (Haptic Application Prototype Test [HAPT]) designed to assist design students who are blind/sight-impaired to interact with prototype assembly at the Open University (OU). The study specifically assessed the user feedback and the efficacy of access to CAD interface through the affordances of the haptic interface. The experiment included two groups of participants: one group included students who were blind and sight-impaired and the second group students who were classed fully sighted. Both groups were tested in two conditions of haptic engagement – manual and virtual. The parameters examined were (a) time – set at an industry-recognized time taken to assemble a ‘sketch model’ or prototype, and (b) ncollision – the number of collisions created by a collision algorithm which calculated any random collisions with the virtual environment or objects therein. Quantitative results showed that there was little statistical difference between time and a between-group test. From this we can imply that the haptic interface had offered equal access to CAD for people in the trial who were sighted and blind/sight-impaired indiscriminate of their sight acuity. Further future work using HAPT could be developed to a wider audience and a larger more diverse range of sight-impaired users. Future work will focus on new explorations of teaching using of haptics for greater immersion for distance learners at the OU science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) labs.

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