“Science data and images – for example, the stunning images from the new Webb Telescope – are inaccessible to blind people. We show, however, that thin translucent tactile graphics, called lithophanes, can make all these images accessible to everyone, regardless of sight. As we like to say, “data for everyone,” added Shaw, who is also the corresponding author of the article.
Lithophanes are fine etchings made from translucent materials (first porcelain and wax, now plastic). At first glance, they appear opaque in ambient light, but when backlit by any light source, they glow like a digital image. In this study, researchers used 3D printing for lithophanes.
“The idea of lithophanes was a concept that Dr. Shaw had toyed with, and I thought it was an amazing opportunity to help a group of individuals who have been stigmatized in the field of chemistry,” said said co-lead author Jordan Koone, a PhD student in chemistry at Baylor and a member of Shaw’s lab. “It’s great to see blind people who have been told all their lives that they can’t excel in science interpret data as easily as a sighted person.”
The researchers tested the lithophanes on sighted and blind students. The study found that the average test accuracy for the five lithophanes was: 96.7% for blind tactile interpretation and 92.2% for visual interpretation of backlit lithophanes.