Perception of tactile graphics: embossings versus cutouts.


Kalia A, Hopkins R, Jin D, Yazzolino L, Verma S, Merabet L, Phillips F, Sinha P. Perception of tactile graphics: embossings versus cutouts. Multisens Res. 2014;27 (2) :111-25. Copy at

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Graphical information, such as illustrations, graphs, and diagrams, are an essential complement to text for conveying knowledge about the world. Although graphics can be communicated well via the visual modality, conveying this information via touch has proven to be challenging. The lack of easily comprehensible tactile graphics poses a problem for the blind. In this paper, we advance a hypothesis for the limited effectiveness of tactile graphics. The hypothesis contends that conventional graphics that rely upon embossings on two-dimensional surfaces do not allow the deployment of tactile exploratory procedures that are crucial for assessing global shape. Besides potentially accounting for some of the shortcomings of current approaches, this hypothesis also serves a prescriptive purpose by suggesting a different strategy for conveying graphical information via touch, one based on cutouts. We describe experiments demonstrating the greater effectiveness of this approach for conveying shape and identity information. These results hold the potential for creating more comprehensible tactile drawings for the visually impaired while also providing insights into shape estimation processes in the tactile modality.