A lot of technologies, gadgets, and devices being introduced today require the use of an individual’s vision, among other things such as hand to eye coordination, a perfectly working sense of hearing, and of course, the ability to understand how the device works and to actually manipulate it. Thanks to the advancements in teaching education and lifestyle modification for the people with visual impairments, these particular segment of the population can still have experience to have a near normal life—same as those who do not have visual impairments. It is important to note early at this point, however, that often, visually impaired people are mistakenly classified by other normal people as blind.
The truth is, not all visually impaired people are blind . According to the World Health Organization, around 285 million people around the world are estimated to have a certain degree of visual impairment. Out of that number, 39 million people are suffering from total blindness and the remaining 246 million are those that are still capable of seeing. Another interesting fact about the number of visually impaired people worldwide is that 90% of them belong to the low-income strata of the population.
These are just people who have a medical or any physical condition that leads to the deterioration of their sense of vision. Some people get away with partial blindness while some people tend to be luckier with only slight visual impairments such as acute attacks of blurred vision as a result of their condition. Visual impairments may also be caused by traumatic accidents involving the main sensory organ for vision—the eyes, or the area of the brain responsible for interpreting visual sensory signals which is the occipital lobe. The conditions that are often being closely looked at that can cause visual impairments are cataracts, diabetes mellitus, traumatic accidents involving the brain and the eyes or any of its surrounding structures, and even infectious diseases.
According to the International Classification of Diseases, there are 4 levels of visual function. This scale or classification can be used by graphic artists and even medical professionals in assessing their patients and or clients who are visually impaired. By using this tool, it may be easier to have standardized and more effective approaches in designing graphic arts, among other things, even for the visually impaired.
Under the 4 levels of visual function, there is: normal vision, moderate visual impairment, severe visual impairment, and blindness. The first classification which is the normal vision is self-explanatory. This is how individual who have normal or at least near-normal vision are classified. The next two visual function classification namely the moderate visual impairment and severe visual impairment are often described using the term low vision because they can, depending on the condition that caused the impairment, eventually lead to a considerable loss in visual function, and may even lead to blindness later on, especially for degenerative diseases . Every couple of years, the impairment classification and definitions are revised in order to more accurately identify the level of visual function among people with visual impairments.
In the an academic journal published in the Bio Medical Center’s archives, for example, the authors discussed the aspects of the then current visual function scale made by the International Statistical Classification of Diseases. According to them, the release of the new revision (the latest revision was released in 2006) was imminent because the last time the said classification was revised was over 30 years ago. Additionally, according to them, continuous updates and revision on the Committee of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases could consider the method they used in the classification of visual impairments as that “seems more appropriate than the existing classification for estimating and tracking visual impairment in the countries and regions of the world” .
The visual impairment classification method they used mainly focuses on the visual acuity of the person with lower grades or values of visual acuity being usually given to individuals who have severe visual impairments. This can be an important issue that can be considered in the development of the graphics design industry for visually impaired people because graphics designers have to consider that there is just more than just one variation of the term “visually impaired”. As a result, they would be more compelled to create graphics design projects that are more specialized to individuals depending on the severity of their visual impairments.
In another study published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness in 2014, the authors investigated the different possible perceptions and practices of teachers and students with visual impairments in selected educational institutions in the United States and Canada regarding both print and tactile graphics. This particular study was executed in an educational setting with visually impaired students as their primary subjects. Electronic surveys containing questions aimed at determining their perceptions on visual impairments and graphics design were disseminated.
The researchers then analyzed the results based on the number of respondents who answered positively and negatively in each question. Results of their study showed that in general, teachers value the use of graphics and the need to provide instruction using it as a tool, at least in the case of the educational institutions where the respondents were affiliated with in Canada and the United States. The authors also confirmed that there is an inherent need to gain insight into effective teaching strategies for visually impaired students and that one of the most promising avenues to gain insight on those effective teaching strategies is by studying more about the possible adaptation of visual and tactile graphics design as a mainstream tool of education for visually impaired students .
The presence of a market often suggests that there is a certain level of demand for the products and services in that market and so material producers would start pumping in quality controlled products to meet the demands of that market and as a result of that, it would be the students with visual impairments who would benefit.
In one academic journal published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, Lisa (2009) studied the use and effectiveness of using zoom maps and zoom graphics as a reading tool for individuals with visual impairments. Zoom maps are often considered as a relatively new set of tools designed to help individuals navigate through different reading materials compared to other conventional tactile tools for visually impaired people. Zoom maps are also often considered as one of the major breakthroughs in the field of graphics design for visually impaired individuals.
Developed by the Teaching Aides Department at Huseby Resource Center, the aim of zoom graphics and zoom maps is to produce better tactile graphical images for visually impaired people and at the same time, produce a design methodology that will be used by the producers of tactile graphics . The design methodology ideas would most likely be based on the tactile reading patterns of visually impaired people. What makes the use of zoom maps and zoom graphics attractive is that it gives the graphic designers focused on providing services for visually impaired people have an almost unlimited amount of ideas when it comes to improving their products and making it easier for their target clients to use their products.
In the end, what is created is a win to win situation between the graphics designers for visually impaired people and the ones who are intended to use such products—or in this case, the visually impaired people. Another feature of the zoom maps is that “the amount of graphic information is restricted to avoid clutter which means that if the graphics exceed a given amount, the original graphic is divided to create a new map with fewer graphics and more specific information” .
With this feature, it would be easier for the visually impaired people to make use of and interpret the tactile feedbacks that they receive from the zoom maps. However, the users should be informed about the division of the hierarchy of maps so that they would not get lost in using it. This can be an initial drawback for users of the zoom maps and zoom graphics because they would certainly get lost if they do not have an idea how to use the map hierarchy and because the map basically divides itself in an automated manner once the graphics exceed a certain limit to eliminate graphical clutter—which is one of its main selling features.
In summary, the use of zoom maps is relatively new and more complex compared to other conventional tactile graphic design products primarily intended for visually impaired people. At this point, however, it is not yet recommended to prescribe this tool as a mainstream reading tool for visually impaired people. What are needed at this point are more pilot testing studies featuring a larger number of respondents.
Another graphics design strategy that is being popularized is the use of graphics design tools that enable individuals with visual impairments view electronic texts, mathematics, and other computer generated materials. In an article published in a periodical named Teaching Exceptional Children in 2012, the authors discussed the different possible ways how specifically modeled graphics designs can be used as an effective strategy in teaching students with visual impairments. What they used were electronic texts and computer-generated materials.
Color blindness is one of the most common visual impairments. Unlike other visual impairments that are caused by degenerative conditions, color blindness is mostly congenital. Individuals with color blindness can often see objects just as clear as normal people which means that they visual acuity is not usually affected as a result of the visual impairment. The problem with people suffering from this condition is that their eyes are not capable of correctly identifying some colors.
A normal person’s eyes and brain (these are the two organs used in obtaining visual signals and interpreting them, particularly the occipital lobe), for example, would see and interpret a red colored object as a red colored object which means that there is no problem with his vision; a color blind person on the other hand may see the same object but with a different color; it may be green, yellow, or any color, depending on the severity and or type of his color blindness. Color blind people are one of the major populations that graphic designers for visually impaired people focus on.
Because they do not really have problems with visual acuity, little modifications in graphics design are needed compared to those whose visual impairments result to problems with visual acuity. For example, modifications such as changing the colors and color patterns of an image to the ones (colors and color patterns) that can be seen and interpreted normally by the color blind person may already be considered as an effective graphics design strategy. In an academic journal published in the Journal of Cartographic Perspectives in 2007, the authors studied how the difficulties associated with color blindness—distinguishing between colors, affect majority of the people and how graphics design strategies which can be as simple as color design modifications, can contribute to the process of solving such difficulties .
According to the authors of that study, “designers of maps and information graphics cannot disregard the needs of this relatively large group of media consumers” because of the ease of addressing them and the different safety hazards that may be associated with color blindness. An example of this would be the use of stop lights. Color blind people who cannot recognize the color red in traffic signals and stop lights in roads may face a real hazard to their everyday safety and also to the safety of the people around them especially if they are driving. In their study, the authors studied the use of a new color design modification software solution named Color Oracle. This software solution can assist graphics designers in verifying color schemes. It can, for example, filter maps, graphics, and almost any colored images or objects in real-time and efficiently integrate it with digital workflows, allowing the designers to modify the schemes, patterns, and designs of the graphic, based on the needs of the color blind market it caters to.
Bouck, E and N. Emily. "eText, Mathematics, and Students with Visual Impairments." Teaching Exceptional Children (2012): 42-49.
Dandona, L. and R. Dandona. "Revision of Visual Impairment Definitions in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases." BioMed Central (2006): 4-7.
Jenny, B. and N. Kelso. "Color Design for the Color Vision Impaired." Journal of Cartographic Perspectives (2007): 61-67.
Lisa, Y. "Huseby Zoom Maps: A Design Methodology for Tactile Graphics." Journal for Visual Impairment and Blindness (2009): 270-276.
WHO. "Visual Impairment and Blindness." World Health Organization (2014).
Zebehazy, K. and A. Wilton. "Quality, Importance, and Instruction: The Perspectives of Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments on Graphics Use by Students." Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (2014).