Accessible Arduino Tools – Accessibility

Accessible Arduino Tools

Idea

Research on using tactile graphics and textual descriptions for nonvisual electronics education.

Curriculum

Blind Arduino Workshop, December 14, 2019 at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library in New York City

Role

Accessibility researcher, designer, instructor

Research Question

How do we support teaching electronics to blind and low vision learners?

Problem

There are not enough accessible educational materials available for blind and low vision learners in electronics.

Obstacle

Educational material is frequently rendered visually and is, therefore, inaccessible. The two most common methods for nonvisual communication of spatial information are textual descriptions and tactile graphics. Textual descriptions use a narrative to convey spatial information, whereas tactile graphics represent visual information that can be explored by touch and can be arranged functionally or spatially, depending on the content.

Related Work

Past learning support for blind students uses textual descriptions and tactile graphics in STEM subjects. Guidelines for accessible descriptions of diagrams, graphs, maps, charts and other educational images focus on choosing between textual description or tactile representation for complex content. None of this past work established evidence for the efficacy of both tactile and textual descriptions in electronics education. Our work addresses this gap. 

Solution

Our research revealed the complexities of designing textual descriptions and tactile graphics for a Blind Arduino workshop. The findings led to design recommendations for future research to design accessible materials to teach electronics. 

Research Method

We offered a two-hour workshop at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library in New York City. The workshop began with an introduction to schematics, an exploration of the provided components and materials, followed by the assembly of a circuit that could produce a sound from a piezo buzzer. After the workshop, all 8 students were invited to and participated in brief structured interviews about their experience in workshop and their opinions about the materials we provided. 

Experience map of a user interacting Blind Arduino Tools.
Timeframe Project due date is given Project is started Project hits a wall Project isn’t delivered on time
Activities Accepts client prototyping project that requires building a circuit Uses tactile graphic and textual description to understand and set up circuit Has to play the textual description over and over and has some confusion with the tactile graphic layout Seeks additional help to understand the circuit
Touch Points Phone/laptop Tactile graphic/phone Tactile graphic/phone Phone/laptop
Emotion Line Excited Eager Confused Frustrated
Pain Points Tight turnaround time Has to use fuser to produce tactile graphic and listen to the textual description repeatedly Tactile graphics are conventionally arranged spatially, while schematics and arranged functionally. Listening over and over to parse out individual lines of instruction is tiring Keeps going back and forth between audio and tactile, instead of just having one effective tool
Ideas for Improvement Build a local community that supports proficiency with nonvisual educational materials for circuit building Design interactive tactile schematics Combine functional and spatial representations of circuits to provide tactile schematics and tactile board drawings Collaborate with blind instructors to better match needs of Blind maker community

User Journey

  1. Beth prints out the tactile schematic SVG on microcapsule paper and feeds it through a fuser. She pulls up the HTML site with the textual description on her iPhone using voiceover.
  2. She sets up her breadboard, components, and Arduino in front of her.
  3. She traces the tactile schematic with her fingers and reads the Braille labels, but wonders where the breadboard is represented on it? She knows that tactile graphics are arranged spatially so she wants to match what she feels on the graphic to her physical components.
  4. She plays the textual description over and over, but finds that it is more conceptual than procedural. She prefers following directions step-by-step. She continues to play it repeatedly, but it gets annoying so she stops.
  5. She tries the tactile schematic one more time, but is confused by the way it is laid out.
  6. Beth requests verbal guidance from the instructor to complete the task independently.

Personas

Beth

Quote: “I’m completely new to Arduino, but I like to keep my mind sharp as I age.”
Goals & Needs: Learn a new skill, socialize with local maker community, wants to improve tactile reading skills.
Variables on Spectrum from 1-10 (1 = low, 10 = high)
Finger Sensitivity: 4
Finger Size: 7
Braille Fluency: 3
Learning Style: Nonvisual, tactile
Electronics Experience: Brand new
Vision: Blind

Bio: Beth joined the Arduino workshop as a fun way to spend her Saturday, while learning a new skill. She likes to challenge herself with tasks outside of her comfort zone, especially since she considers herself technically-challenged. She’s eager to get more acclimated to using and working with technology so she thought Arduino would be a good way in. She’s pretty new at reading Braille, but wants to become more fluent. She’s not anticipating becoming a pro by the end of the workshop, but she’s up for a challenge.

Matt

Quote: “I use technology all the time, but as a hobby. I’m a DJ so I am pretty good at troubleshooting.”
Goals & Needs: Expand upon the basics like using alligator clips, wants an intro lesson to Arduino, participate in community building activities with friends
Variables on Spectrum from 1-10 (1 = low, 10 = high)
Finger Sensitivity: 8
Finger Size: 9
Braille Fluency: 8
Learning Style: Nonvisual, tactile, auditory
Electronics Experience: Intermediate
Vision: Blind

Bio: Matt wanted to be an engineer but his teacher convinced him to teach math instead. He always felt that if he’d had more support, he’d have gone after his dream of building electronics. He knows that Arduino offers a way for beginners to learn the basics fast and effectively and has always wanted the resources to get started. He’s a big fan of tactile graphics as learning material and was eager to use them to learn electronics.

Sophie

Quote: “I have a PhD in biomedical engineering, so I’m excited to explore a more creative side of electronics.”
Goals & Needs: Explore creativity with Arduino, improve tactile graphics skills, gain more experience with a screen reader.
Variables on Spectrum from 1-10 (1 = low, 10 = high)
Finger Sensitivity: 7
Finger Size: 3
Braille Fluency: 2
Learning Style: Nonvisual, auditory
Electronics Experience: Pro
Vision: Low vision

Bio: Sophie is an expert at electronics but is new to using nonvisual educational materials. She is adapting to vision loss and hasn’t been able to work with electronics in years. She finds verbal description and tactile graphic to be challenging and confusing to use but she is eager to learn new techniques to work with electronics independently.

Overhead view of hands exploring a tactile schematic of a piezo, resistor in series. To the left are electronics components spread out on a desk: an Arduino, breadboard, jumper wire, piezo, resistor, and USB cable.
Re-creation of workshop participant interacting with tactile schematic and electronics. We were not allowed to take photographs of the workshop due to privacy concerns.
Overhead view of a tactile schematic of a piezo, resistor in series. There is a braille label at the top, a page-orientation slash in the upper right-hand corner, and a schematic of an Arduino hooked up to a resistor, piezo buzzer, and ground.
Tactile schematic of a piezo and resistor in series used in our workshop.
Overhead view of a tactile component diagram of a piezo. On the far left is a small, black piezo buzzer glued to the page. Next to it is an enlarged tactile graphic of a piezo with the anode and cathode labeled. On the far right is an industry symbol of a piezo: a semicircle with two parallel pins extruding from the rounded edge of the semicircle.
Component diagram of a piezo. The physical component (left), enlarged diagram (middle), and industry symbol (right) are representations of the same component.
Side-by-side comparison of a Fritzing schematic and a board drawing of a piezo, resistor in series. The board drawing on left depicts a circuit arranged funtionally with symbols. The board drawing on the right shows a more realistic interpretation using CAD to show literally how the circuit is hooked up between the Arduino and breadboard, spatially.
Schematic (left) and board drawing (right) of a piezo and resistor in series. The schematic is arranged functionally with component symbols; and the board drawing is arranged spatially and functionally with realistic CAD component models.

Usability Testing

On December 14th, 2019 we facilitated a Blind Arduino workshop at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library. The attendees assembled a circuit that could produce a sound from a piezo buzzer. Afterwards, we invited students to participate in IRB-approved interviews and asked students about their experience in the workshop and their opinions about the materials. Interviews were recorded, pertinent quotes were transcribed, and the data was analyzed for trends. 

Participant Feedback

Component Diagram Feedback

“I like multiple representations of the same thing.”

“Each one [component diagram] was simple enough and I think gluing the component on was actually useful also.”

[Component diagrams] were really clear and easy to follow, especially the ones where there’s the actual component, followed by the scaled-up version, and the industry symbol.” 

“I ran into challenges from the tininess of the materials.”

Tactile Schematic Feedback

“It wasn’t clear to me what parts of the spatial stuff I should take literally and what parts were symbolic.”

“I placed the buzzer in exactly the same position that it’s shown on the schematic which doesn’t necessarily coincide with what I was supposed to do spatially.”

“The ground symbol just went directly into this arbitrary bottom of the diagram of the controller.”

“I think having a graphic of the breadboard showing that here’s the Arduino, here’s the breadboard, here’s where you put stuff on the breadboard.”

Circuit Description Feedback

“It [the circuit description] was a bit wordy and I had to go over it several times.” 

“That description was not clear enough so I had to constantly listen to the whole thing again and again.” 

“That description was one big block of text so I would recommend to separate each step into its own paragraph.” 

“I would try to rework those instructions with somebody who is blind and also is new to this.” 

Conclusion

We evaluated a circuit description, component diagrams, and a tactile schematic in an Arduino workshop with 8 participants. Based on our findings, we recommend designing interactive tactile schematics, combining functional and spatial representations of tactile circuits, and collaborating with blind instructors on future pedagogy development.

Design Interactive Tactile Schematics

We recommend exploring semantically-enhanced interfaces where learners touch symbols to hear their explanation. Combining audio descriptions with tactile schematics may help learners better understand the relationship between descriptions and symbols and explore them at their own pace. 

Combine Functional & Spatial

Beginners looking for a clear mapping between instructions and their circuit building activities may benefit from a combination of schematics and board drawings. Board drawings combine spatial and functional representation and are commonly produced with Fritzing. A board drawing would additionally provide Arduino pins’ spatial location. However, board drawings are currently rendered visually, and their output must be designed for tactile interaction. 

Collaborate with Blind Instructors

We recommend sighted instructors collaborate with blind instructors and subject matter experts, applying iterative design methodologies to ensure materials are accessible and usable. This avoids placing the responsibility on our blind collaborators alone and trains sighted instructors on writing better nonvisual workflows.

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