Pre Thesis Chronological Documentation

Sep 10, 2020

This page is a chronologial documentation of the Pre-Thesis class at NYU 2020 Fall. It also contains a weekly process blog for the assignment.

Sep 10, 2020

What I did

  • Create this blog post for documentaion
  • Grasping my current situation
  • Made the 1st mind map
  • Thoughts

Grasping my current situation

  • I know roughly what I want to do for my thesis, that is, something related to accessibility, people with disabilities, and technology. I took the Museum Accessibility class at 2020 Spring offered by the Ability Project at NYU, which was very challenging but rewarding experience. I want to improve accessibility for people with disabilities and contribute to making the world more inclusive. But not sure for the detaiuls yet, such as how, whom I want to work for, etc.

  • My skill/background

    • My undergraduate degree is CS and Math so I know some coding, data science, statistics, etc. I can make a website and web/smartphone application.
    • I know some electric engineering (if I can say so) and digital fabrication so I can make physical things with some electric devices.
    • I am Japanese. My native language is Japanese. Japanese culture must have huge influence on me, consciously and unconsciously. As an international student in the US, I am experiencing something new such as BLM movement, racial discrimination, minority, social class, social division, etc.
  • I have been involeved in several organizations/labs.

    • I have been a member of the Ability Project since then, attending a weekly meeting and trying to get more information about accessibility.
    • I just became the 1st official Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) Fellow at NYU. (‘TOM - Tikkun Olam Makers - is a global movement of communities that creates and disseminates affordable solutions to neglected challenges of people living with disabilities, the elderly and the poor.'')
    • At PINE at NYU, I helped to add alt text to the images.
  • Researches I involved related to accessibility.

    • Sensory Resources Guide For Museums: Started from the Museum Accessibility class, we submitted a short paper (poster) to the ASSETS2020. Unfortunately, our paper was not acceppted but it was a great experience and we are still looking for other chances to submit it.
    • I am helping one of PhD students at the Ability Project for her research. That is to hold a workshop to support web development for people who use screen readers (people who are blind or with low vision).

Mind map 1

I made my 1st mind map to try to organize my thought. mindmap1


  • I am struggling to narrow down my focus. The following are just a few that I can think of (but must be more). Ultimately, it should be the matter of what I want to/what I can do /what is needed in the world.
    • Make something physical (product?) for a certain type of people with disabilities.
    • Make something degital (product or service?) for a certain type of people with disabilities.
    • Make community to support/educate
      • people with disabilities. (eg. conducting a web development workshop for people using screen reader as I do now, matching need-knower and engineer as TOM does, etc)
      • company, society. (eg. Authentic Inclusion by Frances West, how to motivate company to be more inclusive, etc)
    • Pick up a certain place/product/service and make it more accessible, such as:
      • museum for people who have sensory overload, who are blind, etc.
      • music concert for people who have hearing loss.
      • create music instrument for people who have mobility disabilities.
      • make online education system more accessible.
      • make information, especially information visualization, more accessible for people who are blind.
    • and?
  • Some other keywords for me
    • Education, Sustainability (money, motication, and?), Hack, Confidence, Community, Awreness

Sep 11, 2020

Observing PhD dissertation

I observed William Easley‘s PhD dissertation to broaden my research interest (and also I might want to go to PhD program). His research interests are ‘in the areas of computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW), assistive technology/accessibility, and engineering education’ and his dissertaion was about ‘how youth employees (at the 3D print shop) collaborate on and coordinate complex work in order to determine how we can better support this population as they prepare to enter the professional workforce’.

Sep 12, 2020

Accessible Web Development workshop

This was the fourth class of the workshop I'm assisting that is about web development for people who use screen reader. One of my roles is to assist creating lecture materials to teach screen reader users about the color palette for web development. It is challenging but fun.

Sep 13, 2020

TOM kickoff

Today was the kickoff of TOM‘s fellowship program. I have a mixture of emotions - excited, wanting to do my best, anxiety, etc. I've been advised by several people who I trust and it's great to have so many people who are willing to support me.

What I want to accomplish with my TOM fellowship are:

  • to build/design community.
  • to build/design workshops/events.
  • to understand different views/perspectives on accessibility/disability due to cltural differences/social structures/etc.

Weekly Process Blog 1

Sep 7-14: This week, I analyzed myself (who I am, what I can do, what I have done, etc) for the sake of organizing my thoughts (please see above if you are interested). I've been involved in some things about accessibility since this spring, attending events and webinars, reading books and academic papers, writing a short research paper (which was not accepted unfortunately), helping people with their research, etc. They have mainly helped me to expand my horizons. To organize my thoughts, I made my 1st mind map. This coming few weeks should be an opportunity for me to narrow down which areas of accessibility I wanted to research from the vast field of accessibility.

There are a few things I'm struggling to decide, one of which is which types of disability I want to focus on. In the Museum Accessibility class, we learned three major categories of disability: Motor, Cognitive, and Sensory, and so far I have worked on only sensory issues.

In that class, I challenged how mitigate sensory overstimulation situation in the museum (such as loud noise, sudden light, etc) and my team summarized sensory resources information for museums as a website: Sensory Resources Guide for Museums. We know there are many things to improve. We haven't done actual user test for what we have developed. We know there are more problems to tackle such as how to measure crowdness in museums. We wrote a short paper for the ASSETS 2020 but was not accepted unfortunately, and it is not a great feeling that I have something undone. Those might be one possible thesis topic.

I am also working for people who use screen readers, mainly people who are blind or who have low vision. I am assisting one of PhD students’ research at the Ability Project as a research member to hold a workshop to teach web development for people who use screen readers. I am really excited this opportunity. I did not realize how heavily information is conveyed via visuals (felt the same when I finished the Information Visualization Specialization course this Summer), how a lot of current websites are inaccessible for people with screen readers, how a lot of designers/companies are still unaware of this issue, etc. Those might be one possible thesis topic as well.

Having written so far, I find myself kind of overwelmed because I have not been able to organize well enough. I thought it would be a good idea to sort out what researches have being done now and what issues remain to be addressed. It will help me to find out what issues I need to work on now and in a few years.

Sep 14, 2020

Class 2 memo

  • Make a research statement
    • I am proposing (what are you proposing to do?)
    • for (who is the primarily for?)
    • in order to (what do you want to accomplish?)
    • because (why does it matter?)
    • I need to (read? collect case studies? interview?)
    • so that I can do understand (what gaps to fill)
  • Do activity
    • class2

Sep 15, 2020

Are assistive tech products/services expensite? Just a quick google search gives:

I also checked some web articles:

So, not all assistive techs are expensive, and some are even free. But some are actually expensive due to various reasons such as tech cost/human labor/low demand/etc.

Can these be more affordable? Can I add more value to them? Can I find any gap?

Sep 16, 2020

1st meeting with my instructor

It is always great to talk with my instructor because he always gives me some good insights. With his help, my focus was getting clearer little by little. Details will be written in the next weekly process blog.

Sep 17-18, 2020

I was luckily ablt to enroll myself in Regine's UX class this semester and today was the first of the class for me. This class would be a great benefit for not only my UX interest but also many pre-thesis processes, knowing myself, ideation, problem statement, user research, etc.

I am sharing some activities I learned in the class to make problem statement.

I will use this activity for my thesis problem statement.

Sep 19, 2020, Saturday

It's a weekly accessible web development workshop for people who use screen readers. Today's class about CSS part 1, types of fonts, font size, spacing, etc. It reminded me of something I've been thinking about lately: the use of non-visual ways to communicate visual information.

We humans use a lot of visuals to convey information: Videos, Graphs, Comics, Colors, Arts, Education, etc etc etc, everywhere, everyday.

Seeing the participants in the class so excited and enjoying learning makes me want to do something in this field.

Sep 20, 2020, Sunday

Did some research, but I don't have the energy to write in detail.

Weekly Process Blog 2

(Sep 21, 2020 Monday)

With the information visualization for the people who are blind in my mind, I did some research. The followings are not everything I did but I want to share some.

Visualization for the Blind | Niklas Elmqvist | TEDxMontgomeryBlairHS

It was a great overview of how to substitute visual information with other sensors such as hearing, smell, and touch.

Here are some memos:

  • 6:25

    • Interesting low-tech tactile way to represent graph.
  • 8:17 - Hearing

    • Most common way to substitute visual information. Useful for reading text, but it does not go well with images/charts/graphs most of time without properly added alt-text, or if they are too complex to describe.
    • There is a research to automatically describe visual charts in text using machine learning.
  • 10:20 - Smell

    • 13:00 - Some devices using smell to tell information.
  • 13:30 - Touch

    • Braille display to tell text info.
    • How can we use braille display to tell the info of chart/graph?

Programming education by Apple for people who are blind

I was looking for some information related to education/programming/people who are blind, and I found this article: Apple brings Everyone Can Code to schools serving blind and deaf students nationwide.

It's good to know that a company as influential as Apple is committed to accessibility. I will try the Swift Playgrounds out with my iPad to see what it's experience is like.

This also brings me up a question that how other companies can provide accessiblity like Apple does, I mean, in terms of motivation. I feel providing accessibility in business is not easy because moral rectitude isn't the only thing that drives business. Money is very important for business. How can we connect accessibility and business?

Online education for people with disabilities during COVOD time.

As I wrote above, I am so excited to see that students who use screen readers enjoy the web development workshop I am assisting. This implies the lack of opportunity for them to learn coding by themselves online. And I found this NewYork Times article As School Returns, Kids With Special Needs Are Left Behind that suggests the possibility and needs of online education services for students with disabilities, though this article is mainly about children with autism.

I personally use the MOOC services often, Kahn Academy, Coursera, EdX, Udemy, and so on. But, as far as I know, their contents are designed for sighted people. I also remembered the paper I read a few months ago: Bridging the accessibility gap in Open Educational Resources. There seem much can be done in this area.

Now I want to know how people who are blind take education, educational materials/textbooks to use, methods how teachers teach classes, any complaints, anything that can be improved, etc.


After reflecting myself, I feel computers, education, programming, disability (especially blindness), and sense of accomplishment, are things I feel close. I will keep researching and be able to narrow down my thesis topic.

Sep 22, 2020, Tue

I officially resigned from the TOM's fellowship position because of my personal decision. Lesson learned.

Coincidently, a PhD student I'm assisting told me about two future opportunities, fellowship and grant on p5.js by Processing foundation for next Spring. It will be a great opportunity for me to think about how programming can be more accessible/inclusive.

Sep 23, 2020, Wed

I attended the web event, engAGED: Considering Technology and Access for Older Adults: Virtual Panel Discussion. As the title suggests, it was about the tecnology and accessibility for seniors. A variety of things were discussed during the hour and a half webinar, but here are some of the most impressive things for me:

  • Age is only a partial factor. People are different: technological background, personalities, needs, environment, etc. We cannot not easy divide people by age such us 55+ is seinors.
  • Knowing the needs, and to do so, knowing the users. Even the speakers, who are professionals in their field, said that they discover something new every time they talk to a user. That relates to the User Research that I am learning in the Regine's UX class.

Sep 24, 2020, Thu

Spent some time to do the activity that Ahmed shared in the class. I will put this into my 1st presentation.


Sep 25, 2020, Fri

I attendet the web event, NYU Center for Disability Studies | JUDY HEUMANN in conversation with SIMI LINTON. She is one of the most famous/important disability rights activists and I got to know her through the documentaray film Crip Camp.

Among many great conversations, one that particularly struck me was the complexity of disability study. She said that; disability study is not only about disability. It is cross disciplinary. Violence, Discrimination, Gender, Social structure, etc, they all matter. And yes, I agree, and that's what I am learning at IDM, NYU.

Sep 26, 2020, Sat

It was a weekly accessible web development workshop for people who use screen readers. Today's class was about CSS part 2 - colors.

Sep 27, 2020, Sun

I started using Zotero to organize my reseach about MOOC education for people who are blind or with low vision.

Weekly Process Blog 3

(Sep 28, 2020, Mon) Today is my first progress report presentation in the pre-thesis class. Here is my presentation slide.

From my research so far, I found research on the accessibility of MOOCs has been done for more than a decade, and it is still going on today. Some examples are:

I was also able to find real users’ voice as well.

I'm not sure if it has been improving a little by little or not at all, but there still seems to be plenty of room for improvement for people who are blind or with low vision.

One of the things that concerns me is that, as far as I've researched so far, I haven't been able to find any online education resources designed specifically for people who are blind or with low vision and use screen readers. All of the discussions I saw were ways to redesign existing services that was designed for sighed people so that they could be used by people who are blind or with low vision as well. And I want to know why.

It might be a business issue that users who are blind or with low visions are too few? But according to WHO, there are 39 million people who are blind in the world (Global data on visual impairment), and “62,492 U.S. children, youth, and adult students in educational settings who are legally blind”(Statistics About Children and Youth with Vision Loss) in the U.S., and that's not small I think.

After talking to my supervisor at the Ability Project, I got tons of things to think about. I will keep researching and exploring.

Sep 30, 2020, Wed

Attended the Ability Project's weekly meeting. It's good to have a community to regularly talk about accessibility.

Oct 3, 2020, Sat

Weekly accessible web development workshop for people who use screen readers. Today's class was about JS. It's already the seventh session out of a total of eight, and I'm surprised that there's only one more to go!

Weekly Process Blog 4

Reflection on my first presentation

Now that I've finished my first presentation, I want to organize my thoughts on what I am going to do from now.

First thing I want to do is to research about education in general. I wanted to focus on the MOOC service for people who use screen readers, but I was not sure why focusing on MOOC. Education services/systems vary: online/in-person, synchronous/asynchronous, formal/informal, self-learning/assisted-learning, MOOC/e-learning/tactile/etc, etc. And there's a difference between each of them, the advantages/disadvantages and what's currently being done/what's the challenges. It is important for me to organize these out for narrowing down my thesis topic.

Other things to think about are the subjects and populataions I want to work on in order to narrow my thesis topic down because the range of issues I can tackle is limited. Regarding the subjects, it will be most likely something related to computer science or programming/coding because that's my background. As for the populations, such as K-12/higher education/etc, for now, I'm going to do more research and not decide it yet.

Sharing a paper I read

One of the papers I read this week is Computer Science Principles for Teachers of Blind and Visually Impaired Students by Andreas Stefik, et al. My colleagues at the Ability Project told me about the author and he seems very popular professor in the field of CS education for people with visual impairment.

This one paper alone can give me an idea of the many issues that can be tackled:

  • Designing a programming language that can be easily used by people with visual impairment.
  • Designing an IDE (Integrated development environment) so that people with visual impairment can write codes easily.
  • Designing a curriculum to teach CS for people with visual impairment. In this paper's case, re-designing the existing CS curriculum on for them.
  • Designing supplementary materials, such as tactiles, to teach CS CS for people with visual impairment.
  • Training teachers to teach CS to the people with visual impairment.

These are each important issues. I need to understand at least at very high level what has been done in each of these areas and what challenges remain.

Oct 7, 2020, Wed

Attended the event, Inclusive, Accessible Principles for Product Teams.

Oct 8, 2020, Thur

Voices no reddit regarding blindness and education

  • A bunch of questions from a sighted person about screen readers, remote education, and PC games.
    • Zoom seems pretty accessible.
    • “Doing math and parts of science was next to impossible without tactile graphics and braille though, and no website we used had the proper code (math ML) for showing math correctly on a “braille display” either. I had to do private tutoring with my math teacher and even then I was behind, and this isn't even calculus.”
  • My journey through school
    • “But even though the accommodations were more advanced - someone typing out on a laptop screen what the teacher was saying live - it still wasn't enough for both my vision and hearing loss. I could do well enough at text classes. But had extreme difficulty with math. A weak point of the accommodations was that they couldn't cover visual aspects like equations and graphs, instead writing those out as “[on board]", rendering the notes useless.”
    • “One of the things that weighs on me is that in a classroom environment I was unable to keep up, but in a one-on-one office setting with the teacher, I was able to understand.”
    • “Another of my classes was a disaster - it was a non-traditional setup where instead of a lecture it was entirely group work. I tried to participate but the lag in transcription meant I couldn't keep up. I had panic attacks just trying to be in a group, not able to keep up with who was talking to who or even what was being discussed. Eventually the Disability Center and the teacher agreed they could not provide accommodations and so set up alternate assignments instead.”
    • “Transcribers would caption what the teacher was saying but couldn't really describe what was on the board. They'd type [on board] instead. I asked the Disability service about it and they just told them to try describing it. So they'd write [graph] instead. But they still couldn't capture what kind of graph, or how the teacher is manipulating the numbers, etc.”
  • blind schools
    • “The problem is, a situation where everything is specially set up for blind people might feel great in the moment, but that is not the real world. Lots of places know this is an issue and I understand it's a balancing act between letting people do their best, and wrapping them in cotton wool.”
  • Note taking for blind students
    • HTML, Pages for MAC, MS Word for Windows, Markdown, Git,
    • “How would you go about taking notes for a class like physics or chemistry, where diagrams or models are super important?” “needed to get “Tactile Drawings” of the chemical reactions ahead of time."see the article: Blind Students Can Succeed in Chemistry Classes
  • What are the biggest challenges in science and maths education for the blind and visually impaired? What can help make it easier?
    • “I think the biggest issue for me was not having instructors that knew how to teach beyond the visual senses.”
    • “For maths, at a more advanced level, university on, the main problem is being able to read formulae. A lot of mathematics is typeset through LaTeX into PDFs which are not accessible for screen readers in this regard. Obtaining LaTeX sources from professors is sometimes a workaround, but it is not viable when one is doing any kind of independent research.”
    • “The two things that would make life a lot easier in this regard would be: Improving LaTeX's output to make the PDFs it generates usable with screen readers. Improving MathML handling in browsers and screen readers. For science, most educational software is very visual and not usable with screen readers. Lab equipment is quite uneven: sometimes it's possible to drive it, sometimes not.”
  • Educational needs
    • “Data visualization is a huge problem for anything above high school math. So yes, that might help.”
    • “Already exists.Graphiti

Oct 10, 2020, Sat

A Guest speaker who is professional web developer and is also blind came to the class to share his story. It was really helpful and informative for me. Some quick memo to the extent I can publish.

  • Braill display is helpful when writing code, cheking open/close tab, indentation, etc.
  • monaco editor is an accessible web editor and used in freeCodeCamp and will be used in Code Academy soon.
  • Career of web-developers/programmers who are blind
  • Web article: How to Get a Developer Job When You're Blind: Advice From a Blind Developer Who Works Alongside a Sighted Team
    • " programmers require tools to program, test, collaborate, share and look up information etc. Unfortunately, this is where a lot of people quit. Perhaps even more unfortunately, this is totally understandable.”
    • “Achieving that familiarity however, can take time. Especially if tools are not as accessible as they can be. You can lose precious time wrestling with a tool that is supposed to help you in your work, but rather, hinders or even blocks you entirely.”
    • “Blind people are a niche market to software and web developers. Blind developers are a niche market within a niche market. Blind developers who keep at it, become productive and hold a full-time job, are sadly even more rare. This can and should change, but until that happens the fight for accessible developer tooling is one you fight on your own. I hope it is a fight we won't have to fight in the future, I will do my best to contribute to that goal.”

Oct 11, 2020, Sun

Haptic feedback seems important to understand geometric concept in math. What technology is available?

Some other research related to math.

Weekly Process Blog 5

I am continuing to gather information about online education and visual impairment by reading papers, watching videos, attending online events, reading web articles, etc, some of which I shared above. But I still don't think I've been able to narrow the topic well.

Regarding my original idea of online education and accessibility for people with visual impairment, I learned the following.

  • Several of my advisors have encouraged me to think online education by separating the platform from the content. While some services, like Khan Academy, create their own content and distribute it on their own platform, many other services, such as coursera and udx, only serve as a platform and lecture content itself is created by third parties. When we consider the relationship between content and platforms, there are four patterns to consider. (1) the content is accessible but the platform is not accessible, (2) the content is not accessible but the platform is accessible, (3) both are accessible, (4) neither are accessible.

  • For CS/programming, freeCodeCamp seems considered to be accessible for people using screen readers. Not only the structure of their website is well designed. but also their browser-based editor developed based on the monaco editor seems easily usable for them. If an accessible coding class already exists, where is my role?

  • Other than programming, my other subject of interest is mathematics. Given math and online education, I want to know a few things (1) How do people who are blind learn math in the first place? (2) Tactile materials seem to be important, but how do you get and use them if you're going to learn online at home? (3) What is the accessibility of the formula for screen reader users?

As I've been doing a lot of research, I feel like I've started thinking about the solutions and the technology, and I've neglected to think about what problems I want to solve in the first place. And I think that's a very bad idea. I have to go back to the beginning and rethink what problems I want to solve.

Speaking of last week's questions to myself, I am most interested in online/asynchronous/self-learning style education for higher education.

Oct 14, 2020, Wed

The Chafee Amendment: 17 U.S.C. 121

In the Media Law class, I learned something interesting related to the US law and people with disabilities, that is, the Chafee Amendment: 17 U.S.C. 121. It is about the reproduction of the copyrighted works for blind or other people with disabilities - “it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute in the United States copies or phonorecords of a previously published literary work or of a previously published musical work that has been fixed in the form of text or notation if such copies or phonorecords are reproduced or distributed in accessible formats exclusively for use by eligible persons”. BookShare is one example utilizing this law. It is a kind of an online library for people who are blind or have other disabilities and legally make the copyrighted books available for them under the Chafee Amendment.

Oct 15, 2020, Thur

Joine an web event: NYU Center for Disability Studies | Disability Visibility at the Intersections because many of my colleagues/friends at the Ability Project recomended. One thing I can share is, taking an action now is important. Also bought a book Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century that the web event was based on.

Oct 16, 2020, Fri

Joined an web event: Antiracism and Universal Design for Learning: Building Expressways to Success.

Oct 17, 2020, Sat

  • Weekly web development workshop for people who are blind and use screen readers.
  • Also worked on making a mindmapping (not sure what is the exact word?) to understand the structure/stakehoders/etc to make my idea clear. It is still under development but here is the current version.

Oct 18, 2020, Sun

Read some papers.

  • Accessibility of MOOCs for Blind People in Developing Non-English Speaking Countries (2016)
    • Evaluated accessibility of Almooc, a MOOC for the Alabian-speaking people, from three methods: (1) usability testing from two blind individuals, (2) automatic accessibility checking using the WAVE web accessibilit tool, and (3) heuristic evaluation by three evaluators following the IBM web accessibility heuristics.
  • The Accessibility of MOOCs for Blind Learners (2017)
    • A poster for ASSETS ‘17 evaluating Coursera's accessibility. 7 blind participants took 4-week MOOC course offered by Coursera, and the authors measured its accessibility with qualitative measurement from participants note.
    • Navigation, website structure
    • Alt text for images, description for videos
    • Labeling for buttons
    • This is really surpising to know… Really? Which class did the participants take? “The participants reported that the courses have a clear, logical structure, there are no unexpected elements used, and all instructions are simple and easy to understand”.
  • Accessibility of MOOCs (2014)
    • Might be a bit old.
    • A blind test person tested 5 MOOCc - Udacity, Coursera, edX (USA) and OpenCourseWorld and Iversity (Germany) - and “to register to the platform, then select and enroll to a random course. The experiment was stopped the moment the person ran into a situation in which proceeding without help by a non- impaired person would have been impossible.”

Weekly Process Blog 6

Finding from my research

My biggest finding this week was the realization that there are many divisions of the field that covers MOOCs and accessibility. This may sound obvious, but I don't think I've ever been aware of it. What I mean is that MOOCs and education are divided into many different fields, with different challenges and possible solutions from the fields.

For example, the accessibility of MOOCs as a platform is about web accessibility. Several papers I mentioned above did research that how current MOOCs are not accessible such as the website is hard to navigate with screen readers, page structure is not well done, buttons are not labled proparly, etc, which is about web accessibility in short.

Another example is the accessibility of the content/lectures of MOOCs. Some are related to web accessibility such as the alt-text of images, appropriate description of the video contents, etc. Others are related to education/learning theories (not sure about the exact words) such as how to effectively teach contents without using visual contents, how people who are blind learns, etc.

There are some areas that HCI covers I think. Using tactile materials to teach math (especially geometry?) is one example. On Reddit, I read that learning math/physics/biology/etc need tactiles such as to know the shape of triangle and structures of molecules. When you are in school, you can get them from your school but how can students who are studying remotely in their home can get such tactiles? Can we design some solution such cheap and handy tactile feedback devices designed for math/geometry?

Easily accessible programming is also another area. This can be programming language itself such as Quorum that is a computer language specigically designed for people who are blind, or developing easily accessible development environment such as monaco editor or some extensions for Visual Studio Code.

Now that I've finally realized that, I can think more deeply about what I want to do for my thesis.

Reading group

I will be reading something related to the visual impairment with Saki because we both want to research about people who are blind.

Oct 20, 2020, Tue

Reading memo

  • MOOC providors
  • Course providors
    • “Some platform providers develop accessibility guidelines and provide training to the course providers, but the responsibility to cater for accessibility mostly lies with the course providers.” (page 78)
    • “However, course providers are the ones who have produced the resources and will have the responsibility to fix them if accessibility barriers are found.” (page 78)
    • “For example course providers invest lots of money in video production, and there is a lack of understanding that not all learners enjoy them or find them accessible, and some may prefer to read text or could only access text.” (page 78)

Weekly Process Blog 7

I'm having a hard time narrowing down the theme. However, I was able to get some helpful advice from my thesis lecturer, Ahmed, and my advisor, Amy. I am happy to have two trusted mentors.

I talked to Amy and she recommended that the conference ASSETS 20 was just the right opportunity to think about it. ASSETS is a three-day accessibility and technology conference that will take place on October 26-28. I had originally planned to join ASSETS 20 out of my interest, but Ahmed's and Amy's advice made me feel positive about actively exploring my interests through the conference. Actually, I'm writing this blog while watching ASSETS 20. I'm especially interested in how people of my generation are identifying the challenges in the field of accessibility/technology and tackling them. After participating in ASSETS20, I want to be able to say with confidence, “This is the field of research I am interested in”.

So, no major progress this week, but speaking of new things, I started reading a book related to disability: Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century. It's a collection of essays by people with disabilities. The book shares experiences that only the people involved could have experienced, and there is a lot to learn.

Weekly Process Blog 8

2nd Presentation

Here is my slide:

After attending ASSETS 2020, I felt more comfortable with what to do for my thesis. I will focus on how mathematical graphs can be made more accessible for people who are blind.

Amy adviced me to find something I liked in ASSETS 2020 when I told her I was kind of lost and overwhelmed. And I was happy that I was able to find ones. As I shared my presentation slides, I got particularly interested in devices/system using tactile/haptics/sound to tell information for people who are blind, such as:

This tied in with my interest in math education. From my research, I found many existing solutions and issues in math education for people who are blind and one of the areas was math graph representation:

Combining above, my curent revised research statement is:

  • I am proposing to design a tactile device or system with multi-modality
  • For people who are blind studying high school/early college level math
  • In order to make mathematical graphs more accessible in real time
  • Because they have limited access to mathematical graph when school accommodation failed

I am aware that I need to define it more clear and conduct more research, but I am comfortable this is the way to go.

Reading Group

Saki and I read and discussed the paper: Mobile haptic e-book system to support 3D immersive reading in ubiquitous environments.

This is a paper about their prototype system of increasing book reading experience with multi feedback - audio, visual, and haptic. Beucase this paper is a bit old (published in 2013), we did not talk about the technological implementation of their prototype system. But rather, our discussion was how multi-modal feedback can be applied to our thesis project.

We have both agreed that multi-modal feedback for people who are blind is important, as this paper suggested: “overall knowledge acquisition score is the highest for text-audio-visual-haptic multimodality.” Multi-modality is not just about giving another option to experience something but we need to be really aware that the option itself has a huge effect on how people experience things. I mean, for example, reading a math function via mathematical equation of y = 2x is different from seeing it as a form of visual graph. Or, brainstorming via just talking is different from brainstorming using post-it and paste them on the wall. It was nice that I was able to realize that after reading the paper.

Weekly Process Blog 9

Last week I was finally able to narrow down the topic - how can math graphs be made accessible for people who are blind - and started reading papers on it. I would like to share three papers I read.

  • PantoGuide: A Haptic and Audio Guidance System To Support Tactile Graphics Exploration

    • The paper is about the design and evaluation of the PantoGuide - a wrist-worn device giving haptic (skin-stretch) and audio feedback using touch screen and tactile paper on it.
    • Pain point to solve is that there was no device to facilitate blind and vision impairment students to explore tactile graphs, even though it takes a reasonable amount of training to do so.
    • For limitations and future work, it suggests (1)technical improvements, especially amplify the skin stretch feedback by increasing the size of the workspace and (2) developing interfaces for teachers so that they can use the system with their students.
  • Tapsonic: One Dimensional Finger Mounted Multimodal Line Chart Reader

    • The paper is about the design and evaluation of the Tapsinic - a wrist-worn device to read individual data values in a line chart, using p5.js/iPad/Arduino Uno with haptic and audio feedback.
    • Pain point to solve is there is little research on depicting individual data values, while there are sufficient studies on making visual graphs interpretable in terms of the physical shape.
    • For limitations and future work, it suggests (1)tested with only 2 line charts, (2)no scenarios-based charts like stock charts, and (3)limited number of participants.
  • Math Graphs for the Visually Impaired: Audio Presentation of Elements of Mathematical Graphs

    • The paper is about investigating optimal methods for representing mathematical graphs using sound.
    • Techniques used are pitch for y-axis, time for x-axis, and stereo panning for the x-axis position. Also there are two modes - (1)Serial: play x-axis sound first, then y-axis sound (2)Parallel: both x and y-axis at the same time. Finally it uses sonification to represents quadrants and differentiability.
    • Findings: (1) Serial is useful to understand simple information of the graph such as rough shape, whereas parallel is useful to understand complex information such as intersection points between x-axis and the graph. (2) Sonification to represents quadrants and differentiability is useful.

They were all useful to me especially how they define their problems to tackle. PantoGuide mentioned in their paper that one existing problem is “students in traditional classrooms erport that they often receive their tactile graphics late” and I felt this was one of the main problems I wanted to tackle. Also, developing interfaces for teachers so that they can use the PantoGuide system with their students in the future is very important aspect to consider. This also has relation to the Tapsonic's approach to use open source and widely available devices in order to make their suggetion easily usable. After reading the papers, Something like:

How can mathematical graphs be made accessible for people with visual impairment in real time? (considering providing multimodal feedback)

I will keep reading papers/resources related to my interest and also want to start approaching some stakeholders such as The Moses Center for Student Accessibility (CSA) at NYU, math teachers working on education for people with visual impairments, and students who are blind.

Lastly, I want to leave some memos:

  • Types of feedback
    • Haptics
      • vibration, skin-stretch, etc.
    • Sound
      • voice, pitch, panning, types of sonification, etc.
  • Motion
    • Vertical/horizontal, tap(singe, multi), voice, etc.
  • Approach
    • Use existing devices such as iPad/touch panel, p5.js, arduino, etc if the requirements meet.
    • Open source

Weekly Process Blog 10

1 on 1 meeting

I had my second meeting with my advisor Ahmed and got a lot of insights. I will work on making a list of stakeholders and topics of the questions I want to ask in the interview, as well as a list of questions.

My stakeholders are going to be the following four types:

  • College/university students who are blind and have taken math classes

    • Undergrad
    • Grad in masters
    • Grad in phd
  • Experts in math education

    • who have tought students who are blind in college
  • Experts in accessibility

    • who have been involved in education for students who are blind
  • Students accommodation providers in college/university

    • Admin staff

I will finish making a question list for each type of stakeholders by the end of this week, so that I can start interviewing people soon.


I would like to share one of the papers I read this week, which is VizTouch: automatically generated tactile visualizations of coordinate spaces.

I liked the approach of improving the process of making math graphs accessible by developing a software. By giving inputs of some data of a math graph using VizTouch, it generates data for the graph that can be output by a 3d printer. The paper also mentions the advantages of using 3d printer to represent math graphs comparing to the existing solutions such as braille/emboss printing and hand-made tactiles. I will keep this approach in my mind and see if I can expand the idea somehow, like, use smartphone camera to read math graphs and output as 3d printer usable data format.

Weekly Process Blog 11

Interview questions

I worked on a list of questions to ask for my stakeholders. It is not perfect yet but I have more clear directions now after I got a feedback from my advisor Ahmed. It was a great reminder of the idea I learned throughout my IDM experience, that is, people are good at telling a story from their experience but not good at answering questions based on hypothetical settings. I did not expect the art of storytelling works here as well. Now, I need to start reaching out my stakeholders to have interviews. I hope I can update a good news next week here.

Joined a 3-days workshop

I joined the Accessible Computer Science Education Fall Workshop by Microsoft. Many things learned but just sharing two.

  • I was the only master's student in the Accessible Computer Science in Higher Education team but collaborating with other PhD students and professors in the workshop was very stimulating. I learned a lot from how they ideate, construct the concrete/abstract from the different ideas, and develop one reaserach idea.

  • When I shared my idea about accessible online education, one experiended professor shared me an article Electronics and the Dim Future of the University and told a story about online education and academia. I was surprised to know that the possibility of online education in universities has been talked about for many years, but due to various issues (some of which involve money and employment within the university), it has never came true. And now, with the COVID, it seems finally to start moving, yet nobody is sure what will happen in the future. It was not directly related to my thesis, but a good opportunity to think about the meaning of academia, and differences of online/offline education.

Weekly Process Blog 12

I have to admit that I was not able to get much done this past week because of my private reasons. But I had a chance to talk with two of my advisors and I happened to know that I need to get an IRB approval for my thesis if I want to conduct any research (interviews/surveys) related to Human Subjects.

For details, see:

If I go this way, it will take about 2 months to get the IRB approval and will have a significant delay on the progress of my thesis.

So, after having one-on-one meeting with my advisor, I decided to focus on purely technological aspect of accessibility on visual information, such as how can I develop a feedback mechanism/system/device/technology that translate visual graphs of math functions into other modality such as sound and haptics. This is an approach of “research through design”.

I need to narrow down more about which technological aspect and which modality/modalities of feedback I want to work on, through researching past projects/studies/research/technologies. After doing so, I will conduct some interviews with experts/reseachres/technologists to know more about the past research.

After deciding on the general direction and ideating the prototype(s), I will proceed with the IRB application in December, during which time I will complete building the prototype(s) and be ready for user testing and evaluation around February of next year after getting the IRB approval.

Weekly Process Blog 13

Final presentation (Dec 7)

It was my final presention for pre-thesis today. My presentation slide is uploaded on the google doc. I got really useful advices from the class and advisors. After the presentation, here are the things I am thinking to do for the next steps.

  • Topic: Accessibility of graphs of math functions to people who are blind in university and college online education. If I might want to be more specific and narrow it down, then I would choose Calculus, or more specifically Calculus 1.

  • Tech: I will work on the audio/sonification to make math graphs accessible to people who are blind. Can the graphs be explained solely by the text/audio descriptions effectively, without haptics? Can I improve existing sonification technologies to improve the accessibility of math graphs?

  • Tools: I will use web-based and/or tablet-based tools because they are widely available technologies and work well on online/remote settings. Though tactiles are one of the great ways to convey math graph information, I won't choose them because it would be hard to try in online/remote settings.

  • Some insights for the math graphs: The graph is one of the abstract forms to get mathmatical information, such as a rough shape of the equation, x and y-intersection, slope, limit, local/global-min/max, etc. In order to know which information in a mathematical graph is important, I think it is necessary to do research on how to teach/learn about mathematical graphs.

  • Some lists of people/papers to check

  • Plan: After doing more secondary research, I will finish up my IRB applicaion in one or two weeks. Then I will start interview process from January,

Weekly Process Blog 14

The end of the semester (Dec 15)

As a final update, here are the links to the submissions:


Thesis Chronological Documentation

Bass Hug