We use 3D printing to build education materials for blind students. We design and build tools that can make printed models more interactive and can explain themselves without specialized equipment.
Blind students face major challenges in education because they don’t have access to images, diagrams, and other visualizations. This is particularly problematic in STEM education, where many concepts (e.g., a molecule or DNA strand) cannot be touched or easily explained. One way to provide students with access to visualizations is through tactile graphics, raised line drawings prepared by professionals with specialized equipment. 3D printing now offers a potential alternative to tactile graphics. However, 3D prints are limited because they do not have labels or annotations.
Our goal is to build an online community where model designers can easily create and share interactive accessible models, and where blind users can print such models at their home and learn about complex concepts alongside their sighted peers.
To build tools to serve the online community, we considered both the technology and the user experience of using our system, and how these aspects could support one another in a user-centered design process.