Now that we’re on the last leg of the internship, you will notice that a lot of us will talk a lot more about our work. Every single work hour must be efficiently managed at this point. We find ourselves attacking the work we had to postpone for some reason in the first few weeks, while being relieved that we completed other tasks ahead of schedule to balance the scales. I’ve spent the last week working on user testing for the Braille tutoring devices and also implementing a new tactile graphics project for the Mathru School.
User testing our Braille devices (BWT and SABT) with students and teachers has been a much more rewarding experience than I expected. In addition to being hugely informative about the possible improvements that we can make to our devices, the sessions served as constant reminders that the work that we are doing has very real results. Some of the suggestions we get are things we had never thought of, but were very obvious to the teachers at Mathru. I found our most interesting sessions to be the ones with teachers who had no qualms about telling us that our programs really need to be improved. The students sheepishly (their teacher was watching them) asked us if we could add some of their favorite computer games to the BWT. One of the bolder students (this was the most interesting interview I conducted) stated that the SD card on the back of the device should be hidden, and inaccessible to the users. When I asked him why he thought this (none of the other participants showed any interest in the SD card), he said that “some students,” could, if they were so inclined, replace our sound files with the latest Bollywood pop songs. “Thanks a lot. We’ll definitely look into it” was the only answer that I had to that.
As the Tech team liaison, I have also been working on a program that makes tactile graphics accessible to the teachers and students at Mathru. It uses the code worked on by students in Carnegie Mellon’s Mobile Web Apps course (15-237) to download an image (based on a search string), add filters to make it as close to a line drawing as possible, and then convert it into an outline made of Braille characters that can be printed using an embosser.
Once again, we had to keep in mind the restrictions that the Mathru School faces, and implement these features accordingly. For example, to work around any problems with internet connectivity, we had to make sure that a library of images could be built, so that the same image did not have to be downloaded more than once. The user interface had to be easy and accessible enough for both blind teachers and those who did not have too much experience with computers in general. While we could get distracted by the cat images that we use to test this code, our objective to provide the students here with a way to access pictures of animals, plants, maps, and parts of the human body that they can’t see – the same ones that filled the picture books that we grew up with – focuses us; it keeps us hard at work.