How Sonification Helps the Blind Analyze Data Charts

Charts are one of the best ways to represent large data in a visual form. While this format is easy-to-understand, it means nothing when it comes to blind people. Unfortunately, this tool is useless for people who can’t see.

But:

Wouldn’t it be great if the blind could analyze charts?

In fact, many researchers and scientists work on this issue, and Ed Summers knows this problem firsthand. At the age of 10, he was diagnosed with the degenerative eye condition retinitis pigmentosa. Now he works on finding a solution that can help the bind to fill the gap between data’s possibilities and accessibility.

He is a software engineer who works for the data analysis company SAS in North Carolina. Under Summers control, the company created the Graphics Accelerator tool. It’s the browser plug-in that analyzes web pages to find charts and graphs and conveys them into sound. It’s an example of sonification which means the tool turns data into sound.

According to Mark Ballora, our ears are good at taking in patterns, subtle changes, and various streams of information at once. Being an associate professor of music technology at Pennsylvania State University, he has many proofs. For example, Ballora highlights the role of Wanda Diaz Merced, a blind astronomer who uses xSonify software to observe X-rays.

There’s no doubt that sonification is an actionable way to analyze data even if you’re blind.

“I keep asking myself about the value of raising kids to think of science and math as things you study not just with your eyes, but with your ears,” Ballora says. “This [SAS tool] has a lot of implications for what science education could look like in 20, 30 years.”

So, isn’t it the future?

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