Access Across the Globe: Statped-Alt in Oslo, Norway Supports Academic Achievement with Accessible Images

Oslo, Norway

Statped-Alt is a national service for special needs education in Oslo, Norway. One of the services offered through Statped-Alt is the development of accessible images for middle and senior high school students who are blind or have low vision. For example, they can create accessible maps of Vikings plundering, continents shifting, volcanoes erupting, etc. – that is, the meat and potatoes of high school textbook information graphics. 

Tactile representation of The Scream

Tactile Adaptation of “The Scream”

Lisa Yayla, an adviser with Statped-Alt, is currently working on making The Scream by Edward Munch accessible for students with visual impairments. The tactile adaption is presented in three pages:

  1. A map of the painting plus a map key for the various parts
  2. The figure built up in three stages with accompanying text
  3. A simplified rendition of stroke work used

This approach to making images accessible for education purposes in a schoolbook is different than the approach taken for those who view images leisurely in a museum or gallery.  The tactile graphics for a textbook compete with the book’s text for the student’s time. Words and pictures provide information, but what is the student most likely to be tested on? And perhaps, more importantly, how much previous exposure has the student had to tactile graphics? Without previous experience, understanding the tactile will take longer, eating up the student’s valuable study time. The aim is to convey the visual information in a clear-cut way – brevity is key. A tactile graphic for a painting used in a textbook could in essence be compared to the Spark Notes (study guide) version of that painting. 

Stories are being told on these canvases. One tries to be as objective as possible, mapping out the main elements, compositions and layers of the painting. For the tactile adaption, the painting is dissected into its main elements, and if necessary these are broken down again divided up further. These bits will then become the key for the “map” of the painting. By introducing them individually, it familiarizes the student with the work gradually. Over the next pages the elements can be presented in different ways, for example by distinguishing them according to color usage, showing a particular layer and combining the element layers on one page. 

Although written description typically replaces a visual illustration or diagram to make a textbook accessible, this is not the case for tactile graphics due to tradition and time. Tradition, because there is a general misconception that information that is conveyed to the eye cannot be conveyed through touch. Time, because production and design tools for tactiles have yet to be on par with tools for visual graphics. These and other restrictions factor into the design process. But at the same time, accessible solutions to presenting a painting can be very varied. This is enriching since they all aim to generate discussion and reflection by the intended audience.

Learn more about Statped-Alt at http://www.statped.no/Spraksider/In-English/