Developing Kasi – Accessibility First

February 25, 2021
Company & TechnologySarah Wegwerth

You don’t realize how much the sense of vision is used to study chemistry until you are tasked with making material accessible for blind and visually impaired (BVI) students. When first presented with the task of making the Mechanisms app accessible we were admittedly overwhelmed.

Fast forward a couple of years and we just finished Phase I of an IES SBIR grant that makes accessing Lewis Structures, both building and reading, accessible for students regardless of their visual ability. How did we do it? What was the secret to a very successful Phase I?

Image of a pair of hands touching Kasi's tactile pieces. These pieces have extruded letters and braille on them for students to feel.

1.  Accessibility first:

Rather than try to add in an accessibility feature to a digital interactive as an after-thought, accessibility was at the forefront during the entire design process.

2.  Focus on abilities:

Rather than focus on a “disability” think about the variety of abilities.  For example, a BVI student still has the ability to explore the world through touch and often times sound as well.

Illustration of three students working together to build a variety of molecular structures. The illustration style features soft line work resembling Globohomo art styles. The students have elongated arms holding round molecular structures.

3.  Believe all students can be successful:

One of our newfound favorite quotes is “impaired vision does not necessarily preclude our faculties to visualize.” (1) Once you embrace this quote you see that all students have the potential to succeed and our job as educators is to give them the tools necessary to make it possible.

4.  Think Inclusivity:

Embrace the quote above a little bit more. You can shift your mind set from making “special tools” for “special education” to making tools that are inclusive and truly allow for equal treatment of all students.  

5.  Include those you want to help in the design process:

FYI you can’t close your eyes, pretend to be blind and think you’ll make a truly inclusive product. Early on we brought  in BVI consultants and iteratively built a product that worked for them.

Put all of this together and you get the Kasi system. Kasi uses Computer Vision (CV) and Augmented Reality (AR) software to open a new world of possibilities.  The CV technology reads tactile pieces and inputs student structures into the digital interactive while the AR enables the pieces to talk to the students to give them the same information that is presented in the digital explorer. You can think of it as a replacement for a computer mouse and more natural navigation of a screen reader.

As a part of Phase I a third party research team, WestEd, did a feasibility study, but we’ll save the results for next week’s blog post. Let’s just say we’re confidently sending in a Phase II application shortly :)

Oh and Lewis structures are just the start. And if you think about it, they are the first thing you draw when starting a Mechanism…

(1) Figueiras, L.; Arcavi, A. Learning to See: The Viewpoint of the Blind. In Selected Regular Lectures from the 12th International Congress on Mathematical Education; Cho, S. J., Ed.; 2015; 175–186.

Interested in using the Kasi system? Become a backer and get updates on the upcoming kickstarter campaign.

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