Touchscreen-Based Learning Technologies for Children with Visual Impairments
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Many learning technologies, such as the block-based programming environments used to teach programming and many literacy applications, rely heavily on visual elements to convey information, making them inaccessible for children with visual impairments. In this dissertation, I explore ways to use touchscreens to make this material accessible: allowing children with visual impairments (aged 5-14) to access the spatial information using a combination of touchscreens, tactile and audio feedback. Because they can convey spatial information and rely on direct manipulation, touchscreens are a promising avenue of research for this population. However, there has been very little research on the use of touchscreens by children with visual impairments. Through my research, I provide solutions to remedy this. I explore how children with visual impairments are currently using and being taught to use learning technology through interviews with teachers of the visually impaired. I evaluated one type of learning technology (block-based programming environments) to determine how accessible they are. I created two accessible touchscreen applications that allow children with visual impairments to independently access similar content for learning to that of their sighted peers. The first is a suite of games that use the haptic and audio feedback on the touchscreen to represent Braille characters to allow children to practice reading and writing the characters. The second is a block-based programming environment to give children an introduction to computer programming. In this dissertation, I present my research (1) to discover how children with visual impairments are currently using technologies, including touchscreens, and the accessibility problems with existing touchscreen devices and (2) on the design, development and evaluation of two pieces of touchscreen-based learning technology for children.