Ka Leo coverage: UH researchers to assist the visually impaired through web tool at national parks

Posted: Monday, January 5, 2015 7:00 am

Researchers on campus plan to develop a web tool that will assist the blind and visually impaired at national parks thanks to a $278,300 National Park Service (NPS) grant.

“We will start by building 3-5 prototypes,” assistant professor Brett Oppegaard said. “Our goal is to make a web tool for creating audio description that can be used throughout the National Park Service, and beyond, at any place audio description could be valuable.”

According to Oppegaard, who teaches in the campus School of Communications, the group’s goal is to be finished in 2017.

Oppegaard said the project would be environmentally friendly, converting the traditional brochures to audio. The finished project will operate on park goers’ systems as mp3 files.

The location for the test protocol will be determined in 2015.


Oppegaard believes that visually-impaired people deserve the same as every other person at learning about the parks and that the audio would stem information to those who want to learn more.

“Although we haven’t decided exactly on the delivery system, we plan to share the audio description files primarily through mobile apps and web downloads,” Oppegaard said. “We might use QR codes as part of the marketing, but the project will not primarily be shared via QR codes.”

According to Thomas Conway, media coordinator and project director for the EmployAble Project of the Center on Disabilities Studies in the College of Education, the initial text for the speech program will be in English but it can also be translated into other languages.

He added that the difference between the audio description and the straightforward translation is the description part.

“We are giving a translation of what is being communicated,” Conway said.  “We are attempting to describe what it’s like to be there.”


Conway said Braille, a method used for the blind by touch reading, would be an option that is based on the text translations. Since the project is the start of the pilot study, the researchers are concentrating on what the NPS (National Park Service) brochures currently offer.

“A future project will be to offer more indepth information,” he said, describing an optional long version of the brochure that would explain more to those whom are interested.

Conway, along with his wife, Megan Conway, assistant professor and a faculty member in the Disability and Diversity Studies Program, will be working on the upcoming NPS project along with Sean Zdenek, an associate professor for the Department of English at Texas Tech University, who teaches disability studies and rhetorical criticism.

“This pilot study is addressing the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) and is offering an alternative format for people who are vision impaired or blind,” Conway said. “We also expect other people to use the product.”

He added that people would be able to listen to the description in the car while experiencing the park.

According to Oppegaard, some people listen better than reading and that the audio can also be enjoyed by everyone including people that have dyslexia.