Scientists create science graphics for the blind using 19th century lithophane and 3D printing.

“The data and imagery of science – for example, the stunning images coming out from the new Webb telescope – are inaccessible to people who are blind. We show, however, that thin translucent tactile graphics, called lithophanes, can make all of this imagery accessible to everyone, regardless of eyesight. As we like to say, ‘data for all,’” added Shaw, who is also corresponding author on the article.

Lithophanes are thin engravings made from translucent materials (first porcelain and wax, now plastic). At first glance, they appear opaque in ambient light, but when backlit by any light source, they glow like a digital image. In this study, the researchers used 3D printing for the lithophanes.

“The idea of lithophanes was a concept Dr. Shaw had been playing around with, and I thought it was an amazing opportunity to help a group of individuals that have been stigmatized in the field of chemistry,” said co-lead author Jordan Koone, a doctoral candidate in chemistry at Baylor and member of Shaw’s lab. “It has been awesome to see blind people who have been told their entire life they could not excel in the fields of science interpret data just as easily as a sighted person.”

The researchers tested the lithophanes on both sighted and blind students. The study found that the average test accuracy for all five lithophanes was: 96.7 percent for blind tactile interpretation and 92.2 percent for sighted interpretation of back-lit lithophanes.

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