Reading on auditory systems
Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 16:38
martian77 in HCCS Adv

Well, to try and look at some of the questions I came up with on the sound design for blind users, I read a couple of papers.

First up was "Electronic Sensory Systems for the Visually Impaired" by B. Ando. Published by IEEE.

This had lots of good follow-up leads and overviews on existing handheld systems, and about hearing for the choice of which beep pitches to use etc.

Next I looked into the "Design of Auditory UI for Blind Users" by Hilko Donker, Palle Klante and Peter Gorny. Published by the ACM.

This one was les useful for me, but included some good information about the sound merging. Apparently it's important for the noises to be pleasant for the user, which suggests nice chords of abstract notes would be better than clashing sounds that might more accurately represent the objects we're looking for. Also apparently the human ear is better at distinguishing the position of sounds in a horizontal plane, rather than vertically.

The other interesting bit was how they tested it. They tried to get users to represent their understanding of the screen layout using a set of pins in a cork board, but the mental maps that the blind users produced were completely incomprehensible to them. When they tried the same thing with blindfolded sighted users the maps were more what they were expecting. That implies that  the way the blind users internalised the spatial awareness was very different to the sighted version, and that this isn't necessarily a good way to measure the success of the model. It's pretty interesting in terms of how to represent visual information to people who have no concept of many of the 'standard' visual cues.

Article originally appeared on Life on Mars (
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