We are developing a web app, available across all online platforms, making use of a network of researchers, programmers and other scientifically minded people, passionate about making sure nobody gets left in the dark.

IRIS – The word that’s worth a thousand pictures

As the first service offered by Grapheel, we designed an online interface to enhance the study experience of blind and visually impaired (BVI) students in their education. Initially we would like to focus on STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) education, but later expand to all fields of study, including social sciences, as well as arts and humanities. Further more, we believe that not only visually impaired people can benefit from the transcription of graphically presented educational content, but all members of the public, curious to learn, will find the expert explanation, of what it is they are meant to see on an illustration, a valuable asset.

The service functions by allowing a visually impaired student, their family members, tutors, support workers to upload an image of scientific content (for example a graph or diagram), with an associated broad field of study and difficulty ranking ranging from GCSE to Degree-level. The BVI student also provides some background information for the volunteers, and an optional specific question.

This image is then distributed to a pool of sighted volunteers who have the required expertise to be able to understand and give subject-relevant help to the student. Once a volunteer has responded to the image, the description is forwarded to the students via the system. They can choose to either accept the response, reject it and put the image back into circulation or ask for clarification from the volunteer, based on the level of their satisfaction.

This is a working model of community based image recognition services in other areas, e.g. clothing, household etc. Out aim is for an successful image description to typically take less than 2 minutes. Also, with a large pool of volunteers, the frequency of requests per individual is very low, since the stream of requests are distributed. Therefore, with practically no effort from a volunteer, we can achieve significant progress in accessibility of graphical study resources, making huge impact on the life of blind and visually impaired students.

Volunteer community

We would like to build a volunteer community whose members are confident in providing accurate descriptions of scientific images, anyone who is familiar with appropriate scientific jargon, ready to adapt our accessibility guidelines in their transcriptions. Therefore, we would like to ask for the help of people in one of the following groups:

  • Currently enrolled to, or completed at least an undergraduate science degree course at a university
  • Post graduate student
  • faculty member at a science department at a university or research institute
  • Qualified science teacher

If you feel you would like to, and be able to support visually impaired learners, please email us, or sign up to our news letter at the top of this page to express interest.

User community

If you are a student with a visual impairment and occasionally would like to get a great quality description of any of your graphs, plots and diagrams; now you can get hold of an academic expert, qualified teacher, and ask them to have a look for you.

If you receive a set of lecture slides, handouts or electronic files from your teachers, lecturers but only want to have a quick look at the images included, and do not feel like fiddling with braille embossers, swell paper, or try to find an available person to help you turn the images into something accessible; we are here to help. The Grapheel STEM volunteer community is happy to assist you with your studying, should you have any graphical learning resource you would like to check out. It doesn’t matter if you have a few mathematical functions plotted, a diagram of an electric circuit from your physics class, a sketch of a molecule from your chemistry textbook or a more advanced Feynmann diagram. We always make sure you can get in touch with the best academic expert of the field providing the description you need.

You can directly upload image files from your computer or smart phone using our web interface, or even take a photo using your phone’s camera and then upload it. Hence, you can scan pages of your textbook with the figures you would like to be described, take photos of sketches on the white board, but also if you create your own graph or diagram using a tool of your liking, you can send us the result for double checking before you print it out.

If you are interested in trialling our closed beta, and wish to be notified when the service goes live, please email us to express interest.

Making the most out of IRIS

The primary mission of IRIS is to enhance autonomy of study experience for visually impaired learners; however, we feel the web service can be a handy tool for the following group of users too.

  • Family members, carers of visually impaired students while studying together
  • teachers and tutors of visually impaired students while preparing accessible teaching material
  • Publishers, journalists, online course providers while preparing accessible content
  • Visually impaired family members, teachers while assisting their sighted children, students in studying

Please, also check out our blog post sketching some ideas on how to make the most out of IRIS. We look forward to hearing about new, creative ways of how users got help from the volunteer community through the web service.