These photos show some of the research activities we have done in the field around the world.
In June 2023, UniD Research Assistant Sajja Koirala led this group of American Council of the Blind volunteers through Pullman National Historical Park as a way to test the efficacy of the Audio Description recently produced for the park during Descriptathon 9. The group is shown in front of a Pullman railcar exhibit, where some of the group is seated in the train benches, and others are standing next to it, including, from left to right, Park Ranger Linda Schwab, research assistant Koirala, Bill Self, Tabitha Kenlon, Swatha Nandhakumar, Michael Wiseman, Clark Rachel, ACB's executive director Dan Spoone, Leslie Spoone, and Jim Kral. Ranger Schwab is wearing her NPS uniform, including a gray collared shirt and dark green pants. The rest of the group is wearing casual summer clothes. Wiseman is sitting on the floor in front of the train benches, looking relaxed in a white T-shirt, jeans, and a white visor. He's also wearing black-rimmed glasses. Kenlon and Nandhakumar are sitting on one of the benches, and Rachfal and Dan Spoone are sitting on the other. Everyone in the group is smiling and looking at the photographer.
Pullman National Historical Park in Chicago, IL, has a large table filled with Braille labels and tactile models that are being used by a UniD research team led by Research Assistant Sajja Koirala and, from left to right, park volunteer Elizabeth Mishler, and American Council of the Blind members Jim Kral and Clark Rachfal. This Koirala-led research study, in June 2023, tested, among other objectives, how Audio Description impacts the use and understanding of tactile models. The table is rectangular and a bit lower in height than a typical dinner table, but it also is larger, in the sense that it could probably comfortably seat three people on each side of it. The table has multiple tactile models of Pullman buildings as well as a significant amount of Braille text. The Braille text covers more than half of the table. Koirala is feeling one of the metal buildings, and Kral, on the other side of the table, is feeling a different one. He is leaning over the table and feeling it with his left hand. Rachfal, to Kral's left, is finger reading one of the sections of Braille.
Swatha Nandhakumar and Leslie and Dan Spoone, left-right, learned about Chicago's Pullman National Historical Park through tactile exhibits and Audio Description during a UniD field study in June 2023.
David Kilton, Chief of Interpretation at Pearl Harbor National Memorial, is shown in the foreground, with his back to the camera, listening to a UniD focus group discussion about Audio Description at the National Park Service site. About 20 Hawaii Association of the Blind members are sitting in a U-shaped formation, facing Kilton, engaged in the discussion, although not all of them are included in this particular image. Kilton is dressed in a formal National Park Service uniform, including a tan and round-brimmed hat and khakis, with his buttoned-up shirt a slightly paler color than the dark-green pants heʻs wearing. A long rectangular table in the middle of the room, in the middle of the U-shape made by the chairs, displays three tactile models that are being discussed during this April 2023 session. Those are of a ship, a soda bottle, and a cooking pot. The HAB members are dressed in casual clothes, with some of them holding white canes and with one guide dog in the image, who is on the floor next to his companion.
Working with a NFC tag on an outdoor tactile map at Pearl Harbor, Dr. Jordan Frith from Clemson University assists Hawaii Association of the Blind member Vickie Kennedy in finding the tag with her phone, so she can hear the Audio Description of the map. These tags were used in a research study conducted in Honolulu in April 2023. For this experiment, our team placed a quarter-sized NFC tag on this map that could be accessed and heard via smartphones using the UniD mobile app. To use the tag, the listener just had to open the app, find the tag on the map, and place the phone on the tag. In this image, Frith is wearing a white collared shirt and sunglasses, and he is helping HAB member Vickie Kennedy, who is blind, find the tag with her phone. Kennedy is stretching her right arm out, with the phone in it, and leaning over the table-top map, while Frith extends his arms as well and uses both of his hands to guide the placement of the phone and to help her position the phone's tag reader over the tag. Nondescript administration buildings at Pearl Harbor are in the background, in a park-like setting, lined with trees.
Dr. Jordan Frith from Clemson University joined the UniD research team in Honolulu in April 2023 to help conduct field research at Pearl Harbor National Memorial. In this horizontal color photograph, Dr. Frith is slightly to the first of the center of the image, describing to a group of 15 research participants — as well as friends and family members serving as chaperones — how a Near-Field Communication Tag (NFC) works. For this experiment, our team placed a quarter-sized NFC tag on this map that could be accessed and heard via smartphones using the UniD mobile app. To use the tag, the listener just had to open the app, find the tag on the map, and place the phone on the tag. In this image, Dr. Frith is wearing a white collared shirt and sunglasses, and he is standing with the huge circular metal map about at his hip level. He is touching the map with his right hand and holding an audio-recording device in his left hand. Hawaii Association of the Blind members ring the table and are listening to the instruction, with more Pearl Harbor buildings and facilities, lined with trees, in the background.
David Kilton, Chief of Interpretation at Pearl Harbor National Memorial, holds an audio recorder in his right hand near the mouth of a female and blind research participant who is feeling a tactile model of the U.S.S. Arizona on a table in front of her. She is talking with Kilton about the experience. Kilton is dressed in a formal National Park Service uniform, including a tan and round-brimmed hat and khakis, with his buttoned-up shirt a slightly paler color than the dark-green pants heʻs wearing. The long rectangular table between them holds only this ship model, on a larger piece of background wood and a few pieces of paper. The model is made of resin. Itʻs dark green, too, and about three feet long. It shows the U.S.S. Arizona after it was destroyed in a World War II battle at Pearl Harbor, so the model is relatively flat on the top. In the background of this spacious classroom, other research participants try different tactile models or talk with each other. For example, further down the table, Dr. Jordan Frith of Clemson University is showing a different female research participant a tactile model of a soda bottle and explaining how the Near-Field Communication tag on it — white and about the size and shape of a quarter — works with the UniD app.
Susan Glass, an American Council of the Blind member, is raising her arms above her head and stretching out her hands in response to the audio prompt in UniD's The Presidio: Goldsworthy Walk project on her UniD app. She is holding her smartphone in one of her raised hands and closing her eyes to listen to the audio. She has a paper medical mask on – as a pandemic preventative in September of 2021. The mask has been pulled down under her chin for this moment. The audio prompt is asking her to imagine how tall the Spire artwork is, not shown here, by imaging her size, in the thick forest setting, and projecting herself in size up into the air several times. Glass is accompanied by her yellow lab guide dog, Omni, who is equipped with a handled harness. The dog – who actually has latte-foam-colored cream fur rather than yellow – is standing in front of Glass, sniffing the ground. Glass is a white, middle-aged woman, wearing a jacket and jeans, with a purse strapped around her shoulder. The jacket is monochrome, in all blues. But it also is decorative, with high-contrast horizonatal striping, ranging from light blues and aqua shades to dark blues. A line of logs creates a border on the ground behind her, separating the flat dirt path she is on from the dense forest. No foliage can be seen on most of the trees, which creates a background of vertical tree trunks. The trees are not large but plentiful. There is one small pine tree, about the height of a person, and a few leaves on the ground, but the forest is mostly a gray tone, created by the lack of color in the tree trunks.
Imagine an audio-described college campus that supports full and independent use by people who are blind or visually impaired. Those just don't exist ... yet. The researchers who brought you The UniDescription Project – which is focused on improving media accessibility at U.S. National Park Service sites – are expanding their ideas onto their home campus, too, at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Members of the Hawaii Association of the Blind, ACB's local chapter, have been working with the researchers to improve the descriptions. Those volunteers shown in this image include, from left to right, Jonah Sniffen, Natalie Barrett, Sharon Ige, Laureen Kukino, and Sajja Koirala. Another volunteer on this day, not pictured, was Vickie Kennedy. They are listening to campus description and walking down a ramp together out of UH's Shidler College of Business. The ramp is set up for two-traffic, with one side going up and into the building and the other going down and away from the building. This image shows the HAB/ACB group leaving the building after they had conducted various field tests inside the structure. They all are using canes to guide them, and they are holding audio records, to capture their thoughts as they navigate the area. Through this work, the researchers and HAB/ACB members hope to set a new standard for campus accessibility nationwide and also to build the tools and practices for others to freely follow those models, through open-source systems. So far, this research group, led by principal investigator Brett Oppegaard, has received two campus grants, totaling $5,000, to get the project started, and he and his students already have created more than 300 descriptions for the campus, with hundreds more to go. The descriptions are focused on specific places of interest on campus, such as buildings, and on describing routes between and among those buildings.
Park Ranger J.R. Earnest described the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park to American Council of the Blind members on the main deck of one of the site's historic vessels in 2019. This group was field testing the UniD mobile apps and Audio Description, and it included, from left to right, Victor Clifford, Beverly Clifford, John Glass, Susan Glass, and Alice McGrath Turner, and their guide dogs. The ACB members are sitting on a tarp-covered bench, roughly in the middle of the deck, facing ranger Earnest as he talks, with all sorts of ropes and rigging in the background.
The UniDescription Project's mantra is to 'audio describe the world,' and this image shows UniD developer Joe Oppegaard at the base of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, testing the UniD system in May 2018. Joe is wearing a black shirt and dark sunglasses, contrasting with his blond hair and white earbuds, which are connected to his smartphone, as he listens to content on the phone underneath the massive marble columns at the remains of the Parthenon. The UniD Project team has worked with the University of Piraeus in Athens to audio describe parts of the Acropolis as well as various other major public attractions around the world, including more than 100 U.S. National Park Service sites.
The Silicon Valley and San Francisco chapters of the American Council of the Blind participated in field tests of the UniD apps in April 2018 at Muir Woods National Monument. The seven people shown here – including Park Ranger Michael Faw, in the middle of the image – are either looking at, or listening to, their mobile devices in a setting of enormous redwood trees. These trees are so large, only the base of the trunks can be seen. And one in the background looks as long as an automobile. Ranger Faw is holding a red smartphone and showing it to McGuire, who is leaning in toward the screen and holding a leash attached to a dark-gray poodle. Blind or visually impaired members shown here include Frank Welte, Sally McGuire, Michael Keithley, and Susan Glass. Two people, though, because of the way they are obscured in the image, could not be identified.
American Council of the Blind president Kim Charlson, right, was among the group of blind and visually impaired volunteers who field-tested the Minute Man National Historical Park's audio description of its site brochure on smartphone apps at the park in July 2018. Other volunteers testing the project this day were, from left to right: Bob Hachey, a former president of the Bay State Council of the Blind, and Beth White and Cory Kadlik of the Perkins School for the Blind. In this image, the group is listening to the description near the North Bridge, spanning the Concord River, where a key opening battle of the American Revolution took place, a moment Ralph Waldo Emerson memorialized in poetry as the "shot heard round the world." The four people mentioned in the caption are at one side of a small wooden bridge that raises to a slight crest over the Concord River. They all are listening to their smartphones in different ways, using earbuds, holding the phone up to their ear, or just holding the phone in a comfortable position in front of them, within earshot. In the background, on the other side of the bridge, is a stone obelisk, memorializing this place as the site of the battle. A few other visitors, plus a park ranger, are mingling in the area, talking on the bridge in the background.
American Council of the Blind member Ginger Kutsch, left, sits with her black-labrador service dog in the shade of a tree near Wick House at the Morristown National Historical Park. She is listening to Audio Description about the historic structure in the background, where Gen. Arthur St. Clair made his headquarters during the American Revolutionary War. In July 2018, Park Ranger Eric Olsen, right, welcomed members of ACB to the park for this field test, including Christina Brino and Melissa Allman, as well as Associate Professor Brett Oppegaard, the principal investigator on the UniDescription project, from the University of Hawaii, as a part of the National Park Service-supported research project focused upon making media at public attractions more accessible.
John and Susan Glass, members of the Silicon Valley chapter of the American Council of the Blind, test UniD description at the Fort Point National Historic Site, which is on the southern side of the Golden Gate Bridge, at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. It's a cold and windy September day, and the Glasses are shown wearing warm clothes (John in a coat, and Susan in a heavy sweatshirt). Susan is holding the leash to her guide dog, a light-golden retriever, as John holds the phone, and they listen together to the description. In the background, a series of brick arches of the fort can be seen, indicating a labyrinth-like depth to the structure. Also in the background are the tip of a cannon, along with part of its large wooden wheels, and a white flag, with just a hint of an indistinguishable emblem on it.
Members of the Silicon Valley and San Francisco chapters of the American Council of the Blind field tested the UniD app at Muir Woods National Monument in April 2018. This image shows about a dozen members of this group, with their backs to the camera, filing into the park. They are passing under a large wooden gateway, made of logs, adorned with a flat rectangular wooden sign, with carved lettering spelling out the words: "Muir Woods National Monument," "National Park Service," and "Department of the Interior." At least three guide dogs can be seen. The boardwalk path is surrounded by lush greenery.
A group of low-vision and blind visitors are gathered at a viewpoint at Yosemite National Park. Three of them have guide dogs at their sides. Others have white canes. Most are shown listening to their mobile devices, testing new descriptions provided in The UniDescription Project's free mobile apps. Behind the people, at this viewpoint, are some large fallen logs that are touchable and within reach. In the gully, farther in the background, larger boulders and smaller rocks, nearly white to dark gray, form a dry river bed that leads to a majestic waterfall deep in the background. A few brushy trees and bushes emerge from the rock walls and stone-covered landscape, adding a bit of color to an otherwise gray setting. In terms of who is there, in the back row, from left to right, there is Veronica Hernandez, Joey Ruiz, Nikki Richards, and Chenier Derrick, and in the front row, Sajja Koirala (a University of Hawaii research assistant) and Martha Espitia. They all were among the more than two dozen low-vision or blind people (plus four guide dogs) who visited Yosemite National Park in November 2017 as a part of The UniDescription Project's field work. This Google-sponsored test (with a chartered bus provided by the American Council of the Blind) was a collaboration among the University of Hawaii-based research team and its partners, including the California Council of the Blind's Fresno chapter, the national American Council of the Blind organization, the National Park Service, and Google.
ACB members, from left to right, Martha Espitia, Nikki Richards, and Sarah Harris listening to UniD Audio Description at Yosemite National Park. Espitia holds her white cane against her body with her left arm, with her left hand holding her phone. She is listening to the description with white, wired Earpods. Richards and Harris, behind Espitia, are huddled close together, sharing a single set of Earpods, with each holding an Earpod to an ear with the hand not holding a cane. They all are wearing winter clothes.
From left to right in the foreground, Eric Bridges, American Council of the Blind's Executive Director, Doug Powell, a member of ACB’s Rehabilitation Task Force, and Pat Sheehan, Director of the 508 Program Office at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, use the UniD app to explore John Brown's Fort with U.S. National Park Service staff members at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia in 2017. In this image, the three ACB members are listening to their smartphones on the dirt patch outside of the fort. The fort – a one-room, single-story brick building – has three identical entry doors, each surrounded by an arch of window panes. Two of those doors are propped open for visitors to go in and out.