These photos show some of the research activities we have done in the field around the world.
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.
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.
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.
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.