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ACMD Seminar: Towards Fully Accessible Data Visualisation

Volker Sorge
School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham, UK

Thursday, June 8, 2017, 15:30 - 16:30
Building 101, Lecture Room C

Thursday, June 8, 2017, 13:30 - 14:30
Room 1-4058

Presentation Slides

Host: Bruce Miller

Abstract: Data is everywhere and its communication and understanding is an important pre-requisite for the full participation of individuals in the information age. Good data visualisation is commonly used to great effect for the sighted world, but are practically useless to a blind audience. Blind people, but also people with other visual and print impairments, are at risk of being left behind if efforts are not made to improve the access to information that is not traditionally conveyed in text, whether that text be accessed in braille, audio, or a computer's screen reading software.

Our work aims to provide an accessible way for visually impaired users to easily, efficiently, and most importantly accurately, explore and query the data contained in diagrams such as bar charts, box plots, time series, and many more. We employ the statistical software environment R not only as a means to generate accessible diagrams, but also as a way for blind users to directly interact with data in the same way as their sighted peers by supporting immediate data visualisation via screen reading and interactive exploration. This empowers blind users to not just be passive consumers but to become active creators of diagrams.

We achieve this by combining R with a JavaScript library for screen reading semantically annotated SVG diagrams in a web browser. It therefore fits seemlessly into our ongoing work on producing accessible STEM diagrams, in areas such as chemistry or physics.

This work is in parts joint work with Jonathan Godfrey from Massey University, New Zealand.

Bio: Volker Sorge is a Reader in Scientific Document Analysis at the School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham, UK. With his research group he is working primarily on mathematical document analysis, diagram recognition and handwriting recognition. As part of this work he has been concentrating on making scientific content accessible and is currently working on assistive technology for STEM subjects with the start-up company Progressive Accessibility Solutions (

His work includes integration of maths accessibility support into web content, as a Visiting Scientist with Google and as a consultant for the American Mathematics Society on the MathJax project. Most recently, he is exploiting image recognition technology to generate web accessible STEM diagrams. For their work on accessible chemical diagrams Volker and his co-authors won the ACM Press best paper award in 2015 at the Web For All conference.


Created June 6, 2017, Updated November 15, 2019