Notions for improving accessibility for the blind and visually-impaired

I really like the Grove suite. I have purchased literally dozens of items in it and have used it to help blind and visually-impaired users learn about computing and basic electronics (e.g., in Joshua Miele’s BABAMM meetup). However, it could (and should!) be a lot more accessible. Can we improve things?

Note: I would have added accessibility, blind, and visually-impaired as tags, but none of these were available as “optional tags”. Nor was there any (apparent) way to add new tags. This seems, sadly, all too consistent with Seeed’s current Grove offerings.

The Grove suite is very well suited for use by naive users. The cables and devices are easy and error-resistant to use and the supporting software makes it easy to try things out. However, things get far more difficult if the user also happens to be blind or even visually impaired.

Let’s begin by examining the typical starter kit. The LCD displays, which burn up a lot of the available budget, are still tiny. So, they aren’t all that useful to visually-impaired users. Of course, they are totally useless to unassisted blind users. The colored LEDs are at least inexpensive, but they may not be all that useful to color-blind users; again, they are simply unusable by blind users.

Now, let’s consider some specific products:

This kit includes a number of items that a blind person could play with and learn from, but first, they need to get started. For example, there needs to be a simple way for a blind user to determine that the system is functional. Blinking an LED is not going to help; how about signaling using both an LED and a buzzer? That would work for both blind and deaf users and even be discernible (as vibration) by deaf/blind users.

I don’t think anything needs to be changed in the kit; having the LCD and LED parts can be very useful if a sighted assistant is present. But how about adding an audio output jack and/or a tiny speaker, along with the code that is needed to actuate them?

Here is where things get really ugly for an unassisted blind or visually-impaired user (and really, anyone who isn’t comfortable with soldering). I realize that some users won’t want the pins to be soldered in, but how about offering an obvious “assembled” version for those that do? I think many users would be happy to pay (for example) an extra fifty cents…

Please ask your engineers to try this experiment (while wearing an opaque mask):

  • open up the packaging
  • find and read the instructions
  • identify each of the parts
  • solder the pins onto the Pico
  • plug together a simple setup
  • connect it up to a computer
  • run it and verify that it works

Given that your engineers are already familiar with all the parts, they won’t even have to worry about using a picture to identify the appropriate sockets. Easy peasy, right? Uhuh…

Seriously, it doesn’t have to be this hard. Worse, Seeed Studio is missing an opportunity to help a large number of potential customers, including individuals, schools, etc. Please try…

Yours, Rich Morin