"I always wanted to see the night sky": Blind user preferences for sensory substitution devices

G Hamilton-Fletcher, Marianna Obrist, P Watten, M Mengucci, J Ward
in CHI'16: CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Conference paper (text)


Sensory Substitution Devices (SSDs) convert visual information into another sensory channel (e.g. sound) to improve the everyday functioning of blind and visually impaired persons (BVIP). However, the range of possible functions and options for translating vision into sound is largely open-ended. To provide constraints on the design of this technology, we interviewed ten BVIPs who were briefly trained in the use of three novel devices that, collectively, showcase a large range of design permutations. The SSDs include the 'Depth-vOICe,' 'Synaestheatre' and 'Creole' that offer high spatial, temporal, and colour resolutions respectively via a variety of sound outputs (electronic tones, instruments, vocals). The participants identified a range of practical concerns in relation to the devices (e.g. curb detection, recognition, mental effort) but also highlighted experiential aspects. This included both curiosity about the visual world (e.g. understanding shades of colour, the shape of cars, seeing the night sky) and the desire for the substituting sound to be responsive to movement of the device and aesthetically engaging.