Global Literacy in D.C.: Making Images Accessible with U.S. Department of Education Senior Leaders

By Benetech, posted on

Last month, Benetech CEO, Jim Fruchterman, President Betsy Beaumon, and the Benetech Global Literacy team visited Washington, D.C., for briefings with senior leaders of the U.S. Department of Education. As part of the visit, our team was thrilled to demonstrate to these government officials some of our products and tools, made possible thanks to their support.

This included an “image slam”—a hands-on session in which they used our image description tool, Poet, to make digital images in a classic children’s book accessible. Through our Bookshare library, the accessible digital book and its images will become available to hundreds of thousands of readers with print disabilities around the country. You can read more about this event and our work to empower individuals with print disabilities in Betsy Beaumon’s post, on the official blogs of and of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS).

Poet is but one product of the DIAGRAM Center, a Benetech Global Literacy research and development center that makes it easier, cheaper, and faster to create and use accessible digital images. While many of the challenges of making text accessible have been addressed by the move to ebook publishing and by solutions like Bookshare, there is still much to be done in the field of digital image accessibility. Imagine reading a picture book without being able to see the illustrations. Or imagine taking a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) class without being able to see the charts, diagrams, and formulas in your textbooks. As one of the attendees at last month’s Image Slam event noted, “I was surprised at how much we’d lose if we didn’t have the pictures.” That’s one of the challenges individual with visual impairments and other disabilities face every day.

As digital content is quickly becoming richer, including visual components like complex graphics, simulations, and interactives, the need to make images accessible to all learners has become ever more pressing. That is why Benetech established the DIAGRAM Center. With support from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), and in partnership with leaders in the corporate, technology, university, publisher and nonprofit communities, the DIAGRAM Center is working to transform the ways in which digital images—especially complex images, such as charts, graphs, maps, rich illustrations and mathematical formulas—are accessed and used. Our team and partners are exploring and developing image accessibility technology solutions for text alternatives, such as Poet, as well as cutting-edge solutions for different learning modalities, such as tactile graphics, sonfication, haptic interfaces, and 3D printed images.

Since 2012, volunteers at image slams and other events have described nearly 45,000 digital images using Poet.

This April, National Volunteer Month, we celebrate the wonderful volunteers who make a difference every day and help advance Benetech’s mission.

Are you passionate about using technology as a force for good? We invite you to join our fantastic volunteer community!