Talking face to face is about more than sharing ideas vocally. It’s about expressing feelings through facial expressions or supporting those ideas through body language. The blind do not have access to facial features and expressions, and this represents a significant problem in their day to day lives. So, we created self-describing tactile graphics to ease their experience.
1. Humans as ”obstacles”
The simple act of taking a 5-minute walk through the city can help a person find out more about its inhabitants. And they don’t even have to interact. Just observing people, their facial expressions, their pace, and the way they walk helps paint an accurate picture. Some are busy, rushing around, others walk with frowned faces, and others bear smiles on their faces.
For a blind person, observing the city resumes to sounds and fragments of conversations. Because they do not have faces, humans are perceived as ”obstacles”. We want the blind to be able to personalize humans, so we created 150 self-describing portraits, which can be found and downloaded free of charge from the LIBRARY of the Tactile Images educational platform.
The portraits in the LIBRARY depict Romanian historical personalities and have a lot of useful information attached. We wanted to create a learning context, and they are technically a schoolbook of Romanian history. We created the descriptions with professionals from the Historical Consulting Center in Bucharest and are now working on a catalog of portraits.
2. Distinctive facial features
Facial features help people know, recognize, and even fall for other people. They are a significant trademark of a person. Symmetrical faces are the most attractive, and a straight nose will help achieve that look. Almond-shaped or oval-shaped, bigger or smaller, the eyes are a great means of expressing one’s feelings.
Noticing the distinctive facial features of a person helps us distinguish people from the crowd and even create a connection. The only way blind people can acknowledge facial features is by touch. This is why we created self-describing tactile graphics with faces – because we want them to enjoy this experience and be able to put a face to a name. One of our aims is to personalize people to the blind by making distinctive facial features available to them.
3. Facial expressions
Facial expressions are the most important form of nonverbal communication. They carry a considerable amount of information and help us decode a verbal message.
Important messages can be transmitted through facial expressions alone. A person whose inner corners of the eyebrows are drawn in and then up will be considered sad without the person having to utter a word about his/her feelings. Self-describing tactile graphics can help the blind relate to these feelings they wouldn’t otherwise be able to perceive.
Because they need to explore with their hands, human faces, and by extension, facial expressions are mostly inaccessible to the blind – apart from the persons closest to them like their parents or siblings. They can’t perceive sadness or happiness other than from verbal message or vocal pitch, but we are here to change that.