I probably first heard about Section 508 in 2008. If you haven’t heard of Section 508:
Section 508 requires that Federal agencies’ electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. IT Accessibility & Workforce Division, in the U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Governmentwide Policy, has been charged with the task of educating Federal employees and building the infrastructure necessary to support Section 508 implementation.
At the time I was a product manager for an automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) software package, and we could certainly make sure that our software allowed adjustment of colors for color-blind people, and included other features to meet the needs of the disabled.
However, I drew the line at one feature.
An AFIS provides the ability to display two grayscale fingerprint or palmprint images on the computer screen, so that a certified print examiner can visually compare the two prints to see if they came from the same finger or palm segment.
Fingerprint verification screen. Source: Neurotechnology
While it is certainly true that deaf people can perform this activity, I did not see any way that blind people could compare two grayscale images. If you cannot see a picture, it’s possible to read a tooltip that describes the picture (“This is a picture of a watermelon”); however, I couldn’t conceive of any way that one could write a textual description of an individual fingerprint.
In retrospect, my thinking was limited.
Take Kim Charlson of Watertown, Massachusetts, who created a picture of the Eiffel Tower. The bottom of this page includes a document that tells you how to make your own Eiffel Tower picture. The instructions begin as follows:
Line 1: Space 6 times, write The Eiffel Tower
Line 2: Space 9 times, write Paris, France
Line 3: Space 15 times, write 1 s, write 1 wh sign.
Line 4: Space 14 times, write 4 g’s.
Line 5: Space 15 times, write 1 and sign, write 1 y.
Line 6: Space 15 times, write 1 and sign, write 1 y.
Line 7: Space 15 times, write 1 and sign, write 1 y.
As it turns out, I am very familiar with this method of picture creation, since we did it often in Miss Jack’s typing class in school. Of course, back in those days, we created the pictures on a typewriter. (If you don’t know what a typewriter is, see this post.)
But Kim Charlson didn’t create the Eiffel Tower picture for your run-of-the-mill typewriter.
Charlson created this picture for a Braille printer.
Yes, Braille. You see, this picture can be printed on a Braille printer, allowing blind people to feel it and therefore “see” it.
Of course, this 25-line “picture” of the Eiffel Tower is an extremely rudimentary picture, and nothing like the 1,000+ line pictures of fingerprint and palmprint images that an AFIS would show. It isn’t like you can take a picture with a camera and then print it.
Or can you?
[T]he Touch Sight camera makes it possible for the visually impaired to take pictures. The photographer holds the camera up to his or her forehead, and a Braille-like screen on the back makes a raised image of whatever the lens sees….
Designed by Chueh Lee from Samsung China, the camera aims to provide a means of recording the mental photograph that the visually-impaired create of their surroundings using senses other than sight….
Not only is this camera made for people who are blind to take photos, it’s also possible to link this to the vectorization and 3D printers raised images so that the blind can touch and feel and “see” it. This takes this camera a step further.
Now I have no idea if this camera ever made it to market, because the description above is of a prototype camera that was displayed…in 2008.
Yup, the same year that I believed that you couldn’t have blind fingerprint examiners make print image comparisons.
Of course, there’s the whole question of market demand – to my knowledge, the International Association for Identification has never certified a blind fingerprint examiner, so there’s no business call for the AFIS vendors to satisfy their needs – but the ability for blind people to perform print image comparisons is theoretically possible.