The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded a shared grant of nearly $100,000 to a U.S. English professor and a doctoral candidate. The grant will go toward developing an app called Vizling. After the app is official, it will help improve accessibility for visually impaired students to read comics and other forms of multimedia text.
Aaron Rodriguez, a Florida State University doctoral candidate, and Darren DeFrain, a Wichita State University professor, are the two recipients.
The NEH awarded 20 Digital Humanities Advancement grants, adding up to a total of $2.3 million. According to NEH, they chose projects that have successfully completed a start-up phase and demonstrated their value to the field.
Dr. Andrew Hippsley, the dean of Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the app shows that even the field of humanities can contribute to technology.
“Darren DeFrain is a risk-taker with entrepreneurial spirit who draws from his expertise to do something completely different in the world of apps,” Hippsley said.
What the App Will Do
Rodriguez started building the app back when he was in school to get his masters at Wichita State. It works by allowing a touch screen option for blind or visually impaired people to choose between three options:
- global narrative or audiobook,
- narrative-grammar or panel-to-panel reading
- free exploration mode
The user can activate the audio descriptions of each page’s by dragging a finger across the screen. They can then stop on a panel, a speech bubble, or an object on that page to hear the narrative.
Rodriguez says that teachers are the main audience for this app, but individuals can benefit as well. In addition, he said this technology is beneficial for universities working to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“When I started teaching, I had a student who had a macular hole, and she was struggling to read comics in my class, and all the translation technology didn’t really work,” Rodriguez said. “She could still generally see what was happening on the page, but she couldn’t focus on the words and the speech bubbles.”
GrantWatch has a category specifically for technology-related grants that provide funding for costs such as research and start-up.
The app is not currently available on the Google Play or Apple App Store, but Rodriguez said it is crucial to spread the message of its importance.
GrantWatch has a category for disability-related grants. This category includes grants that fund initiatives to help people who are blind or visually impaired.
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