By adding features to commonly used chemical- engineering software packages, researchers at the University of Arkansas, the University of Akron, and Chemstations Inc. have developed adaptive technology that allows blind or visually impaired students and working professionals to perform the essential functions of chemical engineering process design.
The research team, led by Bob Beitle, professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas, created a system that combines tactile, Braille-like representations that can be "read" by visually impaired chemical engineers. The system also includes an audio, screen-reading component and audible indicators of certain software functions. To facilitate the drag-and-drop function, the researchers utilized a tablet computer with a customized overlay, a tablet pen functioning as a computer mouse, and alignment holes mapped to the tactile objects.
The system has been extensively tested at a process-engineering firm by Noel Romey, a graduate student at the University of ArkansasÃ Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering. Romey, who has been blind since birth, came to the university to study chemical engineering. Since May, he has tested the system by simulating and designing various chemical facilities.