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Accessible Oceans: Making Ocean Science Accessible to the Visually Impaired

Accessible Oceans website:

Co-PIs: Amy Bower (WHOI), Jon Bellona (UOregon), Jessica Roberts (GaTech)

The “Accessible Oceans” AISL Pilots and Feasibility study aims to inclusively design auditory displays that support perception and understanding of ocean data in informal learning environments (ILEs). Most data presentations in ILEs use visual display techniques such as graphs, charts, and computer-generated visualizations, resulting in inequitable access for learners with vision impairment or other print-related disabilities. While music, sound effects, and environmental sounds are sometimes used in ILEs to engage the learner, these audio modalities are inadequate for conveying quantitative information. Auditory display techniques, particularly data sonification, have the potential to transform how ILE visitors perceive and understand data, but there is little research on how best to integrate and implement these display techniques in ILEs.

In this two-year project, we will leverage existing curated ocean datasets, known as “Data Nuggets”, from the NSF-funded Ocean Observatories Initiative to produce and evaluate the feasibility of using integrated auditory displays to communicate tiered learning objectives of oceanographic principles. Displays will be comprised of data sonification encoded with adaptive spatialization, and contextual audio supports (narration with relevant environmental sounds). Their development will be informed through a usercentered design process that will include ocean science experts, visually impaired students and adults (and their teachers), and design-oriented undergraduate and graduate students. A multi-disciplinary advisory board and an external evaluator with expertise in auditory display methods will assess the research team’s accomplishments against a set of goals and milestones.


Image representing sound: a wave in the foreground and vertical push-pin style lines in turquoise, violet, and fuchsia in background.

Oak Ridge Children’s Museum Gala features Accessible Oceans

Accessible Oceans - Making Ocean science accessible to the visually impaired