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Using technology to improve accessibility for people with visual disabilities is the focus of a University of Wisconsin Oshkosh research project underway this summer.

Warren Vaz

Warren Vaz, associate professor in the engineering and engineering technology department, recently learned his WiSys Ignite grant application for applied research will be fully funded for 2023-24, in the amount of $50,000.

His proposal, Indoor Wayfinding Smartphone App for Blind Users, was selected on technical merit and research design as well as its potential impact on Wisconsin’s economy.

“We aim to make UW Oshkosh a more accessible destination for students with visual disabilities through the use of technology and provide them with a quality, affordable education,” Vaz said.

Funding will be used to create the smartphone app that somebody with a visual impairment can use to navigate to a point of interest in University building where requisite sensors will be installed to support the app.

Vaz said he intends to create a custom solution to transform the entire Oshkosh campus.

Don Heath

The project has three components: outdoor mapping, which will enable a blind person to navigate around the campus; indoor mapping, which will allow them to find a classroom or point of interest within a building; and curriculum development and modification, which involves creating a curriculum with students with visual disabilities in mind—either for new courses or by modifying existing ones.

The project will commence July 1, with completion by Aug. 31, 2024. Students will be hired to help professors working on the project. Part of their work will be to interview students with visual impairments to get their input on how an app would fit their needs. Vaz, the principal investigator overseeing research activities, will be joined by professors Don Heath, Michael Rogers and Stacey Skoning, plus Jakob Iversen, associate dean of the College of Business, who put the initiative together last fall.

Vaz said Heath has years of experience working with individuals with visual impairments and their employers to address employment challenges and employer perceptions of workers with visual disabilities.

WiSys was established in 2000 and is an independent nonprofit supporting organization for the UW System. It advances scientific research throughout the state by patenting technologies developed out of the universities and licensing the inventions to companies capable of developing them to benefit Wisconsin and beyond.

This research was supported by WiSys and University of Wisconsin System applied research funding (Ignite Grant for Applied Research). The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of WiSys or the UW System.

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