WSU professor, colleagues work on creating comic book app for the visually impaired

KSN Digital Extra

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Alison Roets has lived in the Wichita-area her whole life. Throughout her life, Alison has had to live with a severe vision impairment.

“I was born with a visual impairment and it slowly started to get a little worse as I’ve gotten older,” Roets explained. Roets also happens to be a huge fan of reading and of the Marvel movies, her favorite being, “The Guardians of the Galaxy.” However, due to her impairment, Roets has never been able to read comic books.

That’s where Dr. Darren DeFrain, an associate English professor and the director of the writing program at Wichita State University, stepped in. Dr. DeFrain and his team’s goal is to create an app that will allow comic books to be accessible to the visually impaired.

“It sounds like something that just seems like why would someone pursue something like this?” DeFrain explained. “But one of the things we have to have at Wichita State and every institution is we have to have all of our materials be fully accessible.”

Fully accessible includes Dr. DeFrain’s graphic novels course. “You have to be able to read the material and understand the material in the same way or close to the same way as their peers do,” DeFrain added.

Dr. DeFrain believes the use of haptics technology will allow the app be much more touch sensitive and friendly to visually impaired users.

Dr. DeFrain came up with the idea for this app, named Vizling, with a former grad student of his, Aaron Rodriguez, who is currently a second-year PhD. student at Florida State.

Rodriguez, who serves as Vizling’s Co-Owner, explained what the goal of the app is, “Every time you pick up a book you’re experiencing more than just the information. That’s really what inspired us to try to develop something that would give blind and visually impaired readers more of a book experience.”

Rodriguez says the exciting part about this app is that while it will start out with comic books, it has the potential to be used by the visually impaired in a variety of ways.

Now more than two years after coming up with the initial plan, Dr. Defrain and Rodriguez are nearing the point of testing the app with people who are visually impaired.

One of the first people they contacted was another one of Dr. DeFrain’s former pupils, Alison Roets. When Roets was approached about the testing, she leaped at the opportunity,

“Its really great when someone wants to help develop something that will help the kind and visually impaired community,” Roets uttered. “But then it’s also amazing that people like me in the blind and visually impaired community help create the things that will help us.”

Rodriguez tells us they hope to have Vizling available on the App Store and Google Play by next year.

To learn more about this project, click here.

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