University of Vermont

College of
Engineering and Mathematical Sciences

UVM improves tactile sketch pad for the blind

Release Date: 07-31-2009

Author: Dawn Marie Densmore
Phone: Array Fax: 802-656-8802

Michael Coleman, Floyd Vilmont, and Michael
Rosen with the improved sketch pad kit for the blind.This summer, Jon Paquette, a 2009 UVM graduate of electrical engineering, together with Michael Coleman and Michael Rosen, both faculty members of the School of Engineering in the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS), attended the 2009 National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Convention in Detroit. There they presented and demonstrated an improved tactile sketch pad for the blind.

Users of current commercially available sketch pads draw with a stylus on a special thin plastic sheet that leaves a raised line that can be felt with the finger tips, like Braille. The UVM team designed and built a thermal eraser to add the option of erasing these raised lines, allowing repeated sketching and erasing. The team also modified the device to tighten up the plastic sheet and keep it from slipping and wrinkling. Based on the enthusiastic reviews of their enhanced kit in Detroit, the UVM team will fabricate upgraded kits and distribute them to users for evaluation.

"There is a critical need for better graphical visualization capabilities and devices for the blind in education and professional practice of mathematics, mechanical design and other fields," says Michael Coleman. "Our collaboration with the NFB has proven to be mutually beneficial and rewarding."

NFB leadership is eager to continue their relationship with UVM for the creation of a further improved sketch pad by merging it with digital and electromechanical technologies. Rosen and Coleman are drafting a proposal for further NFB funded projects and collaboration. These advances could make possible rapid production of raised line drawings from computer files, local or internet-based remote collaboration among blind professionals, and greatly improved interactive methods for teaching drawing, geometry and math to blind students.

Vision for Improvements Originate from UVM Class

Jon Paquette, Al Maneki, Michael Rosen, and
Sunish Gupta (MIT, Sloan School)  and his daughter trying the improved
sketch pad kit for the blind.The ideas for making improvements to the tactile sketch pad grew out of an NFB-funded Student Experience in Engineering Design (SEED) project in the School of Engineering at UVM in 2009. Lab Coordinator, Floyd Vilmont, was instrumental in the design and fabrication of the improved device.

Other members of the SEED team were Andrew Haas, a 2009 mechanical engineering graduate; Jacob Flanigan, a 2009 electrical engineering graduate; Al Maneki, a blind mathematician who served as user/technical advisor; and Jean Haverstick, a learning specialist from the UVM ACCESS Program.

For more information contact, Michael Rosen at mrosen@cems.uvmedu or Michael Coleman at