Sonification is one example that shows how educators and disability rights advocates are thinking about data and visualization accessibility. A sonified chart or graphic uses sound to communicate visual patterns and forms. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Giovanni Fusco of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute released a Sonified Pandemic Data Bulletin that rendered outbreak data as sound. When a user clicks on “sonify,” they can hear a rising or falling tone that emulates the curve of the line on any given chart.
Sonification requires specialized skill but open source offerings are available. Developers Sukriti Chadha and Yatin Kaushal released source code for their Songbird Charts project—an effort to incorporate haptics, voice, and musical tones to make charts accessible to Android users. The Floe Project has also released an accessible chart authoring tool that can incorporate sonification. Source code is available in GitHub.
PhET Interactive Simulations, a project at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has actively partnered with Floe to create accessible OER for math and science. While shifting from Java to HTML5, PhET opted to creatively reimagine a number of their simulations to improve accessibility while preserving discovery and exploration. Simulations are now tagged to indicate accessibility features including:
- Alternative input (for instance, keyboard navigation)
- Sound and sonification
- Interactive description
- Interactive description on mobile devices
- Zoom and magnification
Here, for instance, is a sonified simulation on Molecules and Light. Turn on light sources to explore and note that zooming is also enabled for this simulation.