Sonify: Making Visual Graphs Accessible

  • Safinah AliEmail author
  • Laya Muralidharan
  • Felicia Alfieri
  • Monali Agrawal
  • Jacob Jorgensen
Conference paper
Part of the Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing book series (AISC, volume 1018)


Data visualizations are an essential strategy for summarizing and comprehending large datasets. However, it is challenging for visually impaired people (VIP) to access visual representations of data. Current accessibility solutions fall short in providing comprehensive access to such visualizations. Most VIP must listen to datasets one cell at a time with a text-to-speech tool, which does not allow the user to gather the “gist” of the dataset. To address this gap, we designed and evaluated Sonify. Sonify is a sonification tool that makes data visualizations accessible to VIP through audio and tactile interactions on a mobile app. VIP use Sonify’s scrubbing interaction to explore patterns in data through pitch changes in sound. We evaluated Sonify’s interactions through contextual inquiries, with (n = 8) VIP. Through Sonify, we demonstrate how a novel scrubbing interaction technique makes 2-variable linear graphs accessible to a broader range of people, including VIP.


Human computer interaction Accessibility Assistive technology Iterative design Human centered design Sonification Usability testing Assistive technology for persons with disabilities 


  1. 1.
    Apple Accessibility (2014).
  2. 2.
    Walker, B.N., Ehrenstein, A.: Pitch and pitch change interact in auditory displays. J. Exp. Psychol. Appl. 6(1), 15–30 (2000). Scholar
  3. 3.
    Beyer, H., Holtzblatt, K.: Contextual Design: Defining Customer-Centered Systems. Morgan Kaufmann, San Francisco (2009)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Chew, Y.C., Davison, B., Walker, B.N.: From design to deployment: an auditory graphing software for math education. In: Proceedings of the 29th Annual International Technology & Persons With Disabilities Conference, San Diego (2014)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Data-Driven DJ: An Introduction to Data-Driven DJ.
  6. 6.
    Allen, C.D., Ballman, D., Begg, V., Miller-Jacobs, H.H., Muller, M., Nielsen, J., Spool, J.: User involvement in the design process: why, when & how? pp. 251–254 (1993).
  7. 7.
    Chew, Y.C.: Assessing the use of auditory graphs for middle school mathematics. Dissertation.
  8. 8.
    Summers, E., Langston, J., Allison, R., Cowley, J.: Using SAS/GRAPH® to Create Visualizations That Also Support Tactile and Auditory Interaction, SAS Institute Inc., Cary, North Carolina.
  9. 9.
    Bell, E.C., Mino, N.M.: Employment Outcomes for Blind and Visually Impaired Adults.
  10. 10.
    Freedom Scientific. BLINDNESS SOLUTIONS: JAWS®. Freedom Scientific.
  11. 11.
    Hersh, M., Johnson, M.A.: Assistive Technology for Visually Impaired and Blind People. Springer, London (2014)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Flowers, J.H., Buhman, D.C., Turnage, K.D.: Cross-modal equivalence of visual and auditory scatterplots for exploring bivariate data samples. Hum. Factors 39, 341–351 (1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Batterman, J.M., Martin, V.F., Yeung, D., Walker, B.N.: Connected cane: tactile button input for controlling gestures of iOS voiceover embedded in a white cane. Assist. Technol. 30(2), 91–99 (2018). Scholar
  14. 14.
    Kondak, Z., Liang, T., Tomlinson, B., Walker, B.N.: Web sonification sandbox - an easy-to-use web application for sonifying data and equations. In: Proceedings of the 3rd Web Audio Conference, London, UK (2017).
  15. 15.
    Leporini, B., Buzzi, M.C., Buzzi, M.: Interacting with mobile devices via VoiceOver: usability and accessibility issues, pp. 339–348 (2012).
  16. 16.
    National Federation of the Blind: Statistical facts about blindness in the United StatesGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
  18. 18.
    Neuhoff, J.G., Knight, R., Wayand, J.: Pitch change, sonification, and musical expertise: which way is up? July 2002.
  19. 19.
    Clark, R.E., Feldon, D.F., van Merriënboer, J., Yates, K.A., Early, S.: Cognitive task analysis. In: Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, Routledge (2007)Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Thinking Aloud: The #1 Usability Tool. Nielsen Norman Group.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Safinah Ali
    • 1
    Email author
  • Laya Muralidharan
    • 2
  • Felicia Alfieri
    • 2
  • Monali Agrawal
    • 2
  • Jacob Jorgensen
    • 2
  1. 1.MIT Media LabCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Human Computer Interaction InstituteCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations