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On Tech & Vision With Dr. Cal Roberts

Dec 8, 2023

This podcast is about big ideas on how technology is making life better for people with vision loss.

When it comes to art, a common phrase is “look, don’t touch.” Many think of art as a purely visual medium, and that can make it difficult for people who are blind or visually impaired to engage with it. But in recent years, people have begun to reimagine what it means to experience and express art.

For this episode, Dr. Cal spoke to El-Deane Naude from Sony Electronics. El-Deane discussed the Retissa NeoViewer, a project developed with QD Laser that projects images taken on a camera directly onto the photographer’s retina. This technology allows people who are visually impaired to see their work much more clearly and with greater ease.

Dr. Cal also spoke with Bonnie Collura, a sculptor and professor at Penn State University about her project, “Together, Tacit.” Bonnie and her team developed a haptic glove that allows artists who are blind or visually impaired to sculpt with virtual clay. They work in conjunction with a sighted partner wearing a VR headset, allowing both to engage with each other and gain a new understanding of the artistic process.

This episode also includes an interview with Greta Sturm, who works for the State Tactile Omero Museum in Italy. Greta described how the museum’s founders created an experience solely centered around interacting with art through touch. Not only is it accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired, but it allows everyone to engage with the museum’s collection in a fascinating new way.

Finally, a painter and makeup artist named Emily Metauten described how useful accessible technology has been for her career. But she also discussed the challenges artists who are blind or visually impaired face when it comes to gaining access to this valuable technology.


The Big Takeaways:

  • The Value of Versatility: Many photographers who are visually impaired require the use of large, unwieldy accessories in order to properly capture their work. Sony and QD Laser are determined to solve this problem with the Retissa NeoViewer, which can replace cumbersome accessories like screen magnifiers and optical scopes.
  • Sculpting Virtual Clay: The aim of Together, Tacit, is to “foster creative collaboration between blind, low-vision, and sighted individuals.” A major way this is accomplished is by using the haptic glove to sculpt virtual, rather than physical, clay. Working in VR makes it harder for the sighted partner to unintentionally influence the work of the artist who is blind or visually impaired. As a result, the experience for both users is more authentic and enriching.
  • Reimagining the Museum Experience: The Tactile Omero Museum is much more than an opportunity for people who are blind or visually impaired to interact with art – it’s reimagining how that art is fundamentally experienced. By giving visitors a chance to engage with pieces on a tactile level, the museum allows everyone a chance to reconnect with a vital sense that many take for granted.
  • Expanding Ability to Access Technology: For artists like Emily Metauten who are visually impaired, accessible technology makes it much easier to do their jobs. However, many governmental organizations don’t have the infrastructure to provide this technology to them. Emily wants to raise awareness of how valuable this technology can be, and why providing it to people is so important.



  • “When we’re little kids, we want to touch everything … and then soon after that, we’re told, no, no, no, you shouldn’t touch. You should look and not touch. And so, it becomes the reality and it becomes what you’re supposed to do.” – Greta Sturm, Operator at State Tactile Omero Museum
  • “I carry a Monocular little optical scope. But it becomes extremely difficult when you’re out and about and you’re trying to take a photograph, trying to change your settings. This method, the laser projection, I can actually read, the tiniest little settings.” – El-Deane Naude, Senior Project Manager at Sony Electronics Imaging Division
  • “The VR glasses definitely unlock an ability to see more details more easily for me. Because peripheral vision isn’t designed to see fine details. That's what the central vision is responsible for. So that’s what I have trouble with. But it made what I was already doing easier, and also did give me inspiration. Because we’re trying to unlock the greater things in life, that aren’t just beyond the basics for people with vision loss.” – Emily Metauten, professional painter and makeup artist
  • “I’ve learned through teaching that if a visually impaired or blind person was to use real clay … a sighted person would inevitably start to signify it in terms of what it can be called … And already, immediately, that begins to change the power dynamic on how something is created.” – Bonnie Collura, Professor of Art, Penn State University


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