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Brett Oppegaard

A team of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers has received a $278,300 National Park Service grant for the development of new technologies to provide dynamic experiences for visually impaired visitors of national parks. Led by Assistant Professor Brett Oppegaard from the School of Communications, the group will explore the use of digital communication to convert traditional “unigrid” brochures used at all national parks into an audio description-format that better serves visually impaired audiences.

“We want to make national parks more accessible to all audiences, including those who prefer audio alternatives to the traditional printed brochure,” said Oppegaard. “Visually-impaired people deserve the same access to our parks as every other citizen, and audio formats enrich the media ecosystem of the parks, to include more people, in different ways.”

Fostering an enriching media experience

By exploring various aspects of digital communication including media forms and storytelling styles, the research team hopes to provide a dynamic set of audio-described brochures in flexible delivery formats for pilot testing at selected park sites. These audio files could be particularly effective for the visually impaired, especially for those who do not read braille, and for those who have other print-related disabilities, such as dyslexia.

Targeted for completion within three years, the project will involve the creation of various prototypes based at five parks throughout the nation—including one in Hawaiʻi—complementary research studies at those parks and the development of a web tool expected to enable more audio description files to be built at even more park sites throughout the country.

Along with Oppegaard, other members of the UH Mānoa interdisciplinary research team include Assistant Professor Megan Conway and Media Coordinator Thomas Conway, both in the Center on Disabilities Studies within the College of Education. Rounding out the group is Sean Zdenek, an associate professor in the Department of English at Texas Tech University.

“The impact of this project has broader implications beyond just the National Park Service,” said School of Communications Chair and Professor Ann Auman. “A successful model can be replicated at other public venues, such as museums, zoos and other state and local recreational sites, allowing individuals with disabilities to have a more engaging experience.”

Read the UH Mānoa news release for the full story.

—By Lisa Shirota

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