Local News

New SAS software helps blind users see data in unique way

Posted March 10, 2017 2:58 p.m. EST
Updated March 10, 2017 6:53 p.m. EST

— A lot of people may not think twice about reading a chart or graph, but Cary-based SAS has developed a new software to help blind users see data in a unique way.

Ed Summers, the senior manager of accessibility at SAS, has a degenerative retinal disease.

"When I was a child I was diagnosed with a disease called retinitis pigmentosa," he said. "Over the last 35 years or so, I've lost almost all of my vision."

Summers is now working to create a software that allows the visually impaired to see data on a graph or chart. It is called the SAS Graphics Accelerator.

The software is a browser plugin that scans a graph or chart and changes the low values to low piano notes, and high values to high notes.

It moves in stereo from left to right, so the user can follow along.

"The ability to view a chart of graph that I haven't seen on the order of something like 12 or 13 years, that's a real thrill," Summers said.

The software is not just for professionals and data scientists, Summers said it will give visually impaired students better access to good careers.

"If you don't have basic numeracy, basic understanding of numbers and quantitative analysis, you're going to have a really hard time in this economy," he said.

The Graphics Accelerator levels the playing field and gives people without vision a way to interpret the data just as their sighted colleagues do.

"We're really excited about that possibility, given that there are 285 million people in the world with visual impairments," Summers said.

SAS released the software last month, and it works with graphs created with SAS software.

It is available for free as a browser plugin.