3D printing to help blind people ‘see’ art

Students in a Penn State independent studies course in art education have recently joined with a Penn State doctoral student to research how tactile graphics made from 3D printing can enable students who are blind to experience visual art.

Aaron Knochel, assistant professor of art education in the School of Visual Arts, taught the course with two undergraduates and Alyssa Pittenger, a graduate student in art education. At first, Knochel said, the part of the course that reviewed 3D printing was more about art making, but he wanted to think about how this technology can impact the use of assistive devises in education. “The group helped to further open my eyes to the possibilities of 3D printing as an accessibility technology for teaching,” Knochel said. At the same time, Knochel met Wen-Hsia Hsiao, a School of Visual Arts doctoral student.

“I found that most art museum collections are placed in a glass case or cannot be touched, but this obviously produces barriers for visitors, especially those who are blind,” Hsiao said. “So I thought about how to improve their experiences to make the art more accessible to them, and came up with the idea to use 3D printing as a way to enable them to access the collection.”

Along with helping people who are blind experience sculpture, Knochel said, the development of 3D-printed assistive technology for art has potential to educate students who are preparing to be K-12 teachers.