2000 Conference Proceedings
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EARLY 'PAINTING' PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN WITH PROFOUND AND
MULTIPLE LEARNING DISABILITIES
Paul Blenkhorn and Gareth Evans
Centre for Rehabilitation Engineering, Speech and Sensory
(CRESST), Department of Computation, UMIST,
PO Box 88, Manchester, M60 1QD, UK,
This session discusses the requirements and practical use of
painting, drawing and coloring programs for children with
profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD). Firstly we
discuss the limitations of using software designed for adults
and more able children with clients who have PMLD and present a
brief history of the development of appropriate packages in the
UK. We then discuss four basic activities that may be
accomplished when supported by appropriate software. These are
'Splattering', Drawing, determining Picture Structure and
Picture Creation. We then give examples of five programs and
explain how these can support the various activities. Finally
we discuss the special requirements of switch users. The
session will be illustrated with the demonstration of software
developed by the authors.
Many children enjoy painting and coloring and these are often
used as both educational and recreational activities. For some
people with disabilities the painting and coloring activities
can only be carried out by using a computer that is suitably
adapted for the user. There are a wide range of painting
programs and an even wider range of a drawing and drafting
packages available. The vast majority of these are designed for
adults, although some excellent packages are designed for use
by children. However, few of these are designed for children
with PMLD and may be inappropriate for use with such clients
for the reasons given below.
Firstly, many packages have visually complex interfaces that
are conceptually too 'busy' for children with PMLD. Secondly,
they may not support the type of activities that children may
wish to undertake, such as coloring or the easy creation of
abstract images. Thirdly, the interfaces may not be suitable
for children who cannot use a conventional mouse and may access
a computer through touch screen, joystick or switch. Finally,
users may have additional disabilities such a low vision.
Therefore, the software packages for this client group must
take account of their abilities.
This paper firstly presents a short overview of the
development of appropriate programs in the UK. It then
discusses the type of activities that may be carried out using
painting programs before presenting a brief overview of a set
of software packages that support these activities. In the
description of the activities we assume that the user is using
a touch screen, but he/she might also use a mouse or a
joystick. We give special consideration to switch users in the
section at the end of the paper.
From the mid 1980s a number of painting programs suitable for
less able users started to become available. One was The
Research Centre for the Education of the Visually Handicapped
(at Birmingham University) program Touch 'n Paint (for the BBC
micro with 4 colors). It had a wide range of painting
activities such as filling in existing pictures and outlines,
and options to gradually reveal parts of them (see Blenkhorn
1986 and 1986a in the References Section). Touch 'n Paint was
primarily designed to be used with a touch screen which that
had recently become available. A later development by Nick
Howard (for the Acorn Risc Computers and published through
SEMERC) was the program Doodle - see References Section. Again
Doodle worked well with a Touch Screen, but added instrumental
sounds to the painting activity - this proved to be very
popular with many users.
In both packages the 'paper' color could be set to enable the
color contrast to be set appropriately for particular users.
Indeed for many users painting on a screen is very attractive.
For users with poor sight the bright, emitted light from the
screen, possible used in a darkened corner of a room, or maybe
even a dark room, produced bright and vibrant images that can
be easy to see.
We present a set of four activities that may be supported by
paining/coloring programs. It may appear by the presentation
given below that these activities follow a sequential
developmental order, for example, once a user is proficient in
'Splattering' he or she may move onto 'drawing'. However, in
practice, the activities may be combined and the process may
well be iterative with simple 'drawing' activities followed by
more complex 'Splattering' activities.
Conceptually 'Splattering' is the simplest activity - it is
analogous to either placing blobs of paint at a piece of paper,
finger painting or using stamps. When the user touches the
screen, a colored area or picture appears on the screen under
his/her finger. Often the activity is configured so that a
sound is played when the user touches the screen, with a
different sound being played for each different color.
Splattering can be set to a number of different levels of
complexity. At its simplest, a shape appears with a random
color when the user touches the screen. Later, the activity may
be configured so that the size of the colored area is dependent
on position on the screen. In addition, the pitch of the sound
and its left-right position in the stereo image can be related
to screen position. The user may be given more control of the
image by allowing him/her to select colors, sizes and shapes of
the colored areas.
In this activity the user leaves a trail of color by moving
his/her hand across the touch screen - this is analogous to
drawing with a crayon. At its simplest level the user simply
'scribbles' on the screen with the color of the trail being set
automatically. These activities can work well if the color
changes as the user draws. The are many ways in which this type
of activity can be enhanced. For example, the use of one, two
and three axis symmetry and appropriate color changes can
produce very interesting kaleidoscopic effects. Alternatively,
the lines drawn may be restricted in some way - for example
only reflecting only horizontal and vertical change to provide
interesting effects and an interesting focus of discussion
between the user and his/her teacher/carer. The user may be
given increasing control over the activity so that he/she can
select colors and effects and eventually, print, save and load
Activities of this type are designed to develop an
understanding of picture structure, in effect, that a set of
bounded areas together form a recognizable image. One activity
of this type is analogous to a child's coloring book. In this
an image is made up of a set of bounded shapes, which together
form a larger picture. This can be duplicated on a computer
system. At the simplest level, when the user selects an area,
the area is filled with a predetermined color. Later, the user
may select the color with which he/she wishes to fill an area.
Rather than the area being automatically filled an alternative
approach is to consider the user's finger as a pen and allow
them to color the areas manually. Again, the user will be able
to select color and, later, pen width.
The are a number of other ways in which an understanding of
picture structure can be developed. One approach is present the
user with a image consisting of one color and allow them to
reveal the picture either a block at a time or by removing the
covering color under the users pen - in a similar way to
revealing the contents of a scratch card. An alternative
activity is to present the user with a complete image and allow
the user to remove portions of it. Either by selecting a single
area to be removed or by removing all areas that have the same
color as the selected area.
This is the most open ended of the activities and provides the
user with the means to create a complete picture from scratch
using a combination of the activities given above together with
the ability to draw graphical shapes. The facilities of the
software that supports this activity need to be configurable to
match the user's ability.
Description of Systems
These systems have been produced by the authors and are
Splatter allows a user to splatter colored shapes onto a
background. At its simplest level the colors are random; at a
more complex level the user can select the color that he/she
wishes to use. Each color has a fixed sound associated with it.
The set of colors used, including the number of different
colors, the color of the background and the association of
sounds with colors can be configured by the user's
teacher/carer. Backgrounds that are appropriate for the user
can be imported as Windows metafiles. Activities that have been
produced, and are which are available with the software include
paint 'splatters', Mondrain style painting using lines and
blocks, human and animal shapes. This style of package gives
the user relatively little control over the finished image
except for the colors used. However, they do allow the user to
produce pleasing results.
Knockout and Reveal
Knockout and Reveal enable users to show/hide different parts
of pictures. Reveal allows a user to gradually reveal a covered
picture by selecting parts of the screen. The system can be
configured so that the picture is fully revealed or so that
only a fixed number of blocks are visible at a given time. This
is particularly useful for some visual training activities such
a 'closure'. Block size is configurable and pictures may be
imported to reflect the user's interests or relevant teaching
themes. Knockout allows a user to remove areas from a picture.
The system can be set to remove a single area or all areas with
the same color. After a set of area have been 'knocked out'
touching the screen again will show the areas again. This
activity has proved very popular with users.
My Noisy Coloring Book
This package is designed to simulate a paper coloring book. The
user can select the set of images and choose that he/she wants
to color. When the user selects an area, it is filled to the
currently selected color. This is the same as using the flood
fill option in a standard painting program. The palette of can
be configured by the teacher in terms of number and the set of
colors presented. The set of images to color can also be
selected by importing Windows metafiles. The software also
supports blending of colors. If an area is colored, touching
the area with the new color selected will cause a new color to
be produced that is based on a combination of the two colors,
with the bias being toward the original color. Subsequent
additions will cause the color to be further blended.
Kaleidoscope is designed to support a wide range of painting
styles and user abilities. At the lower end of the ability
range it provides activities that are similar to splatter in
that user can stamp patterns on the screen. However, unlike
splatter these can be based on bit maps and can be
multi-colored giving a textured appearance. The user can select
different stamps and these can be placed on or off a grid
depending on how the activity is constructed.
Kaleidoscope supports a wide range of Line Drawing modes where
the user's finger is followed by color. A wide variety of
effects can be achieved in terms of color (different shades,
random colors, alternating colors, etc.) painting styles
(directly following the finger/pointer, rotating around the
pointer, following fixed horizontal and vertical paths) and
page styles (one, two and three-axis symmetry). In many of
these modes it is impossible to produce images that are not
visually attractive and yet the user has a large degree of
control as to what appears. The degree of control can be set by
the user's carer/teacher who can select activities that give
the user control over colors, line thickness and styles.
Kaleidoscope can be configured to allow a user to color images
with a pen.
Kaleidoscope ultimately provides the user with a full,
painting package that gives the user complete control over
colors, effects and backgrounds.
Switch users with PMLD are necessarily restricted in the degree
of control that they have over painting and coloring programs.
However, activities that support Splattering and an
understanding of picture structure can be readily supported.
Splatter supports switch users by placing the colored area in
a random area of the screen. If a user can use two switches, a
second switch can be used to select a color. Knockout and
Reveal both provide access for switch users through scanning.
Knockout scans through the component areas of an image, whilst
Reveal scans through the set of removable blocks that cover the
image. My Noisy Coloring book provides access in a similar way
to Knockout with the areas that may be colored being cycled
through in turn. It also allows the user to select colors and
functions such as cleaning the image. In all three programs the
experience of switch users is almost exactly the same as users
who access the packages by other means, but with the additional
cognitive overhead of scanning.
These packages (and others developed in the same range) are
being used in a significant number of schools. They have been
used for education, creativity and for fun. Feedback is most
encouraging and a working group of interested teachers and
carers (CAMI - computers and the Multi-Impaired) has been set
up in collaboration with Condover Hall School for the Blind.
One significant point raised by this group is that many
painting programs provide so many colors that children can't
name them --a problem that didn't exist in the systems of the
1980s. Clearly this isn't always a problem and so all of the
packages described here have the option to set the size of the
palette and the colors in it. One challenge which we intend to
address is how to make a 'full' painting program (Kaleidoscope)
at least in part accessible to children and adults with
Blenkhorn, P. L. (1986) Microcomputer Software Using a Touch
Sensitive Screen. The British Journal of Special Education.
December, 4, 161.
Blenkhorn, P. L. (1986a) The RCEVH project on computer
assisted learning. The British Journal of Visual Impairment,
current at 23/9/99
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Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.