ABSTRACT: While the introduction of Graphic User Interfaces (GUIs) facilitated the interaction of normally sighted users with computers, these benefits are not equally extended to partially sighted individuals that suffer from limited visual acuity. The Lighthouse Inc. has indicated that approximately 8.7 million Americans who are 45 or older report a severe vision impairment that cannot be corrected by wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses. When a computer user has uncorrected visual impairments, the identification and selection of icons in a GUI may become significantly more difficult than for a normally sighted user.
This paper describes the development of a platform-independent implementation of "3D Sound Icons". In addition to their graphical representation, each icon in this interface has a characteristic spatial sound (3D-sound), which is perceived by the user according to the spatial relationship between the screen cursor (listener), and the graphical icon (sound source), in the plane of the interface screen. This way, the user can supplement the visual information with spatial auditory information to identify the target icon and navigate towards it. The platform-independent implementation uses Digital Signal Processing functions that are capable of transforming an audio signal lacking spatial characteristics, into audio signals that provide the illusion of a point sound source located in a specific spatial location with respect to the listener. Platform-independence is critical in this application, because it will extend the benefits of the enhanced interface to users of a variety of operating systems (Windows, MacOS, etc.,) and types of computers (desktops, notebooks, palmtops, etc.)