Local firm invents way for blind to grasp ‘visual arts’

CHATHAM–At NancyScans on Hudson Avenue there’s a lot more than meets the eye. NancyScans is home to 3DPhotoWorks, a company founded by John and Nancy Olson, that is dedicated to creating art for the blind and visually impaired. It is art that, through technology, becomes visible to those who cannot see.

3DPhotoWorks creates interactive three dimension versions of works of art that make the original pieces come to life through sense of touch. It’s intended for use by those who otherwise are unable to fully enjoy the experiences of a museum.

“The photographs have sensors embedded in them,” says Mr. Olson, “and when you run your hands across the image, the sensors are activated and the work of art comes to life.” When certain parts of the artwork are touched, the sensors react and a recording describes what users are feeling with their fingertips.

These 3D prints are also textured, as well as having the accurate lengths, widths and depths of the original work, enabling people to feel the textures of a certain scene. For example, a famous painting made into a 3D print could allow a person to touch the subject’s hair or feel the brushstrokes of an artist. Each aspect of touch can deepen the person’s understanding and image of the artwork.

Mr. Olson began his career as a war photographer in the Vietnam War. “I became very successful and very well known, and photography took me everywhere,” he says regarding what sparked his interest in creating art for the blind. “I began to reflect how critical images had been to my life, and that caused me to wonder what that was like for the blind who didn’t have access to them. I had never met a blind person at that point.”

From there, Mr. Olson developed the technology that has become 3DPhotoWorks, with two patents in the U.S. and patents pending in seven countries. His work can be seen in a permanent exhibition at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, and is soon to be on display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

More about the company is at http://www.nancyscans.com

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