Volume I Number 4, November 1994

Feature Articles

Math and Science Symposium at Recording for the Blind

Richard Jones

Computer technology is revolutionizing our world. The last advance in information dissemination of this magnitude was the printing press. Revolutions have never been defined as fair or predictable, and this revolution is no exception. This article will describe computer technology's promise of access to information for individuals with disabilities - a promise that is becoming vague and ephemeral as the benefits of this technology become an essential part of the definition of professional competence. Next, this article will discuss some of the reasons for the revocation of technology's promise of access to information for individuals with disabilities. In the subsequent sections this article will describe a remarkable gathering of experts from around the world at Recording for the Blind headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey on May 14-15, 1994. The goal of this group was nothing less than reformation of a revolution.

AsTeR: Audio System for Technical Readings

T. V. Raman

The advent of electronic documents makes information available in more than its visual form; electronic information can now be display-independent. In this article, the author describes a computing system, AsTeR, that audio formats electronic documents to produce audio documents. AsTeR can speak both literary texts and highly technical documents (presently in La)TeX) that contain complex mathematics. Visual communication is characterized by the eye's ability to actively access parts of a two-dimensional display. The reader is active, while the display is passive. This active-passive role is reversed by the temporal nature of oral communication: information flows actively past a passive listener. This prohibits multiple views - it is impossible to first obtain a high-level view and then "look" at details. These shortcomings become severe when presenting complex mathematics orally.

Audio formatting, which renders information structure in a manner attuned to an auditory display, overcomes these problems. AsTeR is interactive, and the ability to browse information structure and obtain multiple views enables active listening.

This article describes a system for producing audio renderings. Print is not the ideal medium for describing such renderings, (and ASCII is an even poorer one!). RFB members can acquire an audio formatted version of the author's thesis, (this article is a slightly edited version of the first chapter) rendered by AsTeR, from Recording for the Blind (RFB order number FB190). Non-RFB customers may request a two track (standard commercial format) tape of AsTeR examples. Requests should be addressed to info@RFB.org; ask for Raman's Math Examples Tape.

A Graphical Calculus Course for Blind Students

Albert A. Blank, Professor
Computer Science Department, 1N215
College of Staten Island, CUNY
2800 Victory Boulevard
Stat en Island, NY 10314-6600

Karen Luxton Gourgey, Director
Computer Center for the Visually Impaired
Baruch College, CUNY
17 Lexington Avenue, Box 515
New, York, NY 10010

Michael E. Kress, Professor
Computer Science Department, 1N215
College of Staten Island, CUNY
2800 Victory Boulevard
Staten Island, NY

The study of advanced mathematics is prerequisite to higher education in technical or scientific subjects. For students interested in pursuing technical careers, mastery of the calculus is fundamental. For blind and visually impaired college students, the graphical nature of the calculus poses a formidable hurdle to independent access. In this article, the authors describe an innovative method of producing accessible tactile materials for the study of the calculus.

Ensuring Usability in Interface Design: A Workstation to Provide Usable Access to Mathematics for Visually Disabled Users

Helen Cahill and John McCarthy
Department of Applied Psychology
University College, Cork, Ireland

This paper presents an account of the formative evaluation of a multi-media "MATHS" workstation which is being developed to provide usable access for blind and partially sighted students reading and manipulating mathematical expressions. We argue that there is a crucial difference between notions of accessibility and usability in interface design.

Traditionally, assistive technology has been concerned with providing access to disabled users. However, unless such access embraces usability, it does not necessarily overcome the access limitations imposed by the user's disability and provide usable access. Therefore, it is essential that interface designers recognize the difference between the traditional design concept of accessibility and the more user-centered design concept of usability. The MATHS workstation is being designed with a concern for usability. In this paper, the broad context of usability is introduced. The processes of measuring usability according to ISO9241 (CD) and the development of the MATHS workstation usability requirements specification according to ISO9241 (CD) are presented. (Ed. note: These code numbers refer to a draft software usability standard prepared by the European Commission Technology Initiative for Disabled and Elderly People. They are defined more fully in the text of this article.)

We hope that this account of the application of a usability standard to the development of the MATHS workstation will be valuable to other assistive technology designers.

Mathtalk: Usable Access to Mathematics

Robert D. Stevens and Alistair D. N. Edwards
Department of Computer Science
The University of York
Heslington, York UK YO1 5DD

This paper describes the design of the user interface to the Mathtalk program, which aims to give visually disabled readers an active reading of standard algebra notation. The paper introduces the themes of enhancing external memory and control of information flow as the guiding principles behind the design of the user interface. Fast and accurate control of the information flow is vital for active reading. Mathtalk uses structured browsing functions and a specially developed command language to achieve this active reading. Finally, an audio glance called algebra earcons is introduced that enables readers to get a high-level view of an expression and plan the reading process.

The Use of Laser Stereolithography to Produce Three-Dimensional Tactile Molecular Models for Blind and Visually Impaired Scientists and Students

William J. Skawinski, Thomas J. Busanic, Ana D. Ofsievich, Victor B. Luzhkov*, Carol A. Venanzi and Thomas J. Venanzi **

Department of Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, and Environmental Science,
New Jersey Institute of Technology.

*Institute of Chemical Physics, Chernogolovka,
Moscow Region, Russia 142432

**Department of Chemistry, College of New Rochelle,
New Rochelle, NY 10805

Laser stereolithography, a rapid prototyping process that produces three-dimensional plastic models from the images created in certain computer aided design (CAD) programs, has been used to fabricate tactile molecular models for blind and visually impaired individuals. The process uses a computer-controlled laser to cure and solidify a light-sensitive, liquid polymer in the shape of the image. The models can be customized and used for educational and research purposes. Several models built using four different scales are described. Surface textures are varied to allow atom types to be distinguished.

Computer Based Science Assessment: Implications for Learning Disabled Students

David D. Kumar
College of Education, Florida Atlantic University
2912 College of Education, Davie, Florida 33314

Computer technology can be invaluable for assessing learning disabled students in science since it opens up opportunities for developing innovative assessment tools in science education. The nature of computers as information processing tools, the role of computer technology in user-friendly interactive learning environments, and the possibility of designing instructional tools to meet individual needs of students, make computers potentially powerful tools for assessment. Computer-based assessment applications used in science, such as Computerized Adaptive Testing, Figural Response Item Testing, Computer Simulations, and Anchored Assessment can be appropriated for assessing students with learning disabilities.

Books for Blind Students: The Technological Requirements of Accessibility

William A. Barry, John A. Gardner, and Randy Lundquist
Department of Physics, Oregon State University
Weniger Hall 301, Corvallis, Oregon 97331

This paper describes three new developments that hold great promise for improving the accessibility of scientific literature for people who are visually impaired or who have significant vision-related learning disabilities. All rely on the availability of information in high-level electronic form. A brief review of methods for storing high-level information and an example of their use in printing Dotsplus documents are given.

Increasing the Representation of People with Disabilities in Science, Engineering and Mathematics

Sheryl Burgstahler
Assistant Director-Information Systems
Computing & Communications, University of Washington
JE-25, Seattle, WA 98195

There are three main factors that cause individuals with disabilities to be under-represented in science, engineering, and mathematics fields: preparation of students with disabilities; access to facilities, programs, and equipment; and acceptance by educators, employers and co-workers. Technology can have a positive affect on all of these factors and help open doors to new areas of study and employment. This paper explores the role of information technology, describes a campus program designed to positively influence each of the factors, and makes a series of recommendations for action.