Friday, May 23, 2008

Math Talk Supports Calculations for the Visually Impaired

I wrote a post this week on Math Talk, a program that uses Microsoft Speech to Text or Dragon Naturally Speaking to do speech-generated math calculations on the computer. I asked Ron Graham of the AccessAbility blog if he would do a review for us specifically around the supports it has for the visually impaired. He promptly did a post on it that you can read here. He also added some good comments on the end.
Because folks often skim blogs without reading all the comments, I wanted to give you an opportunity to read Ron's review from the link above and the added remarks below. His points on issues working through higher math as a blind student was fascinating and extremely helpful, so...enjoy.

"Speaking as a man who was totally blind when I took classes in macroeconomics, algebra, and two semesters of statistics as an undergrad, as well as another two semesters of graduate statistics, I personally know how important it is to have correct phrasing of algebraic and statistical expressions. For that reason, I also requested somebody who was knowledgeable in the language in these classes to proctor my exams as an accommodation.When using MathTalk to work through problems, that correct expression is one aspect of the program that I see as a strength and don’t believe they tout strong enough as a feature on their site.Because I am not a Braille user and used a Type ‘n Speak to take notes in class, when my professors would read out problems for me to write down, I would write them out in long hand. For example, 325 plus (x) squared, all over (T minus 1). If you’ve ever taken stats, you know that this is just part of some of the problems you need to solve. I did a good bit of my homework in longhand phrases in this same fashion that my professors accepted from me as well. When my end result showed the correct (or sometimes incorrect response) the professors were able to see whether I understood the procedures or not, and were able to guide me to the point where I had miscalculated.With all that said, I again emphasize my point about this program having a strong value with the blind population that doesn’t use Braille. It allows the user to perform correct writing of these mathematical expressions and also gives verbal feedback of your work in a form that is correcty enunciated.However, I think that value is traded off with needing to learn a voice input program in order to use MathTalk. If the user employs a screen reader, there is also the need to implement an integration tool like J-Say to do that. It’s a trade-off, for sure, but I firmly believe that MathTalk presents another option for some people, and it is one that is a better solution than anything else that is currently available."

Thanks Ron!

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