New assistive technology is changing education for blind students

Beyond diagnosis

For students who are blind and visually impaired, one of the main areas they struggle with in school is STEM, due to the subjects’ visual nature and teaching limitations.

However, two University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) assistant professors of education, Derrick Smith and Erica Slate-Young, are working with gh, LLC, an assistive technology company that helps people with disabilities access printed information in order to change how blind and visually impaired students learn math.

For the first time, blind and visually impaired students will be able to remotely communicate with their teachers in math’s “precise written symbolic language,” explained a UAH press release, “using an easily accessible, accurate two-way system.”

The two assistant professors obtained a two-year, $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) program to prove the concept and study the impact on students who are provided a computerized means of interaction with teachers instead of traditional teaching methods for the visually impaired.

Smith and Slate-Young have also developed an online class to address the challenges of teaching blind students math.

Both the software and the class allow blind and visually impaired students to type math using regular keystrokes on a regular keyboard, according to  Previously, blind students needed to know Mathematical Markup Language (MathML)—a special type of computer coding—to type math.

However, there was no mechanism for students to write mathematics and get that information back to the teacher.

Nationally, 85 percent of visually impaired students are in general classrooms but the number of teachers trained to teach visually impaired students math is limited. An easily accessible tool for written math communication would open the doors to more access to advanced STEM courses through long-distance learning.

“Our goal is to make sure that the online learning environment is, number one, accessible to the students, and number two, that it is at least equal to the traditional classroom,” Smith explained in the press release.

The primary objectives are to develop an online teaching platform that incorporates existing assistive technologies for students with visual impairments with open-source learning media software, and to shed light on how online technology with audio input can impact learning of math for students with visual impairments.

Read here for more information.

(Next page: Learning how to navigate the internet)

Meris Stansbury

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