Audio and Haptic Access to Math and Science - Audio graphs, Triangle, the MathPlus Toolbox, and the Tiger printer.
Steve Sahyun and John Gardner, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
Carolyn Gardner, Linn Benton Community College, Corvallis, Oregon
One of the greatest challenges for people with print disabilities has been the learning of, and access to, scientific information. Often, this information contains data, graphs, and equations which are represented in a highly visual manner. In an effort to make this data accessible to all individuals, the Science Access Project at Oregon State University has developed a number of new technologies that improve access to math and science for people with print disabilities. These projects include: audio representation of data graphs, the Triangle and MathPlus Toolbox programs, DotsPlus and the TIGER printer.
In the interest of creating an environment whereby students and professionals with print disabilities can have access to scientific information the Science Access Project at Oregon State University is working on a number of programs and research projects.
Audio representation of data, also known as sonification  of data, is a useful technique in providing quick, qualitative access to data sets. Sonification has advantages over tactile printouts in that they require fewer resources, and are quickly and easily produced with appropriate software and standard computers. Recent studies  conducted by the authors explore the ability of students to interpret single-valued Y vs. X graphs created from tone plots. These graphs provide semi-quantitative non-speech auditory information on the value and slope of the function or data in question. It has been found that this technique shows promise as a method of displaying graphical information.
The TRIANGLE program demonstrates a self-voicing, self-Brailling computer application intended for access by blind people to math and science. This program acts as a mathematical scratch pad and permits reading, writing, and manipulating information using a linear notation convenient for both voice and Braille. The main features of Triangle include a text field, a table viewer, a graphing calculator, and an audio/tactile figure viewer. The text field allows for several independent editor text buffers with the ability to display and voice mathematical symbols. The table viewer allows easy access and display of elements in a table by moving from one cell to another. The graphing calculator can calculate mathematical functions and display data in a graphing window. The displayed graph allows for audio representation of the data for full access. Also, columns of data from a table can be plotted with the graphing calculator. The audio/tactile figure viewer provides voiced labeling of items in a previously constructed and annotated picture. The image is printed on a Braille printer and then placed on a touch sensitive device. The Triangle program is available in both Windows 95, and DOS versions.
The MathPlus Toolbox is a fully-accessible computer application intended primarily for teaching arithmetic and lower level math to children with learning or visual disabilities. It is a self-voicing program that provides work areas in counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication and fractions. It also includes a calculator and the ability for teachers to construct instructional lesson scripts that students can follow and work through.
DotsPlus is a device-independent typeface developed for blind readers that intends to encompass a large set of symbols in addition to standard braille. While computer technology has made it possible, often quite straightforward and inexpensive, to make words accessible to blind people, making anything except words accessible remains a formidable challenge. Math equations, and figures such as maps, graphs, drawings, and charts that contain both graphics and characters (particularly those such as plus or equals that have no representation in standard literary braille) at unpredictable places pose a great challenge. [5,6] Some are almost impossible to make accessible to blind readers.
The DotsPlus tactile fonts [7-9] are designed to overcome these difficulties. In DotsPlus, literary braille symbols are used where possible, along with the raised representations of symbols not normally encompassed by braille, such as many mathematics and punctuation symbols, so the reader does not need to be familiar with math braille or computer braille codes. A one-page "cheat sheet" of the most common DotsPlus symbols contains enough information for a literary braille reader to be able to read almost anything in DotsPlus. Standard computer applications may be used, and little special training is needed by the person preparing a DotsPlus document.
The TactIle Graphics EmbosseR (TIGER) is a high resolution (20 d.p.i.) Braille printer capable of embossing text and graphics from standard Windows 95 computer applications. It offers unparalleled ease of use and functionality in that it can print files which contain both text and graphics directly from the applications from which one would normally print a document.
In addition to printing standard Braille fonts, the TIGER has been designed to print DotsPlus without difficulty. A document can be easily printed from Word, WordPerfect, or any other application that allows for font selection. The text is first formatted with either a six or eight dot version of the DotsPlus Courrier or Symbol fonts. These fonts contain the standard print characters, but the width of each character is set for proper layout when embossed as DotsPlus. The user then selects the print option from the word processor, chooses the Tiger printer from the list of available printers, and the TIGER embosses the DotsPlus page. Any vector graphic elements in the page are automatically embossed. There is no difficulty in the combination of text and graphics other than layout considerations.
This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation under grants HRD9452881 and HRD9353094.
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