Thursday, September 07, 2006

STEM subjects and blind students

As a DSS Coordinator, have you ever sat and wondered why rarely any blind students, not even the brightest of them, pursue STEM subjects?

If you’ve been in the DSS profession long enough, you already know the reason to that situation. While a myriad assortment of Assistive Technology (AT) does exist, it falls woefully short in providing full access. There is little that cracks the patina of what students in the STEM- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics- tracks would require. The burden to gather the proper resources to make the material in these courses accessible is monumental and will leave even the most veteran DSS Coordinator scrambling for help to find what tools exist to meet the student’s needs. For example, I know of one university that was recently saddled with getting a blind student’s graduate-level math book transcribed into braille. Due to the technical need for the nemeth code, the cost for translating just that one book was estimated near $10,000.

If you’re interested in a further informed and insightful discussion on STEM subjects and blind students, check out Chris Hofstader’s Blind Confidential blog at:

Chris is a blind computer engineer and, thus, knows first-hand of the difficulty faced by students who pursue these academic tracks. He is also very well versed in the field of AT—he has previously worked as a software engineer at
Freedom Scientific
for six years.

Chris discusses two resources in the post, The Virtual Pencil and Gardner’s Accessible Graphing Calculator, which may not be common tools in many DSS Coordinator’s toolboxes. If interested in either of these, I offer the below information and links.

The Virtual Pencil is a software application which was originally designed for blind and low-vision students. However, the program has also been discovered to be of assistance to students with learning disabilities. If you want more information about this innovative product from the creative mind of Ted Henter, the original engineer who developed the JAWS screen reader, then go to the
Henter Math

The official web site for theAccessible Graphing Calculator is:
The information on that web site describes the tool as follows:
“The Accessible Graphing Calculator (AGC) is a computer software program and was developed by the esteemed Science Access Project at Oregon State University, directed by Dr. John Gardner. This group is dedicated to the development of methods for making science, math, and engineering information accessible to people with print disabilities. "Print disabilities" include low vision, blindness, and dyslexia.”

Finally, going back to the Blind Confidential blog, if you continued scrolling after the discussion about STEM subjects and blind students, you also read Chris’ next post, offering a very brave and candid dialogue from the perspective of a blind person also dealing with severe depression and suicidal ideations. I applaud Chris for offering this frank understanding of what it was like for him to face the depths of hopelessness. While his language gets rough in some spots, he gives you a glimpse inside the mind of a person dealing with a major psychological event in his life. I believe it demonstrates very well how the perils of mental health can fall very hard on people with disabilities.

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