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Updated: MathTalk program integrates assistive technologies to make higher level mathematics accessible

Posted Aug 24 2008 5:01pm
I just learned about the following software that definitely has its place as a tool for students with disabilities.



On its home page,

MathTalk

Proudly proclaims “Do math without keyboard or mouse.”



MathTalk operates with either the Dragon NaturallySpeaking or the Microsoft Speech voice input systems to allow the user to use speech input to write math calculations. And, we’re not just talking basic, four function arithmetic here. MathTalk allows users to correctly write and work through pre-algebra, algebra, calculus, trigonometry, graphing, and statistics problems.



One feature I find particularly interesting is that there is a specific math to Braille program,, employing the Duxbury Braille translator. Using this, students could do their work in MathTalk and export it into a Braille file so that it can be loaded into a Braille notetaker. That's definitely some cool technology integration.



There are several

Videos on the MathTalk web site

demonstrating the program in action. Take a little time and check these out for yourself. Most of the videos are short and won’t take long to watch. They will give you and idea of what the program does and also what it doesn’t do.



I checked out several of the videos and was generally impressed with the MathTalk program. It would take some work for those who are unfamiliar with either of the voice input programs to get the voice files set up and running correctly, but once that was done, MathTalk appears to have a definite niche as an assistive technology.



As one disability does not preclude a person from having another, it is easily possible that somebody who already uses Dragon NaturallySpeaking could also have a Learning Disability that would make this program a great fit for them. The same goes without saying for somebody who is blind and a Braille user. For purely mental processing reasons, the ability to take in the Braille display of the problem and your work would be priceless, I would think. Also, just as well, being blind doesn’t exclude a person from having an LD which could again make berballizing one’s work a very realistic and accessible option.



From watching the last video link on the demo page, which is for MathTalk for Visually Impaired, I don’t believe that the program was working with an additional screen reader. It sounds like the developers have an integrated screen reader that works within the program.



The MathTalk for Visually Impaired program is still under development, so it is difficult to draw concrete conclusions, but, it apparently does not require visually impaired users to be Braille users. This is good, as it is widely reported that only about ten percent of blind people use Braille. Still, the ability to mentally process, verbally state, and then hear your work read back to you is a definite plus when working complex equations. Also, the ability to work through problems using correct mathemathical language is always a benefit.



There are only a few downsides of the Math Talk program that I can see. First, in the event that there is a speech disability, I don’t see where this would be the best alternative path for obvious reasons. Additionally, the user must be sufficiently cognitively sophisticated and able to manage the proper diction with a clear speaking voice. And, blind users will need to get an interface like J-Say to allow their screen reader to work with Dragon NaturallySpeaking first, just to get their voice files working properly before even working with MathTalk. Any of these problems could arise when working with students with disabilities and render this as an unworkable solution. However, for many others, it should be a very realistic solution.



Thanks to Lon Thornburg’s

No Limits to Learning blog

for this information. And, I hope this post answers some of your questions, Lon.



* * * * * * * * * *

Update 05/21/08

The additional information is basically the text of my comment replying to Lon's initial comment. After thinking about it, I feel there are some worthwhile points in the additional thoughts I had. RG



Speaking as a man who was totally blind when taking classes in macroeconomics, algebra, and two semesters of statistics as an undergrad, as well as another year of graduate statistics, I personally know how important it is to have correct phrasing of algebraic and statistical expressions. For that reason, I requested somebody who was knowledgeable in the language, when taking 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, but don’t believe they tout strong enough as a feature on the MathTalk web site.



Being I am not a Braille user, I used a Type ‘n Speak to take notes in class. I had my professors read aloud the problems they were writing on the board so that I could write them down. And, because I needed to be able to understand the correct phrasing when later reviewing my notes, I would write these problems out in long hand. One example might be: 325 plus (x) squared, all over (T minus 1). If you’ve ever taken statistics, you know that this is just one part of some of the problems you need to solve and that a complete solution would require an extensive amount of typing of text along with the correct numbers when solved.



With all that said, I again emphasize my point about this program having a lot of value with the blind population that doesn’t use Braille. It gives feedback of your work in a form that is correcty enunciated.



However, I think that also has to be traded off with the need to learn a voice input program in order to use MathTalk. Additionally, that also has 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 that is currently available, at least that I'm aware of.
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