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App Turns Tablet Into Math Aid For Visually Impaired Students

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the shaking-things-up dept.

Android 13

Science_afficionado writes "An engineering grad student at Vanderbilt has developed an app for Android tablets equipped with haptic feedback that turns them into a valuable tool for teaching mathematics and other STEM subjects to visually impaired students. 'Gorlewicz has programmed these tablets so they vibrate or generate a specific tone when the student’s fingertip touches a line, curve or shape displayed on the screen. The devices can generate vibrations with a number of different frequencies and hundreds of different sounds. This allows Gorlewicz to assign different tactile or audio signals to different features. For example, in an exercise that includes an X-Y grid, she can set the horizontal and vertical lines to vibrate at different frequencies and set points to make a certain tone. In this way, it’s easier for the students to distinguish between the gridlines and the points on the grid.'"

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Haptic my ass (0)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#39257209)

This would be great if the last update on my smartphone didn't turn my unit's mighty bone-shaking haptic feedback into the faintest buzz.

I guess a lot of people complained that this model's haptic feedback was too much, but I liked it. I carry my phone in my front pocket and it gave me a little thrill. Plus, I like to control my phone with the warm pink stylus God gave me. Though it must be a startling sight to people who see me playing Bonsai Blast at the bus stop.

Now, what was this story about?

Please mod my above post down. TY (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#39257223)

Oh god, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for this to be the first post. I'm so ashamed. I hate first posts and believe they should all be modded to death. I wish there was a way to delete my own posts on Slashdot.

Could somebody please mod my above post down?

Re:Please mod my above post down. TY (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39257275)

At least it's better than "FIRST PSOT!". An insightful first post is a welcome change.

Re:Please mod my above post down. TY (1)

sidthegeek (626567) | more than 2 years ago | (#39257389)

Sorry, man. I'm cursed by Murphy's Law when it comes to mod points.

The researcher should have used an iPad (1)

narcc (412956) | more than 2 years ago | (#39258427)

Had this kid from Vanderbilt used an iPad instead of an Android tablet the headline would read "iPad breaks new ground, allows low vision users access mathematics for the first time."

Instead, the moron used an Android device making the head line read "Tablet" ensuring that this article it will remain obscure, gathering no more than 4 comments in the first 4 hours on the main page.

-- Sent from my BlackBerry PlayBook

Re:The researcher should have used an iPad (1)

LukeWebber (117950) | more than 2 years ago | (#39259323)

In fact, he probably should have. The accessibility features of Android are almost non-existent, and Android devices are pretty much unusable for the visually impaired. iOS has it all over them there. And I say this as an Android fanboi.

Re:The researcher should have used an iPad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39259463)

In fact, she probably should have.

(You're welcome.)

Re:The researcher should have used an iPad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39260229)

This is not true. While Android has significant barriers to accessibility, and Apple's devices (ipad, iphone, etc) definitely still are more accessible, Android isn't "pretty much unusable."

I'm a blind Android user. I run what is nearly vanilla Android 2.4 on my phone (I can't recall the specific name right this moment) and someone running vanilla (or nearly vanilla) Android will prevent themselves from encountering carrier or manufacturer added barriers to accessibility (custom unlabled menus or buttons, difficult gestures being used for navigation, etc.) On top of that, I run talkback screenreader (with espeak TTS engine), and use the eyes-free keyboard with a virtual d-pad for navigation, typing, etc. I have access to a web browser, email client, IM, text messaging, youtube, GPS, ebook software (a few of them), music, and a newsreader (and probably many other things) on my phone just fine.

There's some things I can't do. Still haven't found a fully accessible reddit reader (at this point it's easier to access reddit mobile through my web browser) or a way to use netflix on my phone.

While it's not a perfect platform for blind people, it does have it's advantages, and it is still very much functional for many tasks. There's a long way to go (and it has indeed made significant progress since I began using it) but the majority of blind users should be able to use their phone for everything they routinely want to do.

Re:The researcher should have used an iPad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39302523)

The researcher could not use an iPad because iPad does not offer haptic feedback. The Samsung Galaxy Tab is one of the few tablets on the market today that has haptic feedback built in.

A better "screen"? (1)

migla (1099771) | more than 2 years ago | (#39259345)

A better "screen" would be one that was all about the haptic, that consisted of thousands of tiny tiny rods that would pertrude to form shapes. A rod for a pixel.

Is there anything like that? How would it be done? How ridiculously prohibitively expensive would it be?

Another move away from braille. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39260067)

I have a similar application on my phone, and I would be surprised if I could figure out that there was simply a circle on the page without a minute's work sliding my finger across the screen trying to draw a picture in my mind based on when it vibrates (and when it doesn't.)

Braille and tactile embossers give you access to much more complex structures (most visual concepts in math to some level, and definitely at the highschool level) with the ability to "draw" a sense of depth, size, add text that's useful to the image, etc. This technology has existed for a long time and along with the nemeth code for braille math allows for blind students to potentially have equivalent access to written math as sighted students do.

But braille literacy isn't cheap, and it isn't convenient, so less and less blind students are being taught braille during their school years. The NFB states that 90% of blind school age children are not being taught braille right now. To be clear, they cannot read. They might be able to use computers, and write via a keyboard, and listen to computer generated speech or audiobooks, but they cannot actually read. 90% of them.

So if we're going to praise anything as revolutionary for blind children, it should be the few dedicated braille teachers still working to make their students literate and to make them able to access math in it's written form. The teachers giving blind students the skills to pursue college level careers in mathematics using the tools the university will have available to them: braille. The teachers giving blind students the skills to read and write, attain higher education in nearly any field, and ultimately to gain employment and be able to support themselves.

I don't think there doesn't need to be development in computer-based accessibility for mathematics. There needs to be quite a bit. The majority of math out there online is simply not easily accessible to blind people. Screenreaders universally lack the ability to read the full range of symbols and characters used in mathematics or to speak mathematics in a logical format. Much work is published in the PDF format, which is minimally accessible. While MathML makes web pages more accessible than they otherwise would be, not enough sites are using it. The solution to this is of course not specialized software a teacher will need to draw out each concept on, but better tools for the blind person themselves to be able to tackle the issue of accessing any math they encounter. I'm not anti-technology by a long-shot, and I think technology can go hand-in-hand with braille literacy, but it feels like there's a whole lot of software doing a whole lot of specialized nothing for blind people (especially on novel platforms like tablets), but the areas where accessibility just isn't there yet and is very desperately needed (such as the majority of mathematics published online) are going completely unaddressed.

This app is a cute little nick-knack. But it isn't helping solve the real issue young blind people are having with accessing mathematics, the lack of literacy required to be able to read mathematical texts.

And while my phone has a similar cute little nick-knack to it, my own braille embosser remains hard at work giving me more access to the written and visual world. And my computer continues to struggle to string together broken, incomplete, and obsolete solutions to accessing math in a variety of formats.

Re:Another move away from braille. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39302905)

Very knowledgeable and well-thought out post. The 90% stat on braille is astounding, and you're absolutely right that those teachers deserve praise. The purpose of the development of this app was not to replace braille, but rather, to explore if other methods (such as tactile feedback on tablets) that are becoming readily available have the potential to convey information to students. There's no doubt that braille and tactile graphics can likely convey more information that can what be displayed on a flat screen, particularly with the depth issue, but that doesn't necessarily mean that enough useful information cannot be acquired from a screen. That's what this study was all about --- simply investigating the feasibility of using tactile and aural feedback on a touchscreen to convey graphical concepts to students. It's not meant to be the end-all solution to teaching the blind, but rather, a look into if we can use technology that is refreshable, portable, inexpensive, and robust for assisting both blind students and teachers to enhance the educational experience.

Title? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39260747)

"App Turns Tablet Into Math Aid For Visually Impaired Students"

Actually the tablet itself is not transformed. It is still a tablet. It was always potentially capable of aiding visual impaired student in doing math. If I published an app on how to rob banks, would that the tablet into a bank robbery aid? If so, these "tablets" should be banned now!

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