CEC Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Information Systems (DCIS)

Department

College of Engineering and Computing

Advisor

Sumitra Mukherjee

Committee Member

Maxine Cohen

Committee Member

Michael Lazlo

Abstract

Blind and visually impaired students are under-represented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines of higher education and the workforce. This is due primarily to the difficulties they encounter in trying to succeed in mathematics courses. While there are sufficient tools available to create Braille content, including the special Nemeth Braille used in the U.S. for mathematics constructs, there are very few tools to allow a blind or visually impaired student to create his/her own mathematical content in a manner that sighted individuals can use. The software tools that are available are isolated, do not interface well with other common software, and may be priced for institutional use instead of individual use. Instructors are unprepared or unable to interact with these students in a real-time manner. All of these factors combine to isolate the blind or visually impaired student in the study of mathematics. Nemeth Braille is a complete mathematical markup system in Braille, containing everything that is needed to produce quality math content at all levels of complexity. Blind and visually impaired students should not have to learn any additional markup languages in order to produce math content.

This work addressed the needs of the individual blind or visually impaired student who must be able to produce mathematical content for course assignments, and who wishes to interact with peers and instructors on a real-time basis to share mathematical content. Two tools were created to facilitate mathematical interaction: a Nemeth Braille editor, and a real-time instant messenger chat capability that supports Nemeth Braille and MathML constructs. In the Visually Impaired view, the editor accepts Nemeth Braille input, displays the math expressions in a tree structure which will allow sub-expressions to be expanded or collapsed. The Braille constructs can be translated to MathML for display within MathType. Similarly, in the Sighted view, math constructs entered in MathType can be translated into Nemeth Braille. Mathematical content can then be shared between sighted and visually impaired users via the instant messenger chat capability.

Using Math in the Dark software, blind and visually impaired students can work math problems fully in Nemeth Braille and can seamlessly convert their work into MathML for viewing by sighted instructors. The converted output has the quality of professionally produced math content. Blind and VI students can also communicate and share math constructs with a sighted partner via a real-time chat feature, with automatic translation in both directions, allowing VI students to obtain help in real-time from a sighted instructor or tutor. By eliminating the burden of translation, this software will help to remove the barriers faced by blind and VI students who wish to excel in the STEM fields of study.