1999 Conference Proceedings

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BRAILLE 'n SPEAK--UNLOCKING DOORS TO MATH FOR BLIND STUDENTS

Thomas A. Ley
Certified Mathematics and Physics Instructor
Product Manager, Blazie Engineering
105 E. Jarrettsville Rd.
Forest Hill, MD 21050
(410) 893-9333
Fax (410) 836-5040
Email tom@blazie.com 
www.blazie.com

THE QUESTION

Blind children have historically lagged behind their sighted counterparts in mathematics competency. Several reasons account for this, but primary among these is a lack of tools and equivalent media by which to study and learn. In prior times, sighted and blind students alike primarily used paper to perform calculations and draw conclusions. The math classroom landscape of today, however, is awash with scientific and financial calculators, graphing calculators, and computers. As job markets become dominated by jobs requiring strong science, math and technical skills, teachers, parents and blind students scramble to find solutions. Do accessible modern calculators exist? Are blind students locked out of full participation and opportunity to learn? Can blind students compete on terms of equality in the math classroom?

THE ANSWER

Blazie Engineering is the leading designer of portable, note taking computers for the blind and visually impaired in the world. The versatile product line is anchored by the popular Braille 'n Speak 2000 (TM). The line includes models for speech only users, Braille only users, users preferring to type, users preferring to braille, or users preferring a combination of any of the above.

Braille 'n Speak is right at home in the classroom, and its sturdy design and dependability have stood the test of time. Exceptional battery life, simple command structure and portability make it perfect for students of any age, but the question remains, how can a Braille 'n Speak (TM) help in math class? Blazie Engineering presents a four tiered approach to meeting the needs of math students who are blind and visually impaired. Each unit includes a built-in basic calculator as well as a fully functioning scientific calculator.

Additional software is available for students needing the power of a financial calculator. Finally, graphing calculator functionality is available for the blind using Graphit in conjunction with any Braille embosser.

THE BASIC AND FRACTION CALCULATOR

Each Blazie Engineering note taker comes equipped with a built-in basic calculator. Depending on model, the answers are either spoken, or displayed in Braille, or both. Answers may be stored in any of the 26 storage memories for later use. Each new answer is copied to the built-in clipboard for pasteing . into a file.

Math problems typed directly into a file can be calculated as well without need to enter the calculator. Finally, the calculator performs well with fractions and mixed numbers producing a result which is also a fraction or mixed number.

THE SCIENTIFIC CALCULATOR

Conveniently, each unit also contains a built-in scientific calculator. All standard scientific functions are available including trig computations, powers, factorials, logarithms, exponentials, averages and standard deviations. Additionally, a rich set of english to metric and metric to english conversion functions are available. By using storage registers, the clipboard, line computation within a file and the built-in printing capacity of the Braille 'n Speak, almost any assignment may be completed and printed efficiently.

GRAPH-IT

In addition to the built-in calculators listed in the above two paragraphs, The Braille 'n Speak is equipped to run additional software for added capabilities. One such external program is Graph-It. Graph-It, in conjunction with any Braille embosser, gives the blind student instant access in Braille to the graph of most math functions. Graph-It is designed to emulate the features of a graphing calculator and works in much the same way. Students type in equations, press a simple print command, and in a matter of moments, the graph begins to appear on the . embosser. Graphs are clear, concise, accurate, and easily read by both the blind with touch or by the sighted visually.

One may graph up to ten equations simultaneously on the same x-y axis. For a quick "view" of the shape of the graph, Graph-It offers an audio graph feature. Blind students can listen to a tone rising and descending in conjunction with the way the graph rises and descends visually. Audio graphs are perfect for in-class use with an ear phone. Graph-It comes in a version for the Braille 'n Speak and a version for the PC.

F-CALC

For blind students in business and finance courses, Blazie Engineering offers F-Calc. This handy, optional program has most of the standard functions available in the average financial calculator. F-Calc presents the blind student with a simple, menu driven user interface of functions from which to choose. F-Calc performs the chosen function on the variable information given by the student and presents the answer in either speech, Braille or both. As with the basic and scientific calculators, any result may be transferred to the clipboard for pasting into homework assignments.

PRESENTATION SYNOPSIS

This presentation provides both conceptual ideas and hands-on practice in using the Braille 'n Speak and Braille Lite as tools for blind students to learn math. Participants view demonstrations of basic and scientific calculator functions, as . well as how to use these calculators to produce printed homework assignments. Participants receive hands-on practice in preparing their own printed math documents. Graphing calculator functions are explored through the use of the software package

Graph-It. The presentation concludes with a demonstration of F-Calc, a financial calculator software program available for the Blazie Engineering line of notetakers.


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