2006 Conference General Sessions

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BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING USING ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Presenter #1
Noel Romey
Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Arkansas
3202 Bell Engineering Center
Fayetteville AR 72701
Day Phone: 479-575-4951
Fax: 479-575-7926
Email: ner@uark.edu

This presentation will give a visually impaired graduate student’s insight into some of the barriers associated with obtaining a degree in chemical engineering.  Students and professionals who rely on science, mathematics, and engineering (SME) may be interested in the content and experiences presented.

(1) Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Arkansas, 3202 Bell Engineering Center, Fayetteville AR 72701.  (2) Department of Chemical Engineering, The University of Akron, 404 Auburn Science and Engineering Center, Akron OH 44325.  (3) Process Engineering, LLC., 700 S. Illinois Ave, Oak Ridge TN 37830.  (4) Chemstations, Inc., 2901 Wilcrest Drive, Houston TX 77042.

This presentation will give a visually impaired graduate student’s insight into some of the barriers associated with obtaining a degree in chemical engineering.  Students and professionals who rely on science, mathematics, and engineering (SME) may be interested in the content and experiences presented.

Before the advent of computers, many careers were not obviously available to visually impaired students and professionals.  Although Adaptive Technology (AT) has increased accessibility for disabled individuals, in general people are not familiar with both the limitations and capabilities of a blind student in SME.  In some cases, the obstacle is not technological: rather, the limitation arises from or is compounded by teacher, peer, or student knowledge.  For example, many teachers do not understand Nemeth Code, so it can be difficult and time-consuming for the teacher to read and prepare homework.  Additionally, peers and teachers who have a strong visual component to their communication patterns require coaching to avoid the use of vague language.  With respect to AT, unique to visually impaired SME students is the fact that “mainstream” screen reading programs overcome only part of the difficulties associated with input and output when technical software packages are used for complex calculations, algebraic manipulations, or visualizations.  Algebra and calculus pose other challenges.  It may take a student twice the time to manipulate an algebra or calculus problem than his or her sighted counterparts mostly due to the limitations of doing problems, typewriter style, on a Braille writer.  While it is true that programs exist for the manipulation of simple algebraic expressions, many times the math component of a SME degree is far more complex than the software can support.  Research and development is also being done on voicing of mathematical symbols, but capability for the voicing of complex scientific formulae are either non-existent or in the embryonic stages of development.

Germane to the aforementioned is the pursuit of a Chemical Engineering (ChE) degree by a student who is visually impaired.  ChE has been considered one of the “untouchable” engineering disciplines, where students who tenuously consider [ChE] think erroneously that such a degree exclusively results in a job attached to either a laboratory or chemical manufacturing site.  Such is not the case, for students who obtain degrees in ChE work in many fields including ChE process design, medicine, and the practice of law to mention a few.  Other worries include the lack of availability of ChE textbooks due to the skill required to create content using Nemeth Braille Code and/or science notation.  Production is time consuming, and the cost of SME textbooks can be prohibitive.  ChE is a challenging discipline and should not be attempted by the faint of heart, but misconceptions, worries about availability of material, and technological hurdles should not stop a student from considering t!
his engineering degree.  To this end, this presentation discusses efforts by people at the University of Arkansas, the University of Akron, Chemstations, Inc., and Process Engineering, LLC to overcome these barriers for [ChE] students.  Software modifications, pedagogy, and other forms of AT will be presented to inspire future SME students and professionals.

Specifically, the use of AT for classroom and homework applications will be discussed within the context of obtaining a ChE degree.  The discussion will include the use of Braille writers, their more high-tech counterparts such as new BDAs (Braille Data Assistants), Braille graphics printers, touch sensitive pads, and raised line drawing kits.  Examples of their use will include tactile graphics production for material ranging from mathematical expressions to chemical manufacturing process flow diagrams.  AT for SME can even be as simple as ball and stick model sets for chemistry and physics.  Finally, a brief look at adaptations to ChE design packages such as CHEMCAD will be demonstrated.  Overall this presentation will emphasize how far the AT envelope can be expanded for use by blind scientists, mathematicians, or engineers in the workplace or school.


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