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January 22, 2020 Wednesday 05:07:19 PM IST

New learning resources for blind students

Science Innovations

An international team of researchers at University of Birmingham and institutions in the US have developed a method for easily creating textbooks in Braille, with an initial focus on maths textbooks. 

The team includes experts from Towson University, in Maryland, the University of Puget Sound, in Washington, and the National Federation of the Blind, as well as from the University of Birmingham. They have developed an online system that will overcome some of the main challenges to producing a Braille version of a textbook such as representing the structure and the layout of the book and representing maths formulas, graphs and diagrams. 

The project as a whole was initially set up by Martha Siegel, a Professor Emerita from Towson University, and Al Maneki, a retired NSA mathematician serving as a senior STEM advisor to the National Federation of the Blind in the US. This led to a larger collaboration, formed in January 2019, with the help of the American Institute of Mathematics, through its connections in the maths research and maths education communities.

Braille text in the project is produced using a system called PreTeXt, developed by Professor Rob Beezer, at the University of Puget Sound in Washington. PreTeXt is used to automatically produce text in print, online and other versions – innovations by the team mean that Braille can be produced as one more output format.

The production of tactile images is the most difficult problem faced in producing braille textbooks.  Akexei Kolesnikov, a maths professor at Towson University in Maryland, is the lead developer for the image processing in this project.