March 6, 2012
New Tablet App Helps Visually Impaired Students With Math
A new app developed by researchers at Vanderbilt University helps visually impaired students with math problems.The new Android tablet app assists students in algebra, geometry, graphing and other subjects that are hard to comprehend without having normal vision.
Jenna Gorlewicz, a graduate student in the Medical and Electromechanical Design Laboratory (MED Lab) at Vanderbilt University, and her adviser Robert Webster, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, developed the app.
They said they were influenced by a study of the effectiveness of haptic technology, which is a technology that takes advantage of a user's sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations or motions to enhance remote control of machines, devices or virtual objects.
“When I began reading articles about haptic technology being incorporated into these new touchscreen devices, I realized that the people who really need haptics are people with impaired vision because they heavily rely on their sense of touch to ℠see´ the world around them.” Gorlewicz said in a press release.
“I love math and I love teaching, so I immediately thought of using them for math education, because it has such a strong visual component.”
Gorlewicz programmed tactile feedback applications so they vibrate or generate a specific tone when the student's fingertip touches a line, curve or shape on the screen.
The devices can generate vibrations with a number of different frequencies and hundreds of different sounds, allowing the researchers to assign different tactile or audio signals to different features.
In an exercise that includes an X-Y grid, Gorlewicz set the horizontal and vertical lines to vibrate at different frequencies and set points to make a certain tone.
Visually impaired students at Hillsboro High School in Nashville have already been working with Gorlewicz in using the application.
Ann Smith, a teacher of the visually impaired who works with students Kira and Quinn at Hillsboro High, said because of the time it takes to translate the math problems to the visually impaired students, "we are always one or two steps behind the teacher."
“One of these haptic tablets would allow them to keep up much better," Smith said in a press release. "If I didn´t have to attend class with them, it would also make them feel more independent.”
Kira said the biggest obstacle when using the tablet was getting the correct mental images, but "once you get the knack, it gets fairly easy.”
“It was amazing how quickly they caught on and how good they have become,” Gorlewicz said in a press release.
The National Science Foundation helped support this research.
Image Caption: Kira´s hand tracing a grid on a tablet screen that vibrates when her finger touches a line. Credit: Pat Slattery/Vanderbilt University
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