Proposal for "Making Visualizations of Complex Information Accessible for People with Disabilities"

Braille Mathematics

Liddy Nevile, La Trobe University, Australia,

My Use Case

Jacquie wants to study philosophy. To do this, she needs to study mathematical logic. There are no mathematical logic books available in braille. Most of the important books are old texts and not available in any digital format. Mathematical logic contains many simple mathematical expressions but they include symbols.

My Research

My research has been to determine how to make the process of transferring mathematical text from printed images to accessible braille, in a way that makes this easy for all concerned and does not require expensive software. There is software that can be used for most of the task, but it requires significant expertise and is not likely to find its way into every teachers' hands, so only isolated texts will be converted. I'd like to see it possible for all texts to be converted easily. It is my hypothesis that this can happen if the process is made understandable and thus 'accessible' to authors.

Reconceptualising the process to serve authors is my main goal. It is essential that this happens. Converting mathematics to braille is not a mechanical task. Mathematics is, like most other human expression, very idiosyncratic, and it is important to convey the mathematical author's perspective and nuances, and who better to do this than the mathematician, or teacher at the time? The process of expressing mathematics in braille is an art not a science, so the author or transcriber has to understand what is being said mathematically, and how. And they have to know how to 'speak' with the same voice in braille.

In particular, visualisation of mathematical concepts such as the process of logical transformations is not merely a process of successive operations. There is an abstract conceptual level and for those who are familiar with it, an elegance and simplicity. Direct communication between a mathematical author, or transcriber, and their reader is essential if students are to gain access to mathematics so they too can visualise the mathematics. At the operational level, this means the author or transcriber needs to be able to think of appropriate ways to represent mathematics in braille.

My Success

I have, to date, come to understand both MathML and Nemeth braille to some extent. I have taken 2 years to reach this stage. I am in the process of turning my ideas about how to understand the process into a course for others who are interested in using MathML and braille. I have given myself six months to complete the first stage of this, and would like to interact with others interested in this sort of work.