In the United States there are 22 million people with a disability of one kind or another that prevents them from being able to read ordinary print1. These people, having issues ranging from complete blindness, low-vision, learning disabilities, severe mobility impairments, cognitive disabilities, and other disabling conditions, are collectively referred to as print-disabled. Such students and employees have a great deal of difficulty being competitive in today's high-tech, information-laden society. In particular, the topics of Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology (SMET) are often closed to the ranks of the print-disabled. Very few commercially viable technologies currently exist to provide access to information sources in these fields such as textbooks, training manuals, tests, and other media.
Due to this lack of access, the unemployment rate among the print-disabled is more than three times that of non-disabled counterparts nationwide2. Various studies put the unemployment rate among the disabled as high as 30%-60% depending on the category of disability3. Many studies show that people with disabilities are also significantly under-represented in SMET-related fields4. This same phenomenon is apparent in schools, where less than 2% of graduate students in SMET-related fields were persons with disabilities5. Most of these disabled who are unemployed are receiving aid (such as SSI or SSA, Vocational Rehabilitation, and so forth) under both state and federal programs. As one small example of the problem, in 2002 the Indiana Department of Vocational Rehabilitation spent over $70 million to assist 33,257 people with disabilities to find gainful employment within the state. Only 3,980 (about 10%) of these people were able to achieve at least part-time employment6. These large numbers of unemployed and underemployed potential workers represent a huge burden which the government and taxpayers must meet. An Indiana-based solution which helps these people to find careers by training them in SMET-related skills solves two problems: (a) people with disabilities gain employment, and (b) the state of Indiana retains highly skilled SMET workers, thus reducing the "brain drain" phenomenon. By providing equal access, the proposed research provides the opportunity for skills enhancement and ultimately a competitive chance for the print-disabled in otherwise unattainable or poorly attainable career fields.
This project will add an additional economic benefit to the State of Indiana by allowing many elementary and high-school students who are print-disabled to study advanced mathematics for the first time in their lives. For example, there are over 55,000 legally blind students in grades K-12 in the United States who receive federal funding for the purchase of Braille or Large Print instructional materials7. For these students there are few practical ways to study science and mathematics. The primary outcome of this project is to develop a new technology called MathSpeak™ that allows mathematics and science to be conveyed verbally as well as visually, hence giving print-disabled students an opportunity. This opportunity for greater equality provides added incentive and a social climate that leads to greater socio-economic rewards.
Conventional interventions for print-disabled students rely on the assistance of human readers or laborious, by-hand human recording onto cassette tapes of tests, training manuals, and other informational sources. Because of the expense and time-consuming nature of this work, many print-disabled students receive books 4-6 months after the print versions are available, and others never receive books at all. MathSpeak™ is a high-tech solution involving the use of a computer to automatically read SMET materials to a print-disabled student using a special language developed just for the aural rendering of mathematics and a high-quality computer-synthesized voice custom-designed for this purpose. Because it is computer-based, the MathSpeak™ reader never gets tired or needs breaks, never makes pronunciation mistakes, never skips information or leads the reader, and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. Students using MathSpeak™ are able to take ownership of the information being learned, and take back control of their educational and professional lives.
The proposed research team assembles a critical mass of multidisciplinary expertise needed to achieve this important but difficult goal. gh, LLC is a recognized industry leader in high-tech information access solutions for the visually impaired, and is also part of Indiana's first Certified Technology Park program. gh will contribute the technical development and programming for the project, the production of the actual products, and the product commercialization activities. The Purdue team involves professors who are experts in Special Education, Mathematics Education, and Linguistics. This team will develop the theoretical foundations of MathSpeak™ products and help to measure outcomes of the MathSpeak™ interventions on actual print-disabled students in Indiana. The Butler team is composed of an expert in Educational Technology, who will assist in the theoretical development and feature matching of the computer-based products. Finally, the Indiana School for the Blind (ISB) will serve as a test base for the final products, with actual teachers of SMET-related subjects using the materials for print-disabled students in a testing facility set up for just that purpose.
The overall goal of the project is to increase access to Math and Science for Print-Disabled Students.
In general, Year 1 is largely devoted to technology development and Year 2 to beta testing, pilot study, and feedback.
gh is also actively seeking to incorporate existing standards and technologies for Math and Science.
- Develop products for the Assistive Technology (AT) Market: In 2002 over 4 billion dollars were spent on the purchase of K-12 textbooks in the United States8. Due to recent legislation, all of these books must also be produced in accessible DTB formats by 20059. Of these books, approximately 20%-25% involve SMET-related materials that would require a MathSpeak™-like method for access. Hence the overall market for products of the research is quite large. There are four major products of the proposed research: accessible textbook conversion ($40MM market size), playback software ($25MM), a text-to-speech software engine ($108MM), and a series of accessible math textbooks ($15MM). This represents a total market potential of over $180MM for technologies developed by the proposed research, ensuring that increased tax revenues driven by product sales can generate a significant return on investment for the State of Indiana.
- Improve lives of Print-Disabled Students in Indiana first: The state will be the first to offer print-disabled students a means to read SMET-related materials entirely on their own. Specifically, the Indiana School for the Blind will be seen as a leader in the field of educational accommodations for the visually impaired. As the technology develops, Indiana can become a leader in attracting SMET students drawn from the ranks of the print-disabled nationwide. Given the support materials and network that will be available partly as a result of this and future projects, many of these students, after pursuing SMET-related degrees in Indiana, will choose to stay in-state and work in SMET-related jobs - perhaps even at gh - thus helping to foster technological innovation in Indiana.
- Promote science and technology collaboration in Indiana: The proposed research will immediately result in the collaboration of two state research Universities - Purdue in Linguistics and Education, and Butler in Educational Technology - along with a high-tech business already proven successful in launching software products in the Assistive Technology industry. Conservatively assuming that gh can capitalize on 20% of the total market potential, a $36MM-per-year business could result in the creation of hundreds of new jobs in Indiana. The existing state network of AT vendors, Vocational Rehabilitation specialists, and Itinerant Teachers could also be utilized as avenues for product distribution. Finally, teacher training programs across the state could be influenced to include these product lines into standard teacher certification programs for Special Education.
- Leverage research funds given by the State of Indiana: gh, Purdue, Butler, and ISB have already demonstrated their commitment to the project by providing support for much of the early research. In addition, a 1.07:1 leveraging ratio by means of cost-sharing is detailed in the Budget section of the proposal. The proposers will also seek leverage with:
- Other AT Vendors nationwide who are seeking a high-tech product for distribution.
- Third-party providers of AT such as Vocational Rehabilitation, whose budgets would be strengthened by providing interventions allowing users to help themselves, rather than relying on ongoing support.
- Publishers of textbooks actively seeking solutions to disabilities-related issues, such as the conversion of all K-12 textbooks to the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (of which gh is a participant, and with which the gh products are compatible) by 2005.
- Other sources for R&D funding, including research grants from Federal Agencies, and funding from a planned Purdue Center of Excellence in Disabilities Research.
- This project will serve as the foundation for ongoing research, and an eventual suite of products that will enter into other, much larger markets than disabilities. Examples include the development of assistive technologies for English Language Learners and the development of Computer-Based Assessment Tools for Standardized Testing, both of which can be based on the core technologies developed during this research.
- Developing standards for communicating Math by speech - several open standards will be developed:
- Proposed MathML extension module to DAISY/NISO DTB: this will be "rendering agnostic", and MathML will be used as encoding technique.
- Audio rendering language specification (MathSpeak™)
- Developing software for reading Math books - rendering modules for the gh PLAYER™ will be developed:
- Synchronized Audio Rendering Module
- Synchronized Visual Rendering Module (IE widget)
- Synchronized Braille Rendering Module
- Synchronized Highlighting
- Math-specific TTS engine will be developed using natural-sounding computer-synthesized voice.
- Integrating Mathematical information into the gh MCP - this includes the development of:
- A development studio for authoring math-containing books and other documents.
- Using MathML as the source encoding technology for math content (both presentational and content).
- Using a General XML Schema for overall document (based on DTBook content model).
- Using the "gh namespace" for specialized accessibility purposes.
- Producing a Textbook series for pilot study:
- 50-100 students will be involved in pilot study.
- Test sites include Indiana School for the Blind, Purdue, Butler, and several other sites across the country.
- Three textbooks will be developed: Grades 6, 7, and 8 math textbooks.
- Supplemental Braille, Large Print, and Tactile Graphics will also be provided.
- Purpose of Pilot is to refine technology and investigate effectiveness of MathSpeak in comparison to other methods.
- 1. See http://www.ilru.org/healthwellness/html/census.html; this figure includes people who cannot see the print (7.7 million) and people who have learning or cognitive disabilities (14.3 million) that prevent them from reading. See also http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2003/cb03ff-10.html for general census data on persons with disabilities; there are over 49 million disabled people (about 19% of the general population) in the United States alone.
- 2. For example, see http://cms.hhs.gov/twwiia/ede.asp which gives unemployment data for SSI recipients (a type of Social security benefit for people with certain disabilities).
- 3. See for example http://www.accessiblesociety.org/topics/economics-employment/ for statistics of unemployment among the general population of disabled (30% is claimed); and http://socialunion.gc.ca/In_Unison2000/iu03100e.html places the unemployment rate for disabled at 57%.
- 4. See http://www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Careers/representation.html for a general discussion of the subject; also see Malcom, S. M., & Matyas, M. L. (Eds.) (1991). Investing in human potential: Science and engineering at the crossroads. Washington, D. C.: American Association for the Advancement of Science.
- 5. See http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2001/ceose2000rpt/congress_5.pdf; note that the percentage of disabled graduate students as of 1996 in Life or Physical Sciences is slightly over 1% and the percent in Engineering, Computer Science, and Mathematics is around 1.5%.
- 6. See http://www.in.gov/fssa/servicedisabl/vr/crsannualrpt.html for these statistics and a general summary of the activities of the Indiana Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation Services.
- 7. See census data for the federal QUOTA program at http://www.aph.org/fedquotpgm/dist02.html.
- 8. See http://www.publishers.org/industry/index.cfm for general industry statistics for textbook publishers.
- 9. The National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS), which is part of the re-authorization of IDEA (see http://edworkforce.house.gov/issues/108th/education/idea/idea.htm), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, has turned the National File Format (NFF) specification into a mandatory standard by 2005.