For Immediate Release
New Math-to-Speech Technologies to Help Blind and Visually Impaired Students
Long Beach, Calif. – May 24, 2011 – Design Science and
Educational Testing Service (ETS) have announced they are working jointly to
modify MathType™ and MathPlayer™, so that classroom materials, tests and other
documents containing mathematical content may be clearly spoken by computers.
This new math-to-speech technology will provide students who are blind or have
other visual impairments, the tools they need to learn, practice, and take math
and science tests on a more equal footing with their classroom peers.
Some of the country’s leading subject-matter experts and developers of
assistive technology for students who are blind or visually impaired, will
assist on the project which begins July 1, 2011, and is supported by a $1.5
million Institute of Education Sciences grant.
“Existing assistive technology that provides synthetic speech for electronic
text does at best a limited job of making math accessible for this group of
students,” explains Lois Frankel, an ETS Assessment Specialist and the leader of
the effort. “The current technology falls short because it generally does not
‘know’ how to describe mathematical expressions, especially in a way that
provides access to their nonlinear structure.
“ETS and Design Science will work together to enhance MathPlayer, the tool
that voices the math encoded in MathML, so that it sounds more like what
students — particularly those in Algebra I — are used to hearing,” Frankel says.
“We also plan to work on a number of customizations to MathType, including a
feature to allow teachers and other users to select how mathematical expressions
are described. For example, they could select whether the machine says ‘four
over five’ or ‘four fifths.’ Another customization we plan to add is keyboard
navigation that allows blind or visually impaired users to go back and replay
voiced segments in mathematically meaningful ‘chunks.’ Our goal is to provide
students and teachers with a better system for voicing mathematical notation
that includes some truly useful functionality.”
“It has been a long-term Design Science goal to make
math accessible, and our team have been working hard at it for over six years,”
said Neil Soiffer, Senior Scientist at Design Science. “It’s a great opportunity
to be partnering with an organization the stature and importance of ETS, to push
the state-of-the-art forward.”
Working with Frankel and Soiffer on the effort are ETS Assessment Specialist
Beth Brownstein, Research Scientist Eric Hansen, and Senior Research Scientist
Cara Laitusis. Among the other organizations and consultants who will take part
in the project are:
Dewitt & Associates,
specializes in accessibility training, learning systems and
support, and will provide advice on the implementation of MathML
accessibility tools and assist in the development of training
modules for students and teachers.
GW Micro, a leading firm
in the adaptive technology industry, will modify its Window-Eyes
screen reader software to work seamlessly with the tools
developed by the project.
Jim Allan, the
accessibility coordinator and webmaster for the Texas School for
the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Maylene Bird, a teacher
of mathematics to visually impaired students at the Texas School
for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Christine Hinton, a
Program Development Specialist for the New Jersey Commission for
the Blind and Visually Impaired, will help recruit student
participants from inclusive schools in New Jersey.
Gaylen Kapperman, a
professor of Education who is also blind, with specialization in
research and development projects pertaining to mathematics
instruction and assistive technology used by individuals who are
blind or are visually impaired.
Abraham Nemeth, the
author of The Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and
Science Notation, and a blind expert in making mathematics
accessible to blind individuals.
Susan Osterhaus, a
secondary mathematics teacher and statewide accessibility expert
at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
“The criteria for success in this project will be three-fold,”
explains Marisa Farnum, Vice President of Assessment Development at ETS. “First,
will students using the tailored tools over the status quo be better able to
solve algebra problems at an appropriate level? And, are they better able to
correctly identify the structure of algebra-level math expressions when using
the tools? Second, will math teachers be able to use the authoring tools
developed by this project to quickly and easily create math materials that are
accessible to their students with visual impairments? And finally, do the
teachers and students who participate as subjects in these development efforts
find the tools provided usable and convenient?”
About Design Science
Founded in 1986 and headquartered in Long Beach,
California, Design Science develops software used by educators, scientists and
publishing professionals, including MathType, Equation Editor in Microsoft
Office, MathFlow, MathDaisy and MathPlayer, to communicate on the web and in
print. For more information please visit
At nonprofit ETS, we advance quality and equity in education
for people worldwide by creating assessments based on rigorous research. ETS
serves individuals, educational institutions and government agencies by
providing customized solutions for teacher certification, English language
learning, and elementary, secondary and post-secondary education, as well as
conducting education research, analysis and policy studies. Founded in 1947, ETS
develops, administers and scores more than 50 million tests annually — including
the TOEFL® and TOEIC® tests, the GRE® tests and The Praxis Series™ assessments —
in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide.
Design Science Contact:
+1 (562) 432-2920
Design Science, Inc.
140 Pine Avenue, 4th Floor
Long Beach, CA 90802
+1 (609) 683-2803
Education Testing Service
Princeton, NJ 08541-0001