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I teach a first year undergrad class in MATLAB programming, and one of my students is completely blind. Quite amazingly, the student memorises the whole chapter before class and regurgitates with the help of someone saying what the output is.

I wonder if anyone has some advice to help the student? I have heard of Emacspeak. There's also the issue of interpreting graphics - is there any software available that may help with this?

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    matheducators.stackexchange.com might also be able to help. – Nate Eldredge Oct 22 '16 at 21:12
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    Has the student asked for help? It's a fair bet that the student knows what resources are available, and what's needed for success. I really recommend asking the student how you might be of best assitance. If not, there is probably some office in your scoop that deals with assisting students that have issues with accessibility. – Scott Seidman Oct 23 '16 at 0:48
  • What is the syllabus of the course?Do you plan to teach more programming and/or also toolboxes such as image processing, simulink,...? – Mikey Mike Oct 23 '16 at 12:23
  • @MikeyMike It's just an introductory 10 lesson course, they go through the basic functionality of Matlab, through to writing loops and conditional statements. In later modules, depending on their degree route, they may use simulink, image processing etc. but I don't teach that. – Mike Miller Oct 23 '16 at 15:14
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    @BryanKrause unfortunately, this didn't go so well. I contacted the university's disability services to make them aware of the situation, but they were very poor in helping the student with software. My approach was to spend as much time helping the student with his progress and on a positive note, they achieved a first class mark in that part of the module. Remarkable I thought! – Mike Miller Jun 13 '17 at 17:37
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Yes, this is all possible, but I recommend seeking specialist advice. Blind support organisations often have technical advisors who are aware of the latest software and hardware adaptions that are available.

I taught a totally blind student through a whole computer science degree, including 3d computer graphics. The student had a box which was connected to the computer and supplied audio through an ear piece. This translated the screen pixels into sound so images could be perceived much as a hand-held scanner might. As the mouse was moved the pixels at the mouse location were translated to sound. In addition to text-to-speech and other features the student had a complete picture of what was on the screen.

Actually, it was better than that. The student could see windows hidden behind windows, because they saw it in three dimensions in their mind and the rest of us were limited to the limitations of a flat 2d screen. We were totally out-classed and out-performed by someone who although blind could perceive the screen images better than we could!

Ask the student if they have looked into the devices available or already have support from appropriate blind organisations. If they do encourage them to follow up. If they do not, go through the appropriate special needs support office at your institution who are likely to have the right contacts.

Never underestimate the abilities of differently equipped students!

PS: I see you are in the UK. The RNIB is likely to be able to assist. They have appropriate technical officers if the University does not.

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    Thanks, this is great advice, but also an incredible story; that is truly amazing the support you gave! – Mike Miller Oct 22 '16 at 22:11
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    @MikeMiller Oh! the anecdotes I could tell about this one.... having the guide dog in lectures was the most amusing thing. The dog would be sure to let you know if the lecture was boring. It would yawn; roll over, snore loudly (stage snoring), until you made the lecture more interesting ... the class loved it! – Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 Oct 22 '16 at 22:16
  • Fantastic! I'm glad my student doesn't have a guide dog then! :-) – Mike Miller Oct 22 '16 at 22:18
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    The company I work for (large multinational) has a totally blind guy doing software distribution and deployment. That's actually an advantage from a QA perspective, because he flatly refuses to action any instruction that is not in writing in case he "forgets" about it! But rolling out an software patch onto 20,000 machines spread across 5 continents without screwing anything up - no problem at all! – alephzero Oct 24 '16 at 14:53
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    My former teacher used a braille machine. He was reading code line by line... From both ends at the same time ! Try splitting your eyes to look at different things for a laugh – Antzi Oct 25 '16 at 9:15
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It is completely possible with the right device

One of our student of physics is 50 years old, blind since ever, works 80 % in a company as a coder (!) and he studied computer science when he was 20 years old. So everything is surely possible.

How he does it: he has a device, which is connected to the computer and displays the line in Braille by moving small pins up or down. He then can read around 20 letters a time, reaching the end, the device changes it's pins again to display the next 20 characters. Additionally, a screen-reader often also helps him to navigate and understand things.

This way, I wrote once a lab report together with him in latex, no problem at all. And he regularly writes code and exercise-sheets. Quite impressive!

I highly recommend your blind student to get such a device (you may first ask if he is even able to read Braille as not a lot of blind people do) and get used to screen-readers! If he has problems reading mathematical expressions, he can in most cases ask the publisher for the latex-version.

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    Note that many blind people do not read Braille at all: in Britain only around 1% of blind people are Braille users (though that's probably higher among people who have been blind since a young age). So it's probably better to ask if it would be useful rather than recommending it. – Max Oct 24 '16 at 16:03
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    @Max, it is a LOT higher among people who have been blind since a young age – Ian Oct 26 '16 at 14:10
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I credit your ambition in this area, but the best answer offer is "talk to the professionals, after talking with the student". Your school will have specialists in some office that are very familiar with available accommodations for students who are visually impaired. They will be able to find resources faster than you, and likely better resources than you can find on your own. They will likely be able to make funds available if the necessary tools need to be purchased. This is what they do, and my experience is that people like this are very good at their jobs. In the US, such people are more or less required for schools to meet their regulatory obligations. I'm not sure for your country, but I can't imagine that the resource is non-existent.

As I stated in comments, I encourage you do work in conjuntion with the student. You might approach the student and ask who he is working with already, and if he feels he's getting the tools he needs. If he isn't using these resources, you should ask if he's comfortable if you try to help match him up with these resources, or if you could provide an accurate description of the needs of a person in his course to the people assisting him.

Be sensitive. This sort of help is not always welcomed or appropriate. People are often very good at using the tools they have to accomplish what they need to accomplish, and might resent other people telling them that they need help.

Don't be afraid to talk to the student, and be up front about asking the questions you want to ask. Don't skirt the issues or euphemize. Don't be offended if you receive a polite "no thank you".

  • Thanks, it was a useful comment and this answer is how I had approached the student before asking the question. They were happy with how the class was being run but I thought it would be nice to give them some extra options to help their programming skills in case it was something they would like to pursue in the future :) – Mike Miller Oct 25 '16 at 22:55
  • I did feel there might be an issue in this case with the student saying everything was fine etc. without realising how difficult programming could be without having some kind of screen reader or especially interpretation of graphics. It's certainly throws up some interesting challenges on both parts! – Mike Miller Oct 25 '16 at 22:57

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