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UC leading the way for blind students

UC leading the way for blind students


The co-ordinator of the University of Canterbury’s Alternative Format Centre, Samuel Maddimadugula, says the University is leading the way in assisting blind students to study disciplines that have traditionally required sight.

UC is the first institution in Australasia to use software developed by researchers at Oregon State University which recognises scientific and mathematic symbols and converts them into speech.

Mr Maddimadugula says the Alternative Format Centre sought the technology to support UC’s first blind maths and computer science student, Arthur Pirika.

“We saw this as a challenge to support Arthur in his studies, as conventional optical character recognition technology cannot handle non-textual content such as scientific symbols, formulae and mathematical notations,” Mr Maddimadugula says.

Arthur is studying with a view to working in a programming, technical support or web design role. He says the software introduced by the Alternative Format Centre, which is responsible for providing course material in an accessible format for students with impairments, has been invaluable.


“As computer science needs maths as a pre-requisite you have to have a maths background. Maths is obviously made up of a lot of symbols and graphs. I have the software on my laptop – it’s pretty much a maths word processor. It voices all the symbols,” Arthur says.

Mr Maddimadugula says Arthur, who can work independently using the software, has been very supportive and encouraging of the centre’s efforts.

“If not for that I am not too sure we would have come so far with this.

“Our next challenge is converting printed music and scoresheets into Braille for a blind student. That will involve scanning the sheet music, editing that, transcribing it into Braille and then embossing.”

Mr Maddimadugula spoke about his work at a recent conference in Australia. He says increased awareness of what can be done will broaden educational opportunities for blind people.

“I believe we will see more blind students doing all these non-traditional courses.  Maths, physical sciences, biological sciences, you name it. It will open up a world of new opportunities for blind students.”


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