[BlindMath] How should ray notation be read by a screen reader?

Jonathan Godfrey A.J.Godfrey at massey.ac.nz
Fri Jun 10 21:08:05 UTC 2022


I like Jonathan's answer, but this highlights a major problem for blind students learning STEM subjects. There is no consistency in the language used (oral), notation used (symbols), or code used to generate the symbols (LaTeX). By consistency, I mean that there is one word, one symbol and one way to get it in LaTeX, and that this is true in both directions.

I benefitted from having some residual vision when learning at school. Once I was at university with a considerably different amount of access to the connection between oral words in the classroom and the written notation used in the books I then referred to at home, I realised how crucial the connection is to my understanding. So much so that it meant I abandoned the classroom in favour of an environment which closed the gap between the oral and the written 

This gap was huge when the need to re-create the necessary notation fell on me instead of reliance on a human to take my words and translate them into the written text to hand in for marking.
LaTeX has thousands of characters and constructs. The commands used are frequently based on the visual appearance of the symbol, with the arrows being among the most interpretable of them. E.g. A horizontal bar over a letter is a macron over vowels in some languages, the indicator of an average in statistics, and the conjugate  in something mathematical. I add this last example, because  I didn't need to learn it independently so I didn't join the visual and semantic dots sufficiently to remember them today.  

I hadn't remembered the word "ray" used in my childhood for many years, because I learned in my teens that the same outcome was created with a vector, albeit that the vectors had a coordinate system attached. If your student has watched the wrong TV shows or movies, they will have heard the word "vector" used as a verb, as in to vector in on the target. I don't see it being wrong to introduce more grown up language if your student is capable of accepting it.

I've heard people say that so much of what we do in mathematical manipulation requires a "visual construct". I dispute this claim.  I accept that the way most people  pull information into our brains might be via a vision based medium, but manipulating an equation to rearrange it can be done with  building blocks and other tactile objects.
N.B. I said "can". That does not mean it works for everyone.

I expect that some learners will gain insight if they learn how the sighted world is presenting information, while  for others it could become a massive distraction or roadblock. 

There is no one size to fit all. Please look for options and work out which one suits your student the best.

Jonathan G

-----Original Message-----
From: BlindMath <blindmath-bounces at nfbnet.org> On Behalf Of Jonathan Fine via BlindMath
Sent: Saturday, 11 June 2022 6:32 am
To: Blind Math list for those interested in mathematics <blindmath at nfbnet.org>
Cc: Jonathan Fine <jfine2358 at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [BlindMath] How should ray notation be read by a screen reader?

Hi Carolyn

I would say something like "vector K to L" or "vector K L". Here I assume that the notation stands for a vector, which in 4th grade it might not. To find out what the notation means, backtrack to the point at which the notation is introduced. Better depending on context might be something else, such as "K to L".

One final word. The name \overightarrow describes a visual effect that is often used to stand for a vector. It does not give the meaning of the notation.

Disclaimer. I'm an expert in LaTeX, but not in teaching mathematics to the visually impaired.

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