[Nfbc-info] Survey of individuals who use Math

Mary Willows mwillows at sbcglobal.net
Fri Feb 11 04:26:38 UTC 2011

Subject: comprehensive math survey

By Al Maneki

 From the Editor: At the 2010 NFB convention in Dallas, Al Maneki moderated
a lively panel on access to mathematics classes by blind students. The
response to the panel was enthusiastic, but it raised a number of unanswered
questions. Al realized how little is actually known about how blind people
handle the many challenges of math. With the help of Judith Chwallow and
Mark Riccobono of the Jernigan Institute, he has compiled a series of survey
questions to help us learn more.

How do blind and visually impaired people read and do mathematics? I address
this question to any blind person who has studied math at any level, or who
uses math regularly in his or her work.

Technology makes Braille materials more available than ever before.
However, it is unclear whether the greater availability of Braille extends
to the field of mathematics. Even if mathematical materials are available in
Braille, the question remains of how blind and visually impaired people
actually perform mathematical tasks--solve problems; prove theorems; take
tests; and write papers, dissertations, and books. How do blind and visually
impaired people communicate mathematically with others?

As a blind person, I have studied and worked as a mathematician for my
entire adult life. I have answered the above questions for my own situation.
Yet it is clear to me that mine are not the only answers.
We know that a number of blind and visually impaired people have done and
are currently doing mathematics, but we have no systematic information about
the methods they find most useful. To help the blind community, we need to
gather answers from a number of people with a variety of experiences. We
plan to organize and summarize these answers and publish the results in a
form that will be helpful to teachers, parents, students, and blind adults.

With the help of Judy Chwallow, Director of Research at the NFB Jernigan
Institute, I have compiled a set of questions that I would like to circulate
as widely as possible. If you wish to furnish answers to some or all of
these questions, please send your responses to me. While this is an informal
survey, I believe that the responses we receive will prove valuable to many

Who Should Complete This Survey?

We would like to hear from any blind or visually impaired person who has
taken or is taking at least one math or math-based science course at the
secondary or postsecondary school level. We would also like to hear from any
parent or teacher who has advised or assisted a blind or visually impaired
child with at least one math or math-based science course. Furthermore, we
are interested in students'
experiences learning geometry or elementary school arithmetic.

There is no restriction on when or how long ago you or your child took a
math course. We want to learn about the methods of handling math that worked
best for you. We are equally interested in methods that were not
particularly successful or useful.

If you or your child are considering taking math courses at any level, you
should read these survey questions. They may help you get the information
you need to complete your courses successfully.


In your responses, please provide me with contact information (name,
address, email, phone) so that I may reach you for possible clarifications
and follow-up interviews. Please also include your age (closest to 5-year
multiples, i.e.  20-25, 25-30 etc); the highest level of education you have
completed; your primary reading medium; your current employment status and
job title.

You need not answer all of the questions, since some of them may not be
relevant to your experience. You do not have to answer questions separately.
You may provide a narrative summary for your response to this survey.

If you require additional information about these questions, please get in
touch with me. You may contact me by email, phone, or snail mail. My contact
information appears at the end of the survey.

You may submit your responses by email or snail mail (Braille or print
please, no audio) to the addresses shown below. Please complete this survey
by April 15, 2011. Persons taking courses after this date may respond later,
as I anticipate a continuation of this survey.

Your answers will not be used to judge your mathematical strengths or
weaknesses. Any personal information you may reveal in your responses will
remain confidential. Names, mailing addresses, email addresses, and phone
numbers will not be distributed.

Survey Questions

Here are the questions to consider:

1.  What math or math-based science courses have you taken (elementary,
secondary, community college/university, graduate school)? Specify the level
of each course, and describe the subject matter that was included.

2.  Were classroom lectures useful to you? Since mathematics is generally
communicated visually, tell us as specifically as you can what you actually
learned from these lectures. If lectures were not helpful, tell us what you
did to compensate for the missing information.

3.  Were you able to take classroom notes? If so, tell us what method you
used: large print, hardcopy Braille, electronic or live notetakers, audio
recordings, etc.

4.  How did you handle reading assignments? Tell us about your use of
Braille textbooks, recorded textbooks, large print textbooks, or the use of
live readers or tutors.

5.  How did you do homework assignments and take tests? Describe your use of
large print, notetakers, hardcopy Braille, mental arithmetic, or dictation
to a live reader. If you used Braille, describe your method of translating
Braille into a medium accessible to instructors who do not know Braille. If
you used Braille/print reverse translation software of any kind, describe
how this worked. In your answer to this question, tell us about any
additional devices and technologies you have used, i.e., older devices such
as the Taylor Slate, Cube-a-Rithm Slate, Circular Slide Rule, and Cranmer
Abacus; and newer devices such as talking calculators or specialized
learning software.

6.  Have you written papers containing mathematical content in an academic
or professional setting? Describe how you did this, especially the use of
human support.

7.  How did you work with line drawings, graphs, or charts? Explain how
these were described to you or produced in accessible formats. If you had to
construct these items, tell us how you accomplished this task.

8.  How familiar are you with the Nemeth Braille code? Describe the extent
to which you use it for reading or writing.

9.  Are there any tools/devices/aids that you wish you had had that would
have enhanced your mathematical experiences?

10.  How satisfied are you with your mathematical experiences? Are there
other comments you would like to make about how blind and visually impaired
people may read and do mathematics?


This is an informal survey. I am conducting it with the intention of using
the results to help others who will be taking math and math-based science
courses in the future. The results of this survey, after they have been
compiled, may also prove useful to people who are accustomed to doing math
in their own ways. These folks may find new ways of working more
productively. It could further turn out that these responses will suggest
altogether different ways of doing math, either by refining methods already
in use or by suggesting the development of new techniques and technologies.
I fervently hope that over time this survey will make it possible for blind
and visually impaired people to learn and do mathematics more efficiently
and with greater ease.

I plan to compile the first set of responses (received by April 15,
2011) into an article, ideally for publication in the newly established
Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research. It is also my hope that this
survey will be a continuing investigation.
Additional articles pertaining to this survey will be published if they are

In preparing this article and survey, I received valuable help from Deborah
Kent Stein, Editor of Future Reflections, and from Mark Riccobono and Judith
Chwalow of the NFB Jernigan Institute. Although they have left their marks
on this article and survey, I assume responsibility for all shortcomings,
errors, and omissions.

I thank you in advance for helping me with this survey. I look forward to
hearing from you.

Al Maneki
Email:  apmaneki at earthlink.net
(443) 745-9274  CELL
9013 Nelson Way, Columbia, MD 21045

Mary Willows, President
National Federation of the Blind of California
mwillows at sbcglobal.net 

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