Text-to-speech, screen readers and alternative formats have been used to support learners and individuals with print impairments for over 20 years. However, until now access to documents containing mathematical notation has been limited by the lack of widely available supported tools for reading aloud equations. The resulting lack of accessibility has acted as a barrier to current and future learners wishing to study subjects with mathematical content – whether a degree in mathematics, business studies A’ level or a vocational qualification in pharmaceutical science.
The STEMReader project set out to aid these print impaired students studying subjects with mathematical content as they struggle to understand and comprehend the mathematical notation presented to them. Until now the development of accessibility tools for mathematics has concentrated on users accessing website technology and also on those with no sight who are often screen reader users for all aspects of ICT use. These tools often fail to address the needs of individuals who can benefit from text to speech tools that read content within wider learning and working environments.
STEMReader aims to deliver a significant step forward in reading aloud maths for those with visual impairments, specific learning difficulties (SpLDs) or other concerns when working from functional to advanced levels and struggling to read and comprehend mathematical notation.
Phase 1 of the STEMReader project took place between February and July 2014. This was a proof of concept project funded as part of the ‘Ready steady STEM’ competition to open up access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects for disabled learners. The competition was part of the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) programme, which encourages technology solutions to specific public sector needs.
Phase 2 is funded from November 2014 to May 2016 to continue the development of STEMReader. Phase 1 and 2 were funded by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.
The STEMReader project is led by ECS Partners, a subsidiary of the University of Southampton. It has been made possible by funding from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills and Innovate UK project. The project is managed by the Higher Education Academy to improve take up and understanding of assistive and mainstream technologies for the benefit of disabled and disadvantaged learners.