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May 5, 2008 | by  | in News | [ssba]

New technology aids blind students

Blind and visually impaired students can rest easy knowing they have the best resources at their fingertips in New Zealand universities.

Brand new technology which recognises symbols and converts them into speech is now available, and among students using the software is Arthur Pirika, a blind mathematics and computer science student at Canterbury University.

“I have the software on my laptop – it’s pretty much a maths word processor. It voices all the symbols,” Pirika explains.

The software is beneficial for students taking any subject which uses symbols – maths, biology, physical sciences. Similar services are available for Victoria’s 45 blind and visually impaired students, says Disability Support Services manager Rachel Anderson-Smith:

“It is good to see the software that recognises symbols has advanced; we’re currently looking at the feasibility of bringing this to Victoria. In the meantime we provide a similar service, but hand-edit the symbols.”

Figures show that the numbers of blind and visually impaired students at Victoria are steadily on the rise. Anderson-Smith believes she is seeing “a more confident student population more readily taking risks.”

This is in part due to the support given by advances in technology. Disability Support Services provides rest and study rooms which contain computers geared with all the software visually-impaired students need to succeed in their studies. These include text-to-speech software, magnified screens and CD-form student notes.

Anderson-Smith states “Students thrive off independence, which is one of the things the software gives us.”

Despite this, there are things we can do around campus to make life easier for fellow students who are blind or vision impaired. Making sure you don’t leave your bag in a place where someone might trip over it, becoming a volunteer note-taker, or volunteering as a campus tour-guide are several things we can do to help.

Also, this week is New Zealand Sign Language week, so get involved with free sign-language taster lessons on campus.


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  1. Gibbon says:

    there are blind students at VUW?

    isn’t it slightly nasty to mention sign language in an article primarilly concerned with blind peeps?

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