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Last week's "Math Person of the Week" asked you to identify a common characteristic for a listed group of great mathematics. That characteristic was being blind. Re-reading the list (e.g. Euler, Smale, Plateau), it is amazing to look at their great accomplishments in mathematics, often in geometry.

In a newsletter on technology issues for people with visual impairment and blindness, Philip Cain describes both the problems and opportunities of using technology to help blind people work with mathematics:

  • Overcoming the fact that reading written mathematics involves "interpreting the relative positions of an enormous array of symbols on a two-dimensional surface"...whereas Braille conveys meaning by the ordering of a limited set of symbols in one-dimension (linear).
  • Beyond trying to write or do mathematics, blind people need access to the published work of their sighted colleagues...but again, the tranlation efforts using computer technologies fall short.
  • LaTex has shown promise as a de-facto standard typesetting language, but there is no automated way to convert LaTex images into speech or even Braille.
  • The problem of accessing mathematical text via the Internet is another problem, with a possible solution being an adaptation of MathML
  • The problem of converting/reading diagrams, graphs, or geometrical figures into a form accessible to blind people
The problem needs to be solved...with technology expected to play an important role.

Source: http://www.headstar.com/eab/issues/2002/jan2002.html