January 2019: Blind architect Chris Downey interviewed on CBS 60 Minutes

Rober Jaquiss, Contributor
Editor of Independence Science Newsletter

On January 13, Chris Downey, a blind architect was interviewed on the CBS 60 Minutes program. According to his brief biography on TED, Chris Downey is an architect, planner, and consultant. He works with design teams and clients and draws on his unique perspective as an architect without sight to help to realize environments that offer greater physical accessibility, and delight in architecture experienced through other senses. He is one of the few practicing blind architects in the world and had 20 years of award-winning practice with custom residences and cultural institutions before losing his sight. The following three links provide more information:

For Chris Downey 60 Minutes interview transcript: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/architect-chris-downey-goes-blind-says-hes-actually-gotten-better-at-his-job-60-minutes/

For Chris Downey’s TED talk on YouTube: https://www.ted.com/talks/chris_downey_design_with_the_blind_in_mindFor Chris Downey’s interview in the Braille Monitor (January 2011): https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm11/bm1101/bm110104.htm

April 2018: ISLAND 2018 Abstract Submissions now open

Rober Jaquiss, Contributor
Editor of Independence Science Newsletter

ISLAND 2018 Conference

The 2018 ISLAND conference will be held at Princeton University September 14-15, 2018. Abstracts are now being accepted by sending to: Cary Supalo at: island@princeton.edu.

The deadline for abstract submission is June 30, 2018. Those whose presentations have been accepted will be notified by July 15, 2018.

The pre-registration for ISLAND will open in July 2018.

February 2018: Phone Conference on How Blind Students Can Do Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)

Rober Jaquiss, Contributor
Editor of Independence Science Newsletter

(First published in January 2018)

The Science and Engineering Division of the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of Blind Students present a joint phone conference on how blind professionals, and blind college and graduate students are succeeding in

courses to do with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The call-in number is the NABS conference line 712-770-5197, Participant Access Code: 265669. The call will occur at 9PM EST through 10PM EST on Monday, February 12, 2018.

Topics will be of interest for blind students in middle school, high school,

college and graduate school. Parents of blind school-aged children and

educators are also welcome. Topics will include succeeding as a blind person in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and engineering. Some portion of the presentation will address how to succeed in a laboratory setting.

December 2017:

Rober Jaquiss, Contributor
Editor of Independence Science Newsletter

SeeingAI is a free artificial intelligence app by the Microsoft corporation that just updated to offer some amazing new features. The app contains a “Short Text” channel that doesn’t require a picture. This is great for printed signs and menus. There is a “Document” app that functions much like KNFB Reader to take pictures of a longer document with some processing time. A “product” channel that will beep more frequently when getting closer to a bar code, then automatically takes a picture. This will automatically announce the product, then if the “more information” tab is selected nutritional and cooking instructions are read. A “person” channel that attempts to identify a person’s approximate age and gender as well as gives the option to input information to identify a specific person like Orcam (at its current state Independence Science does not suggest that these two features should be relied upon). A new “currency” reader, a “scene” channel that when a picture is taken will give an approximate guess on surroundings such as “man on a bed using a laptop” which is still in beta form and should only be used to learn more about a scene or picture not solid identification. It has a “color” channel that based on the lighting will help you identify colors of objects such as clothing. Remember in certain lighting conditions may change a readout such as white may read as yellow in bright light or gray in dark so we suggest using a known control such as your cane to identify for sure for your conditions. The most revolutionary thing on there is a “handwriting” channel that is currently in beta and appears to recognize about 50% of print (not cursive) handwriting in its current form but as far as we know this is the first app that does this. Lastly there is a musical “light” sensor with higher pitches for brighter lights. This app is entirely self voiced so having VoiceOver on is not required. This revolutionary app is currently only available on Apple products.

November 2017: Small Business Saturday Sale

Rober Jaquiss, Contributor
Editor of Independence Science Newsletter

  Independence Science is pleased to participate in the 2017 celebration of Small Business Saturday. This will occur on Saturday, November 25, 2017. This is a day that follow’s the day that is traditionally known as Black Friday, which is designed for large anchor stores to offer large savings in time for the holiday season. This Saturday gives small businesses a similar opportunity. It is for this reason why

Independence Science is pleased to offer a discount on the Sci-Voice Talking LabQuest2 package for orders placed and completed on Saturday, November 25, 2017. The package includes the TLQ2, USB keyboard, stainless steel temperature, light, and differential voltage probes. A promotional offer of $995 plus shipping will be available to all ISci customers. This promotion may not be combined with other offers.

  We at Independence Science hope this discount will help make our premier product available to students with visual impairments that are not currently receiving support from their school. We would like to wish everyone a happy holiday season. Independence Science is here to solve all of your science access needs.

September 2017:8th Annual ISLAND Conference Announcement September 15, 2017

Rober Jaquiss, Contributor
Editor of Independence Science Newsletter

(First Published in August 2017)

The 8th annual Independence Science, Learning a New Direction, Conference (ISLAND) on disability is just around the corner.

Come learn about innovative research that seeks to integrate persons with disabilities into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields of study from Purdue Faculty. The conference will also include current professionals from the field that will present Enrichment programs and other research they are currently engaged in promoting access to technology in the STEM Education Industry. Network with these Twenty-First Century innovators who are promoting inclusion and equity in STEM opportunities.

     The conference will be held on Friday, September 15, 2017 at the Kurz Purdue Technology Center located at 1281 Win Henschel Blvd in West Lafayette, Indiana.

The conference will begin with a continental breakfast at 8:30 AM and conclude by 5:00 PM. Conference registration is $25 in advance. Attendees can register by going to: www.independencescience.com  and clicking on the ISLAND 2017 link. Please print out the registration ticket and arrive with form of payment for collection at the door.

A block of rooms has been reserved at the 4-Points by Sheraton located at: 1600 Cumberland Ave, West Lafayette, Indiana 47906: phone- 765-463-5511. When booking your room reservation, please ask for the ISLAND2017 rate. Hotel rooms must be booked by August 18 to receive the conference rate. Rooms booked after the 18th will receive the best rate available.

Ground transportation from the Indianapolis, Indiana airport is being provided by Lafayette Limo. For reservations, please call 765-497-3828 or book on-line at www.lafayettelimo.com. Round trip reservations currently cost $50 per person.

The Lafayette Limo departs from the Ground Transportation center zone 5 every 2 hours starting at 6:30 AM until 10:30 PM daily. Please check in with the Lafayette Limo booth located in the Ground Transportation area to let them know you are waiting for the next shuttle. The Lafayette Limo will drop you off at the 4-Points by Sheraton. The 4-Points offers a curtesy shuttle to Purdue University buildings. Request the evening before that you would like to go to the Kurz Purdue Technology Center or (KPTC) for the ISLAND conference. Please do not hesitate to contact Cary Supalo for any questions.

August 2017: Observing the Eclipse

Rober Jaquiss, Contributor
Editor of Independence Science Newsletter

There will be live coverage of the upcoming eclipse and also an app for smart phones.

How to access the broadcast: Go to http://www.acbradio.org/interactive and select “Click Here to Play.”

Then be sure to select the link that opens the player that you use to listen to music or stream internet radio stations. You can also listen on any telephone by dialing (605) 475-8130 and select option 4.

     As an alternative, there is also an app for smartphones called Eclipse Soundscapes that will provide audio descriptions and tactile feedback about the eclipse through the app.

More information on the organization and how to access the app is at:


July 2017: The Importance of Braille For STEM Professionals

Many persons who are blind or visually impaired do not know how to read and/or write braille. It is felt that large print or audio formatted books are sufficient to completing traditional schoolwork. However, the argument can be made that for persons who are blind or visually impaired who wish to pursue career paths in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, the importance of braille needs to be emphasized.

If a person possesses low vision that can be supplemented with hand magnifiers or CCTV technologies that will enable them to read at a comparable reading rate as a non-visually impaired person, these solutions may be acceptable.

However, if magnifiers or other computer software magnification applications cannot permit a person with a visual impairment to read at a competitive reading speed as to their non-visually impaired counterparts, alternatives should be seriously considered.

Although there have been some visually impaired persons who have successfully achieved employment in a STEM profession using primarily audio formatted textbooks, this occurrence is rare. The overwhelming majority of successfully employed blind STEM professionals use braille daily. Further, the Nemeth code for Mathematics and Science Notation 1972 revision is used by most of these individuals in the United States. Use of the Unified English Braille (UEB) Math system for successfully employed blind STEM professionals has not yet been documented in literature. This may be due to its newness. The UEB did not become the official braille code in the United States until 2016. and its requirement to use more braille cells to communicate the same information as the Nemeth code. This increased complexity may negatively impact a person’s ability to pursue STEM careers because of the increased level of difficulty to learn the UEB braille math code and thus making it more difficult to learn higher level math concepts.

For blind professionals who use braille, this valuable skill greatly enhances their ability when lecturing to sighted students. Having hard copy braille notes while lecturing with a Power Point presentation and/or hand writing information on a white board or chalk board is possible. Further, electronic note takers with refreshable braille technologies may also be used in lecture settings. When blind scientists work as part of research teams, hard copy braille notes discussing key findings or calculations may be very helpful in technical discussions. Further, when presenting research at professional conferences, having hard copy braille notes can help the blind presenter to maintain eye contact with his/her peers while referring to technical information being discussed.

Braille is a powerful tool for anyone with a visual impairment. Whether you wish to track a list of phone numbers, put braille labels on kitchen food items, labeling chemical vials in the laboratory or giving lectures as part of a faculty position at a higher educational institution. Braille is a powerful tool that opens doors of opportunity for persons with visual impairments in the STEM professions.

June 2017: Approaches for Making Math More Accessible to the Blind

Rober Jaquiss, Contributor
Editor of Independence Science Newsletter

Math presents many challenges to access for students with visual impairments. One ideal solution involves the use of hardcopy Braille textbooks with proper Nemeth code and/or UEB math representations along with the appropriate raised line drawings. One modification to this approach to teach students the appropriate Nemeth or UEB math symbology that they may not already know is to use an audio form of the book. A book from Learning Ally can prove to be a good compliment to the Braille book. The audiobook can provide verbal descriptions of raised line drawings which may provide added context for the Braille reader to comprehend what is being communicated.

Further, the Braille textbook complimented with math educators using Abraham Nemeth’s, “Math Speak,” rules while they are teaching can allow for non-ambiguous verbal re0presentations of math expressions. Simply reading what is written on the board does not make it accessible as there can be numerous ways to interpret how an algebra expression can be represented. Clearly indicating specific quantities, numerators, denominators, and other key aspects of equations MUST be done to ensure better comprehension by students who cannot see what a teacher is writing on a white board in a classroom. Use of these conventions does take some training, but once practiced, better learning for all students can occur.

There are several web based and physical graphing calculators that offer graph sonification and other text-to-speech supports to assist in making math content more accessible. However, providing refreshable Braille with proper formatted Nemeth code math expressions can be a challenge. One additional innovation, that has been around for some time, but might not be as widely known is the following access solution.

 Non-Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) screen reader can be used with a free downloadable program called, “Math Player,” from Design Science. This can be found at: www.dessci.com. Once NVDA and Math Player are successfully installed on your computer, setting Braille output in NVDA to U.S. 6 dot computer Braille will allow you to have spoken equations while receiving Nemeth code formatted refreshable Braille on your display. Other solutions are also available, but this appears to be the most common one used now. If MathML equations are imbedded into a Word document, or on a website, the Nemeth code Braille should be properly rendered. This approach does require more verification as to the accuracy of both the spoken and refreshable Braille equation representations. For now, this solution might assist some of you in making math content more accessible to your Braille reading students.

April 2017: Access to Math Using the Nemeth Code

The importance of the use of Nemeth Braille when teaching math and science to students who are blind or visually impaired has proven itself to be a valuable tool in providing science access. Dr. Abraham Nemeth, a totally blind mathematician, understood the importance of having a concise way of conversing mathematical content in Braille. He experienced frustration while growing up because he knew he had a love for numbers and mathematics. Unfortunately, the Braille system in the first half of the twentieth century did not support mathematics. Thus, he developed his own personal code that later served as the foundation for the Nemeth code for Mathematics and Science Notation (1972) revision. He learned at a very young age that it was important for blind kids to have an understanding as to what print looked like, including what print mathematical symbols look like.

He adopted several conventions in the Nemeth code that communicate this information. For example, the dots 4, 5 for superscript and the dots 5, 6 for subscript can indicate a direction based on where they are placed in the Braille cell. Superscripts are written to the top right of a base number or term and subscripts are written to the lower right of a base number or term. The Braille indicator provides a sense of direction. Further, Dr. Nemeth’s use of dots 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and dots 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 for the open and close parenthesis symbols provide a sense of opening and closing parenthesis as sighted kids experience with print. The comparisons may not always be one to one, however, there is implied meaning throughout the Nemeth code.

Further, since Dr. Nemeth was familiar with LaTeX and he knew this is a mainstream form of communication for mathematicians, he could emulate rules of LaTeX into the Nemeth code. When a Nemeth code Braille reader learns LaTeX, many parallels are easily identified. It is this very valuable useful feature that can easily be overlooked by persons who are not involved in STEM education.

It is this advantage over other proposed Braille math systems that helps the Nemeth code function as a Braille math system. The Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation has proven itself time and time again to be one of the most powerful access tools for students who are blind or visually impaired. Blind STEM professionals use this Braille math system every day in their professional lives. If we continue to see the value of the Nemeth code, it will be used. When we turn our heads towards the practicality of Nemeth code and consider starting with a new system, much of this practicality will likely be lost upon another new system. Dr. Nemeth was himself a genius with a vision for Braille literacy in mathematics.

Note: For those readers wishing to learn more about using LaTeX to embed equations in Word documents; see the article by Dr. John Gardner at: http://www.access2science.com/jagqn/WordLatex.html.