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Making Math Accessible to Blind Students by 'Playing with Numbers'

Math on a chalk board

Always Learning for the Blind Community

Edgar Lozano once hosted a podcast episode for the blind community that featured his friend, Jose, who had recently traveled through an airport and recorded his experience from the perspective of a man who is blind.

calculations

In another episode, Edgar reviews a role-playing medieval fantasy game for the blind called "Entombed" that's audio-only. He has also used the show to introduce language learning tools on the iOS platform for blind people and to demonstrate how to use the Texas Instruments 84 Plus Talking Graphic Calculator.

Mathematics, however, has always been his passion.

"Ever since elementary, math has always been a subject I enjoyed," Edgar says. "I like doing calculations in my mind. I like playing with numbers."

Fooling His Teachers

"I took math like anybody else would," Edgar says. "I had the skills to master things like algebra, but, over time, there were lots of concepts—especially when they were written on the board—that I found very confusing."

passed me on

"But my teachers just passed me on to the next grade level," he says.

"When 8th grade came along," Edgar says, "that's when I really started to struggle." For the first time, he encountered Algebra II with linear equations and the quadratic formula.

"That really slowed me down."

Catching Up

For high school, Edgar attended the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. His teachers there quickly realized his math skills were way behind.

With the help of specialist educators, Edgar went back through Algebra, then tackled Geometry and Algebra II—then moved on to Calculus.
high level

"Now I'm in college taking really high-level math classes," Edgar says by phone where he's a sophomore at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.

There are no other blind or visually impaired students in his classes.

"My professors are amazed at how I keep up with class," Edgar says. "I just seem to have a good memory for all that kind of stuff."

Math on the Next Level

Edgar was brought in by Pearson last summer to collaborate as an intern on a special hardware and software project that was trying to make math learning easier for blind and visually impaired students. It's called the Accessible Equation Editor, and we described the project in an earlier LearnED post.

Early on, the team asked Edgar to code in early math problems and wrangle with various bugs in the system.

"To be honest, I had my suspicions when we started about whether the project would work at all," Edgar says.

Over time, the project got better—and Edgar's view of it changed: "It was really showing some promise."

A Mentor and Coach

Edgar's closest collaborator was Sam Dooley, a senior developer at Pearson.

important

"Sam taught me so much," Edgar says. "He showed me how to organize my code like a professional. He introduced me to a lot of the computer science and math subjects that I wasn't able to understand."

"He willingly answered all of my questions."

"The most important thing Sam taught me," Edgar says, "is, if you have a problem or an issue in front of you, break things down in to steps and manageable tasks."

Graduation and Beyond

Edgar is majoring in computer science at Texas State University.

"People always ask me how I manage it," he says. "I've just always enjoyed coding and math."

help

As for his future, Edgar says it's "unpredictable."

"I want to go anywhere to help people with my computer science knowledge," he says. "Or develop applications on my own that continue to push the limits of technology."