DALLAS (SMU) – "Probability." "Cap X." "Equal or less than." "Three."
As Pablo Aguilar speaks, complicated mathematical formulas appear on his computer screen, almost as if by magic.
Aguilar is one of the first students to benefit from a new computer software program developed by a professor at Southern Methodist University.
Henry "Buddy" Gray, the C.F. Frensley Professor of Mathematics and Statistics in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, has developed the first computer software that can convert voice commands into mathematical expressions. The software, which can recognize virtually all mathematical symbols and equations, is invaluable for students like Aguilar, who was paralyzed by a rare virus called Transverse Myelitis in 1988 and no longer has use of his hands. Aguilar is using the software to help him take a statistics class this semester.
"It is a tremendous help," said Aguilar, a junior psychology/English major who hopes to become a rehabilitation counselor. Aguilar said the software will give people with disabilities more confidence to take higher math classes.
Gray has developed several versions of his software. The version Aguilar is using is called MathTalk. Gray also has developed a version of MathTalk that can be used by visually impaired students. This version can translate the mathematical formulas into Braille, which can then be output using an embosser. It also will echo or read aloud any mathematical expression entered by voice.
Jason Balusek, a blind student who is working on his master’s degree in mathematics at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, is among the first students to use the MathBrailleTalk program.
"This will open a lot of doors in math for blind people," Balusek said. "Right now there are no math textbooks in Braille – just tapes."
The third version of Gray’s software is a grade school version called ArithmeticTalk. Metroplex Voice Computing of Arlington, Texas, has copyrighted all three programs and is marketing them to school districts, community colleges and universities. In addition to physically challenged students, there is a market for Gray’s software among other professional mathematicians, who can use it to save countless keystrokes.
"I’m overwhelmed by it," said Pat O’Dell, a professor of mathematics at Baylor University in Waco. "It is amazing no one has done this before."
Gray said he began to develop the software three years ago just to help himself and his secretary. He taught himself the computer programming necessary to do the more than 1,000 pages of code that run the programs. He also taught himself Braille to develop the MathBrailleTalk program.
"Then I got to thinking that there are a lot of other people who could benefit from this," Gray said.
Kathy Whipple, an SMU graduate who chairs the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Baylor University, hopes to take Gray’s technology a step further by modifying the programs to help people who are unable to speak due to accidents or strokes.
"If a person can utter any sounds we could program the computer to type a different sequence of words for different numbers and intonations of sounds," Whipple said.
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