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A professional asks: What types of Braille Translation Software are people using to produce math materials? What is your opinion regarding MegaDots, Duxbury, others?
Susan replies:(see Nemeth Translation Software Manufacturers below for contact information)
Back when I had to make two separate documents for my print students and my braille students, I preferred to simply use six-key computer entry (not the Perkins) and braille my math materials. I could zip it out very quickly. I initially started out on BEX and then moved to BRAILLE KEYS (I think that was the name; I didn't like it because it didn't give me "dots".) using six-key entry. Next, I moved to MegaDots. As a vi/math teacher, I really enjoyed the ease with which it allowed me to type and translate the literary portion of mathematics and still braille the equations, etc. in Nemeth code without translation. Yet, I had to go back into the literary translation portion and change the problem numbers, etc. to proper Nemeth. With the addition of the Nemeth Code format style, even the literary portion was done correctly as well as "baby" Nemeth (numbers, "+", "-", "$", ".", etc.). By eliminating the literary cleanup chore and adding these baby Nemeth symbols, I was able to type many of my consumer math materials, which contained mostly word problems, and have MegaDots translate them in their entirety. I also love the way you can see (in dots) exactly what will appear on each page of the finished project prior to printout. I may wish to add extra space for insertion of a graphic or to keep a particular problem and or directions intact, and this WYSIWYG in braille feature is a great help.
However, since I am also a resource for other teachers, I decided I needed to beta test the various Nemeth Translation Programs: DBT, MegaMath, and Scientific Notebook/Nemeth Filter. None are perfect. You must decide which to use, if any, based on your particular needs and your software and hardware capacities. Since Duxbury (DBT) and Braille Planet (MegaMath) have merged, and MAVIS (Scientific Notebook/Nemeth Filter) is collaborating with Duxbury, hopefully the end-product(s) will be the best of all worlds.
The Scientific Notebook/Nemeth Filter (SN/NF) is very user friendly for a sighted person entering secondary and higher mathematics, especially for producing Geometry materials, and suits my needs best. I can obtain multiple regular print, large print, and braille copies from one document in half the time because of the data entry method. However, it requires that you have a CD-ROM drive and other system requirements. In addition to providing a software package that can produce textbook quality print math materials, Scientific Notebook has the added bonus of a built-in scientific graphing calculator, which a low vision student can use independently to complete his/her homework assignments. Although it is not yet accessible to the blind, Metroplex Voice Computing is beta testing a speech recognition package for SN/NF called MathTalk for the Visually Impaired with a read-back feature, which will allow blind students to use many of the Scientific Notebook features on their own, including producing a large print and Braille copy of their results.
MegaMath does not provide a useable print copy and is less user friendly; however, with practice, one can become quite proficient at producing all levels of math materials. In addition, it is accessible to the sighted and blind alike. MegaMath also might be preferred for producing elementary level mathematics materials, as it allows for the spatial arrangement of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems, whereas SN/NF does not. If you do not need a print copy, you cannot meet the higher system requirements, and/or you already have MegaDots, you may prefer the MegaMath add-on.
DBT, like MegaMath, uses a data entry method that does not preserve a WYSIWYG format in print, so you do not have a useable print document. DBT is the least user friendly at the present time because of its cumbersome data entry method; however, their new beta version has a LaTeX importer, which imports Scientific Notebook files for translation to Nemeth. This importer was developed at, and is copyrighted by, MAVIS at New Mexico State University. Duxbury's Nemeth translator is conveniently included in DBT, you can import certain graphics files, and it supports the spatial math used in elementary. If you already have DBT, it may be the choice for you.
Actually, at TSBVI, we have all three translation packages. The SN/NF only allows one to see the outcome on the screen in ASCII braille (not in dots). Since I love my dots, I always bring the finished product up in MegaDots or Duxbury for a final visual check, before sending it to the embosser. The new DBT version with LaTeX importer should make this step in the process go even more smoothly. I can even envision the VI teacher purchasing Scientific Notebook for the math teacher and asking her/him to do all their tests and worksheets on it, save it to a disk, and then being able to produce identical regular print, large print, and braille copies in a matter of moments.
Duxbury Systems, Inc.
Their DBT Nemeth production solutions include: a Nemeth translator included inside DBT and MathBrailleTalkTM from Metroplex Voice Computing which voices mathematics using the new Duxbury Braille Translator. I beta tested both the Nemeth translator and MathBrailleTalkTM. They are working with importing Scientific Notebook documents as well. Finally, we should see some serious attempts by Duxbury coming out soon on the Braille to print front.
Duxbury merged with Braille Planet, so MegaDots is also now one of their products. I have used this software for years to produce many of my Nemeth Code worksheets, tests, etc. through six-key entry and then beta tested their advanced Nemeth translator. MegaMath Module for MegaDots (an add-on to MegaDots) is now available. It lets the user enter, translate, and produce technical Braille (Braille using the Nemeth Code for mathematical notation). They are working on Mathematics Printing. When available, this enhancement to the Basic Math Module will output printed math expressions on your inkprint printer.
MacKichan Software, Inc.
Accessible to Visually Impaired Mathematics Students (MAVIS)
I am currently beta testing their Nemeth filter in conjunction with Scientific Notebook. It is very user friendly for the sighted individual, especially when preparing Geometry materials. For more information see my fact sheet. I am also alpha testing their Nemeth back translator, which will convert Nemeth to print and bring it up in Scientific Notebook.
Metroplex Voice Computing
MathTalkTM Interface written by H. L. Gray, Ph.D. Allows a user to voice over 1,400 math expressions and equations, thus allowing professionals and students 6K through Ph.D. to voice math and hear it repeated. I asked them to add Nemeth Code into the equation, and we collaborated on two projects:
MathBrailleTalkTM voices mathematics using the new Duxbury Braille Translator. (See Duxbury Systems, Inc.)
MathTalkTM/Scientific Notebook runs Scientific Notebook (and incorporates use of the MAVIS Nemeth Code filter) by voice. (See MAVIS and MacKichan Software, Inc.)
Both of these products use DragonDictate as the speech recognition engine. They will shortly release a new version entitled: MathTalkTM for the Visually ImpairedTM with a read-back feature, which will allow visually impaired students to use many of the Scientific Notebook features on their own, including producing a large print and Braille copy of their results.
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