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Business School Professor Makes Statistics Accessible to Blind Students

Published on April 27, 2012

Paul Dion, associate professor of management at Susquehanna University, hasPaul Dion established a method for teaching advanced statistics to students who cannot see. His solution was developed to aid Alicia Lalite, a blind student at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, where Dion co-developed the Ph.D. program in management.

“Blind students face three problems in learning statistics,” Dion said. “The first is getting the concepts down. We had to figure out a way to convey ideas that are usually presented visually to sighted students. Together with Alicia and another student, Shalini Ramdeo, we came up with a fairly simple solution.”

Dion created diagrams using a corkboard strung with elastics between different sized pins representing various data points. “It worked really well. We could teach really advanced statistical concepts using this method.”

The next challenge for Lalite involved the use of SPSS predictive analytics software.

“JAWS, the text-to-speech software program that most visually impaired students use to read computer text, was not compatible with SPSS,” Dion explained. “It was unable to describe graphical displays.”

Lalite and Dion worked with IBM, which developed a patch to enable blind students to navigate the menu headings and options list.

The third hurdle—reading the output from SPSS—proved trickiest. “IBM had no solution for this,” Dion said. “The three of us had to improvise a way to take the SPSS output and export it into Excel, which the screen reader software could read. Shalini came up with the solution.”

Dion’s teaching methods will be published in a paper for Access World, the journal for the American Federation for the Blind. A video also will be available.

“Visually impaired students face a momentous challenge in their attempt to study statistics,” said Dion. “But this is a simple, inexpensive and proven set of techniques to confront these challenges that does not require specialized software beyond a screen reader, Excel and SPSS.”


Karen M. Jones


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