Innovative solution for WFU blind student leads to journal article

Michael Shuman and Robert Erhardt recently published an article in the Journal of Statistics Education, “Assistive Technologies for Second-Year Statistics Students who are Blind.” The article written by Shuman, interim director of Wake Forest’s Learning Assistance Center (LAC) and Erhardt, assistant professor of mathematics, focuses on the technology they developed to assist Kathryn Webster, an aspiring mathematician who also happens to be blind.

Michael Shuman, associate director of the Wake Forest Learning Assistance Center, poses in the Z. Smith Reynolds Library on Thursday, August 18, 2011.


Kathryn, a junior from Greenwich, Conn., enrolled in a course in statistics covering topics requiring her to both interpret and produce three sets of materials: mathematical writing, computer programming, and visual displays of data. While some resources for blind students taking mathematics courses or introductory statistics courses were available, none were adequate to assist Kathryn.

New Wake Forest faculty members pose for headshots during their orientation on Wednesday, August 8, 2012.  Robert Erhardt, Mathematics.


In addition to providing academic support to all Wake Forest students through coaching and peer tutoring, the LAC exists to enable students with disabilities to experience equal access to the academic, social, and recreational activities and programs at the University.

Though Wake Forest is a smaller institution than other similar private schools, the University still has a number of undergraduates with disabilities who request accommodations. Though Kathryn brought some of her own assistive technology with her to campus, Shuman was struggling with a novel way of representing visual data for her related to her math courses.

Enter the embosser – a device that literally prints the tactile raised graphics onto paper. Shuman said the LAC has spent approximately $5,000 on the Braille embosser Kathryn uses. The graduate students LAC employs to assist with creating electronic versions of her texts and embossing materials also use a high-speed scanner and optical character recognition software purchased a few years ago.

To continue WFU’s ongoing commitment to providing reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, a campus-wide Task Force for Accessible Technology is being formed through the Provost’s Office to survey the landscape of accessible technology and digital media at WFU and to make suggestions about how to improve access to course materials for students with disabilities.

Read more about Kathryn in the Wake Forest News story, “Evening the Odds.”