Software from Purdue Research Park-based firm assists blind students at Michigan camp

August 3, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Blind and partially blind students who attended Camp Tuhsmeheta in Greenville, Mich., for a week in July gained hands-on experience in collecting data in various ecosystems, thanks to software developed by a Purdue Research Park-based firm.

When text-to-speech software developed by Independence Science LLC is implemented in the LabQuest -- a device that collects and stores scientific data such as wind speed and moisture levels -- the information displayed on the device's screen is made audible. The text-to-speech software was funded by the National Science Foundation.

"Students affected by blindness and low vision who cannot access the LabQuest data visually now can receive it aurally," said Cary Supalo, president and founder of Independence Science.

During hikes along streams, bogs and forests, students used the LabQuest device and the text-to-speech software to collect and report data while learning about environmental biology.

"The opportunity to use the software that enables blind students to use the LabQuest device and probes was exciting. The campers used the probes to measure pH levels and temperature by themselves," said Karen Taylor, co-science educator at Camp Tuhsmeheta. "For most students, it was the first time they were able to do such data collection. They were impressed with the system and that they could collect the data themselves."

Kate Boone, co-science educator who studies hydrogeology and soil science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Ginny Beauregard, Great Lakes Watershed Educator from the Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Cranbook Institute of Science, worked with Taylor during the camp. Independence Science provided the LabQuest devices, and the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired provided the probes.

Christine Boone, one of the camp organizers, said the software may have long-term benefits for blind students.

"Generations of blind students have sat in classrooms where their participation in science experiments and learning exercises has been limited at best and non-existent as a rule," Boone said. "The software from Independence Science for the LabQuest device has the power to change that forever, leveling the playing field for all blind youth as they make their way through primary and secondary education."

The science camp, funded by the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan, was the first formal one held at Camp Tuhsmeheta. The success of making science more hands-on for the students may lead to future camps, said Mick Isaacson of Independence Science and Purdue University's Department of Educational Studies.

"Future camps with curricula that include other scientific disciplines such as chemistry and physics are being planned for next year. Organizers are optimistic that they will be able to forge collaborative relationships with institutions focused on the education of blind and partially blind students, universities throughout the Midwest and possibly beyond, and other applicable organizations," Isaacson said. "Science camps such as the one at Camp Tuhsmeheta are important not only for the education of blind students but also for fostering the belief that they have the capacity to do science.'"

Fred Wurtzel, another camp organizer, said students' increased enthusiasm for science may impact their career choices.

"The Independence Science software is a wonderful window through which blind children may have access to science on an equal footing with their sighted student peers," Wurtzel said. "Our campers were enthusiastic about the equipment, and their increased access to data provided a way to be personally involved in all aspects of scientific investigation. We are all excited to imagine the future for blind persons to participate in science-related careers. The future equipment promises to be even more liberating to blind scientists."
       

About Independence Science LLC

Officials at Independence Science (http://www.independencescience.com) are making their expertise available to help school districts, colleges and universities, and state rehabilitation agencies across the country meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements in the science curriculum. These technologies are being made available to further serve as a dissemination tool to benefit any blind and low-vision student in the United States.


About Purdue Research Park

The 725-acre Purdue Research Park (http://www.purdueresearchpark.com) has the country's largest university-affiliated business incubation complex. The park is home to more than 160 companies. About 100 of these firms are technology-related and another 39 are incubator businesses. The park is owned and managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, a private, nonprofit foundation created to assist Purdue University in the area of economic development. In addition to the Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette, the foundation has established technology parks in other Indiana locations including Indianapolis, Merrillville and New Albany.

Purdue Research Park contact:
Steve Martin, 765-588-3342, sgmartin@prf.org

Sources:
Christine Boone, 269-329-8500, christine_boone@comcast.net
Mick Isaacson, 765-714-1590, isaacsom@purdue.edu
Cary Supalo, 814-441-2589, csupalo@independencescience.com
Karen Taylor, 269 624-1624, ktaylor3199@comcast.net
Fred Wurtzel, 517-485-0326, f.wurtzel@comcast.net

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