New artificial intelligence technology is making more STEM material available for students with disabilities.
Families of students with disabilities have long fought to obtain equal access and opportunities in education. These children make up about 14% of the entire United States student population. Their barriers to education are immense, especially when it comes to technology. Because of this, disabled kids have long been left out of STEM efforts, but today, artificial intelligence (AI) technology is creating new pathways for such learners.
For decades now, a push for equity has included disabled students in all fields of academia. However, for STEM, which stands for subjects in science, technology engineering, and mathematics, these students remain heavily left out of the equation. To combat this finding, a company known as Benetech is perpetually updating and evolving its AI tech to accommodate students with disabilities, allowing them to access STEM learning tools and foster interest in the subject which could lead to lucrative careers down the road.
Benetech has been redefining the way in which technology interacts with disabled people for decades. Founded in 1989 by Jim Fruchterman, the nonprofit social enterprise first began aiding disabled students with the creation of a reading machine for blind people. Today, it has grown its technological offerings. One popular endeavor is its Bookshare, with allows people with various reading disabilities to access an online library with over one million titles. Now, the groups set their sights on STEM access, a task that the group’s engineers know will be both complex and rewarding.
Converting reading material in an accessible manner for students with disabilities in and of itself can be quite the task, but for STEM education materials, which often include extensive math equations, the job at hand is especially arduous. According to information from a blog post on the non-profit’s site, there are more than 5,00 equations that need to be correctly deciphered in the average math textbook. It can take three to four months to decode just one textbook for these engineers.
With this in mind, Benetech is now looking to artificial intelligence to make the task at hand more efficient and less time constraining. Bookshare engineers have created a neural network that scans images and text. Inserting the data into a math decoding software, it converts the equation into Bookshare’s digital files, which allows the software to correctly read the equation back to students learning in STEM subjects. What once took months can now take minutes, making more material available than ever before.
Currently, this new technology is helping disabled students comprehend math equations when they use software that translates the information for them. Soon, these engineers will begin expanding the technology to reach more STEM subjects like chemistry, simple graphs, and various diagrams. Overall, the goal is to make sure children with disabilities are given the same opportunity as others to explore interests in these fields, and continue down pathways they may have been previously left out of.
Careers in STEM subjects are the fasted growing field of employment across the globe. Because of this, it is important for educators to foster not only an interest in these subjects but also more understanding for them. Technology is aiding disabled students more than ever before, and Benetech is making STEM access more easily available, one textbook at a time.