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University of Puget Sound professor helps to create math textbooks in Braille

Rob Beezer
University of Puget Sound
A textbook on abstract algebra and the Braille version

University students who are blind can face difficulties getting Braille versions of specialized textbooks. Sometimes, universities pay someone to prepare a textbook, but that’s expensive and can take months.

Now, mathematicians across the country have collaborated to automate that process. One of them is Rob Beezer, a mathematics professor at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.

He developed a system called PreTeXt for converting open-source textbooks to online versions and has adapted it to create Braille versions. Beezer said he can transfer a file to Al Maneki, a mathematician and senior STEM advisor to the National Federation of the Blind.

“The way we work is I send that to Al Maneki in Maryland by email,” Beezer said. “He embosses it, so he has the machine that will turn the electronic file into the raised dots that we’re used to as Braille.”

That can be done on an as-needed basis. Beezer said about 60 books have been written in PreTeXt, mostly on math topics such as linear algebra and calculus. Now, all of them can be printed in Braille.

The mathematicians received a grant from the National Federation of the Blind to pursue the project. The American Institute of Mathematics, which helped get the collaboration going, said this is part of a growing movement to provide high-quality free textbooks and make educational materials more accessible for blind students.  

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.