Universal access to the products of scientific research — from public-health information to data on environmental pollutants — is just one aspect of assistive technology. But for students with disabilities, having access to the right technology can determine whether they choose to enter science at all. That was true for Aqil Sajjad, a physics student from Pakistan, who says that the specialized software WinTriangle, which helps the visually impaired read and write mathematics, was a lifeline.
WinTriangle is ‘open-source’ software, which lets users adapt and rewrite it to meet their needs. It is fairly common for assistive technologies to be modified or enhanced by their users. Gardner recently teamed up with Victor Wong, James Ferwerda and Ankur Moitra at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who have developed software that translates colour pixels on a computer screen into piano notes. The group hopes to combine the audio software with IVEO’s tactile technology to solve a particularly challenging information problem.
Sajjad lost his eyesight in 1996 at the age of 16. Although science had intrigued him from a young age, he couldn’t get the support he needed to study physics in his homeland. He began searching the Internet for educational opportunities in the United States because he knew the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act had opened new doors for students with disabilities. At some point during his search, Sajjad stumbled on the work of Gardner’s Science Access Project and knew that this was where he wanted to pursue his passion for physics.