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@Science: a network about science accessibility for university students

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Bernareggi, C. (2007). @Science: a network about science accessibility for university students.

At present, visually impaired students are strongly discouraged to attend university scientific studies, especially because of the lack of scientific resources fully accessible through assistive technologies, the difficulty to attend scientific university lectures based on explanations employing transparencies with mathematical expressions as well as graphical representations and the tools to work on mathematical expressions, which are often partially usable or incomplete for advanced subjects. Furthermore, the variety all over Europe of national braille codes to represent mathematical expressions and the language dependence of audio books recorded by human readers make difficult a cross country exchange of knowledge and resources. Some universities have been working on the improvement of assistive technologies in science learning for many years and they have collected best experiences, tools, accessible scientific resources and effective and efficient methods. Unfortunately, up to now many of these best practices and educational resources haven't got widespread all over Europe. In order to share knowledge among universities about science accessibility by visually impaired people and to produce guidelines and to document best practices, the @Science thematic network was established. It is supported for two years by the European Union eContent- Plus Programme. It involves six founding members from five European countries: Italy, Austria, Slovakia, Belgium and France. In the project lifetime, collaboration actions will be undertaken so as to involve in the thematic network other universities, software and hardware manufacturers, publishers, associations for visually impaired persons and students themselves. In so doing, each group will contribute with its experience and will gain knowledge from other experiences. Moreover, the guidelines and best practices will be the result of a two years exchange of knowledge among experts and end users. At first, this paper will introduce the main barriers which affect blind students in going through scientific studies. Then, it will present the objectives and the methodology of the @Science network.