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Statistical software for blind people

What’s out there? I have a few desires:

1. A speech-oriented statistics package–a front-end to something like Stata or R with voice commands and spoken output. For example:

User: Regress income on height and sex.
Computer: [repeats, to make sure no misunderstanding] Regress income on height and sex.
User: Yes
Computer: There is no “income” variable
U: What variables do we have?
C: height, sex, weight, occupation, earnings, age—
U: [interrupts] Set y to earnings
C: Set y to earnings
U: Yes
C: Regression of income on height and sex. The intercept is 3.4 with a standard error of 1.2. The slope for height is . . .
U: Add the interaction of height and sex
C: Add the interaction of height and sex
U: Yes
C: Regression of income on height, sex, and height times sex. The intercept is . . .

It would be good to have lots of functions here, but I imagine we could start with regressions and simple statistics and then see what else is useful.

2. A statistical graphics program that uses touch and sound to convey information. For a scatterplot or two-dimensional intensity graph could be conveyed with a setup where as you move a mouse (or a pen, or your hand) over a pad, the computer makes louder sounds where there are more data. I’m thinking of something that sounds like rain, with individual drops for single data points and various sounds of heavy rain or rushing water where there are lots of data.

I’m sure lots more could be done here, for example using some combinations of pitch, timing, chirps, etc., to convey different patterns in data.

Does anyone know what’s out there? A quick web search yields this for SPSS and this, which claims to let you hear images, and this screen reader. But what I think we should really be doing is creating some software that is so cool that sighted people will want to use it too.


  1. Frank says:

    It is interesting to think that we need different software for interacting with a computer depending on whether we are using our hands or speech. Presumably if you can type "reg y x z" in Stata you can also dictate it.

    Trouble starts when you add in symbols like "foreach x in `n'{[subroutine]}". It becomes a pain reading the symbols. This simply suggest the language is optimized for typing not speech. My take is we need a software language without symbols.

    Early efforts at a plain English language included Logo. I think it is neat and beautiful. Maybe it could become a speech interface for S, R, Stata, etc..

    Finally, since eye-balling through code is not really an option when debugging etc., one might need to trade off higher lever commands and shorter programs for less flexibility.

  2. kerimcan says:

    I have a modest request: like Hans Rosling's presentations, an interface that lets me load panel data and shows me how units move over time.

  3. Paul-Antoine says:

    Well with a Mac and Stata, you can use the shell and say command and the computer can speak to you. I guess it should not be very difficult to introduce this code in some ado-files.
    For example : shell say "Hello, how are you ?".

  4. M says:

    Speech recognition software works very well (less than 1% error rate) when the dictionary is small. It is kind of annoying to get the configuration right, but the open source Sphynx software works well for this off the shelf (it ships pre-trained).

    If an acceptable initial goal is only to facilitate conversations like (1), I can imagine setting up an interface between R and Sphynx such that Sphynx is recognizing a small set of R functions and dynamically listening for named elements of a data.frame (like, it knows "height" is around because names(myData)[1] == "height").

    There must be something out there though. Excel, I imagine, accommodates blind users somehow…?