Accessibility for Visually-Impaired Students in Learning Maths

Posted by Jenny Koenig 3rd June 2013

Emma Cliffe of the University of Bath brought to my attention, via the AccessMSOR Working Group email list ACCESSMSORWG@JISCMAIL.AC.UK), a number of resources relating to providing accessible online learning materials in maths and science subjects. I’ve picked out some ideas I thought were interesting and hope that this will encourage you to pursue the links further.

(1) The Accessibility in Maths wiki pages are THE place to go to for anything to do with accessibility and maths, there are links to lots of organisations and resources, well worth book-marking.

(2) From the RNIB Centre for Accessible Information, Cryer, H. (2013). Teaching STEM subjects to blind and partially sighted students: Literature review and resources.

This is a literature review covering all of the sciences, technology, engineering and maths. There is an interesting discussion about producing tactile diagram resources which can be really helpful in developing understanding.  For example the significance of size and shape or illustrating the different forms of waves and how they interact. There are, however, benefits and pitfalls to tactile diagrams and these are described with further references. Clearly these tactile approaches could be very useful in conveying some of the mathematical ideas of biology and the article also covers ways of getting across graphical ideas. There is a review of the technology involved in getting maths online – particularly the use of MathML and LaTeX, and a long list of resources including software and good practice guides.

(3) Accessible Content Creation in Mathematics

Chris Hughes and Scot Leavitt, April 3, 2013, Portland Community College, USA

 The main message here was that each visually-impaired learner will have different preferences for ways of learning and these could include a combination of the following:

  1. a refreshable Braille device
  2. a screen-reader such as JAWS reading web-pages where the maths is written in MathML.
  3. a paper copy with enlarged font.

There are a number of common formats which are really problematic for visually-impaired learners and these are:

  1. pdf files with Mathematical content
  2. Flash applets
  3. Java applets
  4. Powerpoint files

It was interesting to note that, at the time of writing, some quite widely-used formative assessment packages such as MyMathLab are not completely accessible for visually-impaired learners.

 Use MathType not Equation Editor: I was surprised to note that if you create a Word document with the equations written in MathType, the plug-in from Design Science, they are able to be converted into screen-reader suitable files. However if you create the equations in Word’s own equation editor then they are NOT able to be converted to a useful format.

Both the report and the accompanying video are available – the report is really well referenced and the video gives a good insight into how the project unfolded, the interaction with the blind learners is particularly informative.

(4) 5th AccessMSORWG workshop: Mathematical Study Without Pen and Paper: Experiences, Impacts and Options. 

20th March 2013 funded by the Higher Education Academy. Slides, notes on the feedback from group discussions and a short report on the day



About JennyAKoenig

I am Assistant Professor of Pharmacology, Therapeutics and Toxicology at the University of Nottingham. My interests are: maths education for bioscientists, study skills for scientists with specific learning difficulties and pharmacology: bringing the science behind how medicines work (or don't!) to a wider audience. I have a PhD in Pharmacology from the University of Cambridge and a BSc (Hons 1) from the University of Sydney. I have taught maths and pharmacology to science, medical and veterinary students at University and biology, chemistry, physics and maths at a large comprehensive secondary school.
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