Accessible Content in Math
Posted on May 8, 2013
Posted on May 8, 2013
In “Accessible Content Creation in Mathematics,” Chris Hughes and Scot Leavitt of Portland Community College seek to investigate how mathematics teaching can be altered in order to address accessibility the challenges. Hughes and Leavitt primarily focus on blind individuals because, in terms of learning mathematics, blindness is one of the most difficult disabilities to address, as math is a highly visual area of study.
The authors became aware that a project such as this would be worthwhile when they attempted to begin to meet initiatives of accessibility for the college’s online courses. While other subjects, such as English and history, can have material put online and made compatible with screen readers with relative ease, the same is not true for mathematics.
Initially, the authors assumed there would be only one way in which to address the issue: By rendering the language of math readable to screen readers, and consequently accessible to individuals suffering from blindness. However, during their work, the authors encountered an individual who has “a strong educational and technical background” who also happens to suffer from blindness. This individual, Maurice Mines, explained to the authors that not all individuals suffering from blindness are auditory learners.
Just as student without disabilities learn best in different ways, individuals with disabilities, such as blindness, also learn best in different way. Thus, it is unreasonable to assume that the needs of a population can be effectively addressed by offering only one alternative. Hughes and Leavitt turned to “the rule of four,” which is often used as a guiding principle in teaching math, and used it to guide their attempts to make math accessible. The rule states that a concept should be discussed in four ways: algebraically, numerically, verbally, and graphically. In the case of students who are blind, the graphical aspect is the most challenging, but three other venues of explanation exist. The hope is that all venues can be made into “equally effective learning experiences,” which is a major tenet of Universal Design.
The authors ultimately generated a list of recommended and discouraged resources that can be used in creating content with which to teach mathematics by assessing each resource according to how it can contribute to accessibility. Their work represents an accomplishment in efforts to expand accessibility.