I went to a session on Accessible Maths from Retrofitting to Inclusive Design delivered by Dr Emma Cliffe from the University of Bath. This session covered a lot that was outside of my sphere of knowledge, so apologies if there are any errors.

The principles of universal design, which aim to meet the naturally varying needs of a diverse student population, recommend provision of multiple means of engagement, representation and action. This might range from enabling a disabled student to prepare for a lecture by reading ahead in audio or Braille to enabling the busy and slightly long-sighted mature student to read and annotate course notes on their phone. It is generally accepted that creating inclusive learning environments and materials by design is more effective than trying to retrofit access when students present with specific requirements. But what about in the mathematics department, where the most effective methods to produce text are handwriting and LaTeX?

Based on a 15-year journey from retrofitting to(wards) inclusive design this session will capture the requirements, clarify what is technically possible and note the specific tools available. Via example attendees will see the inaccessible nature of some mathematical documents, the painful (but possible) reality of retrofitting and a method of inclusive design will be offered up for discussion. Knowledge of LaTeX assumed!

Here is Emma’s presentation: http://people.bath.ac.uk/cspehj/slides/AccessibleMathsRetroToInc/#/

Key points from the session

  • Mathematical formulae in PDFs, print, PowerPoint, handwriting and ebooks cannot be processed by assistive technology.
  • Word and HTML are the only formats that work with assistive technology.
  • Emma Cliffe recommended using RStudio (based on it being a maths audience – if she were speaking to computer scientists she would recommend Jupyter Notebook. It has to be something that can render Mathjax.)
    • R markdown transforms to HTML and you can use LaTeX within it.
    • It can autogenerate Word, pdf and HTML.
  • ChromeVox is a screen reader plugin. You can use it to test the accessibility of what you have created.
  • Mathjax works with any ARIA aware screenreader. It can also be brailled.
  • SIGMA have an Accessibility SIG: http://www.sigma-network.ac.uk/sigs/accessibility-sig/
  • STEM Enable – sharing support to help disabled students access STEM subjects: http://stemenable.referata.com  
  • Desmos.com (free) created completely accessible graphs. You can export them as pngs, directly embed them or share links. It is also possible to export to a tactile printer/embosser. (You can export in Nemeth or UEB Braille). Instructions on how to hear the graphs are here: https://www.desmos.com/calculator/nchqcdi2ds You can link to Desmos from R so students can access the online version.
  • BrailleR are developing improved graph tools for visually impaired users.

Software for eAssessment

The Maths department is investigating a range of software for eAssessment:

  • NUMBAS. This checks answers numerically and can generate random variations of questions
  • Stack. This is more robust than NUMBAS but is harder to get started with.

Maths are also investigating the use of OpenBoard as an open-source alternative to Explain Everything. It works on Mac, Windows or Linux.

Further reading

Accessible Maths from Retrofitting to Inclusive Design

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