How can I create math and science documents that are accessible to students with visual impairments?
Mathematics and science are disciplines that have historically communicated ideas visually. This is especially true of formulas and equations, where relationships between parts are understood by their spacial relationship to one another. Communicating these same ideas to people who are unable to see poses significant challenges. However, a variety of solutions exist.
An early solution was developed by mathematician Abraham Nemeth in 1952. He developed Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics which was a system for encoding mathematical and scientific notation linearly using standard six-dot Braille cells. Nemeth Braille is still used widely today for making math and science accessible for tactile readers. For more information about Nemeth Braille, consult An Introduction to Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics from dotlessbraille.org.
Dr. Nemeth later developed MathSpeak, a system for communicating mathematical notation orally. For more information about Mathspeak, consult the DO-IT Knowledge Base article What is MathSpeak?.
Over the years various authoring tools have been developed that support the creation of accessible math materials, as well as assistive technologies that support users in accessing these materials. An excellent overview of strategies, solutions, and available tools is available in the online journal of the Access Technologists Higher Education Network (ATHEN), in the article Creating Accessible Math and Science Materials.
A new development with a major influence on the accessibility of math and science content is MathML, a standard markup language for describing both the structure and content of mathematical notation. MathML allows formulas to be displayed on web pages without simply displaying them as images, and allows formula to be printed in Braille or communicated audibly to screen reader users. A growing number of math editor software applications now support MathML. For more information about MathML consult the DO-IT Knowledge Base article What Is MathML?
The following DO-IT Knowledge Base articles may also be of interest:
- How can I adapt specific science activities in a general curriculum for students with disabilities?
- Where can I find tips on making math accessible to students with disabilities?
You may also wish to view the video Creating Accessible Documents.