Why is accessible math important?
Despite the national focus on math education over the past several years, American students' math skills still lag behind their peers from other industrialized countries. The low math skills of the nation's 6.5 million students with disabilities is even more problematic. Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show there is great disparity between the math skills of students with disabilities and students without disabilities.
A contributing factor to the low math skills of students with disabilities is that most math instructional content and assessments available today are not designed for students with disabilities, including those who use assistive technology. Part of the problem is that equations found in electronic information, such as in computer software or on web pages, are almost always image files. Images are effective with students who have normal vision and perceptual processing capabilities. However, students who are blind, have low vision, or have a learning disability depend on computer technology to synthetically read out loud the information on the screen. Since the technology cannot "read" images, students are unable to access these math expressions. Even when alternate text descriptions are provided, the resulting level of utility is significantly less than what is available to students without disabilities.
The primary solution to this problem is to use accessible math like MathML, which is designed to be useable with assistive technology. Accessible math content is universally designed and, therefore, can be used by students with and without disabilities, allowing everyone to benefit from its enhanced instructional value. Accessible math equations can be accessed with synthetic speech, utilized with synchronized highlighting, and converted into Braille. Using accessible math can help all students develop better math skills.
For more information on making math accessible consult the DO-IT Knowledge Base articles What is MathML? and Are there commercial products designed to make math accessible to students with disabilities?