Making Math Accessible through Shaping Education Policy
Steve Noble, Director of Accessibility Policy
Design Science, Inc.
Making math accessible is as much a public policy issue as it is a
technological one. Many facets of accessibility are currently required in public
policy as an extension of US civil rights laws. The concept of what is required
under law continues to expand as the technological issues of how to provide
effective access are resolved and more disability advocates engage in public
discourse and civil litigation. Most recently, US courts have maintained that
even commercial websites, like target.com, have a legal responsibility to make
their online offerings accessible to people with disabilities (NFB vs. Target,
2006). Now that the technological issues of accessible math have been resolved
through technologies like MathML, it is essential that disability advocates and
educators be informed about the need for better public policy to support the
availability of accessible math in the classroom.
According to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP), there is great disparity between the levels of math literacy for
students with disabilities when compared to the results for students without
disabilities. There are undoubtedly many factors at work which have a connection
to the poor math performance of students with disabilities, but a fundamental
contributing factor is that virtually all mainstream math instructional content
and math assessments are not designed to be utilized with the assistive
technology products that many students with disabilities use, and are thus not
accessible. This is especially true of classroom textbooks, which are commonly
used to determine the instructional math program for students in most school
settings. Approximately 75% to 90% of all classroom instruction is based on
textbooks, and, in most cases, those books define the scope and sequence of the
material being taught (Tyson & Woodward, 1989). This is also the case with math
instruction, where 80% to 90% percent of grades 4  12 math and science
classrooms use textbooks (Hudson & McMahon, 2002).
Standard print textbooks are inaccessible to a large percentage of students
with print disabilities and usually require transformation into recorded or
digital formats to provide access to students with various print disabilities
(Stahl, 2004). When instructional materials and assessments are made available
in universally designed accessible digital formats, they will provide much
greater accessibility for students with print disabilities. Formats that include
rich math content as opposed to just images allow assistive technology with
synthetic speech (such as screen or text readers) to read math equations out
loud. In addition, they provide means for students to navigate both visually and
aurally through complex math formulas and highlight expressions as they are
read. Such accessible rich math content is available thanks to a new version of
the DAISY specification that now has MathML support. With the recent
promulgation of the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS),
which is based on DAISY, textbook publishers will now be able to provide digital
textbook formats containing accessible math so that students with print
disabilities can have effective access to math instruction.
This session will provide attendees with the available data mentioned
previously on the problem of poor math performance by students with disabilities
on national standardized tests, such as the NAEP, and will show the connection
to the problem of inaccessible instructional materials and assessments. A
description of how universally designed mainstream accessible math can be made
available in the classroom to all studentsboth to those using assistive
technology and those that do notwill be provided. An analysis of the current
status of public policy requiring accessible instructional content and
assessment (such as the NIMAS requirements under IDEA 2004 as well as various
other laws) will be provided during the session, as well as recommendations for
changes to public policy vehicles to explicitly require math accessibility
standards that provide for universally designed mainstream math.
This session will provide a "call to action" for all educators and disability
advocates to get involved in making accessible math a reality through effective
advocacy efforts. K12 educators will learn how to become effective
accessibility advocates and affect positive change in education policy to
support accessible math instruction and assessment. Personnel from state
departments of education and school districts will learn how to require math
accessibility in textbook adoption and software selection policy. All advocates
will learn how state laws, regulations, and administrative policies need to be
drafted to mandate that math instructional content and math assessments be
accessible for students with disabilities.
References:
Hudson, S.B., McMahon, K.C. & Overstreet, C.M. (2002). The 2000 National
Survey of Science and Mathematics Education: Compendium of Tables Authors.
Horizon Research.
National Federation of the Blind, et al. v. Target Corporation, et al. (2006)
United States District Court, Northern District of California. Case No.: C
0601802 MHP, First Amended Complaint.
Stahl, S. (2004). The promise of accessible textbooks: increased achievement
for all students. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General
Curriculum. Accessed at
http://www.cast.org/publications/ncac/ncac_accessible.html
Tyson, H., & Woodward, A. (1989). Why students aren't learning very much from
textbooks. Educational Leadership, 47 (3), 1417.
