Math Accessibility as Public Policy: Why it Matters to
Students with Disabilities
Director of Accessibility Policy
Design Science, Inc.
This session explores why math accessibility is vital in
educating students with disabilities, including access to instructional content
and assessments. Participants will learn about the policy and technology issues
involved, the connection between math skill disparity and math accessibility,
and how to create and implement effective math accessibility policy.
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. Since math scores for students with disabilities are also being
closely examined by the State assessments required under No Child Left Behind,
this issue will become even more critical for all public schools in the coming
An examination of NAEP 2005 math scores for 4th and 8th grades
reveals that 69% of 8th grade students with disabilities were found to be at the
“below basic” (lowest) level of math literacy, as compared to only 28% of
students without disabilities who fell into this category. On the other end of
the spectrum, NAEP 2005 math scores revealed that 31% of 8th grade students
without disabilities made it into the “proficient” (highest) category of math
literacy, while only 7% of students with disabilities performed at this level.
While the results for 4th grade students was similarly alarming, the divergence
in scores was much broader at the 8th grade level, which is most likely due to
the fact that when basic math literacy is not obtained during the critical
formative years of elementary school, then the compounding consequences escalate
this divergence as the years go by and math gets more complex.
There are undoubtedly many factors at work which have a
connection to the poor math performance of students with disabilities. A
fundamental contributing factor is the fact that virtually all math
instructional content and math assessments are not designed to be accessible
with the assistive technology products that many students with disabilities use,
and are thus not accessible. This is especially true of classroom textbooks and
assessments, which are typically used to determine the instructional math
program for students in most school settings.
Standard print textbooks and assessments are inaccessible to a
large percentage of students with visual, learning or cognitive disabilities and
require transformation into recorded or digital formats to provide access to
students with such print disabilities. Math textbooks will provide much greater
accessibility for students with print disabilities when they are made available
in digital formats that allow assistive technology like synthetic speech to read
math equations out load and provide means for students to navigate aurally
through complex math formulas and highlight expressions as they are read.
However, before this can happen, publishers, software developers, and assistive
technology vendors must support open standard math accessibility solutions like
Math Mark-up Language (MathML). MathML facilitates the ability of digital math
materials to be fully accessible to the assistive technologies which students
with print disabilities use. It is therefore vital that changes to public
policy, including state textbook adoption and district software selection
policies, be promoted which will ensure that math accessibility supports are
required in the instructional content and assessment materials used by students
with print disabilities, which will allow students with disabilities to have the
same opportunities to excel at math as everyone else.