Updated 5/9/23 (original post published 2/22/23)
Today’s students are accessing educational materials online or in a digital format. Districts have fully embraced or are working to incorporate technology into every classroom – including math courses. Starting in the fall of 2023 the new PSATs will be in a digital format and spring 2024 the SATs are going digital. How are YOU preparing your K-12 students who rely on a screen reader to access math in a digital format?
Best practice dictates that students should initially learn math using braille and tactile graphics. However, in this digital age, students also need to learn how to access and complete digital math assignments. Many students prefer to access digital math with a braille display paired with a device running a screen reader which enables the student to listen to the math expression while having access to the refreshable braille.
For decades, college students and professionals with visual impairments have been using math markup languages to access and create digital math expressions. MathML and LaTeX are two popular math languages. Using markup languages is a robust way to access higher math; however, there is a learning curve with these math languages, as they require additional symbols to be added to the math expression. Most TSVIs are not familiar with markup languages and few K-12 students are learning these markup languages prior to entering college.
More recent options are math editors, which use editable text boxes to type in the math expression which is then automatically translated – no extra symbols are required, simply enter the math equation like normal! JAWS released the built-in Braille Math Editor feature and Pearson is working on the Accessible Equation Editor. Both of these math editors are useable but currently have limitations that are being tweaked.
The BrailleNote Touch (or BrailleNote Touch Plus), a braille notetaker, is another option for accessing and creating digital math. The BrailleNote uses KeyMath software that will translate Nemeth or UEB math input.
How did I not know about this?!? Word’s robust math editor is a simple way for educators to create accessible math worksheets and for your student to complete these digital worksheets. This is a powerful mainstream tool being used by educators and professionals and it is accessible with screen readers and paired braille displays. Even better, it is so simple that even non-techies and/or non-math gurus can use Word’s math editor!
In the video below, Dr. Denise Robinson demonstrates how a math PDF is not accessible, how students can access math Word worksheets with a screen reader, and how to create an accessible math document in Word.
This is a Microsoft Word tool, meaning that the document must be in Word. If the document is in PDF format, then the classroom teacher, TSVI, paraprofessional or transcriber must recreate the document in Word. Students who are using a screen reader and/or braille display can also use Word’s math editor to create math expressions or to complete the math assignment.
To create a math equation using the equation text box:
Note: When Equation or the arrow beside Equation is selected, the tool bar changes to display various math symbols which can be selected and inserted into the math expression.
To create a math equation using available built-in formulas:
To access a pop-up symbol keyboard:
Microsoft Word has a short but very helpful video on how to insert equations on their website.
Want to dig a little deeper into how to create math equations? The following video, Using Equation Editor in Microsoft Word is 3 years old (so the tool bar looks slightly different) but the video does an excellent job in demonstrating how to create and align multiple-step math expressions. The video was created by a mainstream high school math teacher. This is a great video to share with any person who might be creating the accessible math worksheets for your student!
Editor’s Note: The video starts with a whiteboard with an image of a triangle with the base 7 cm and a dotted line from the base to peak labeled 4 cm. On the left side of the screen is a handwritten math formula Area = B x H over 2 with the solution to the math expression in a vertical format. The video demonstrates how he creates the same written formula (and solution) in Word.
Update: 5/9/23: A tech savvy TSVI who recently began using Microsoft’s Math Editor shared her experiences. She said that it is great for creating online accessible worksheets. Inputting symbols works well when the student uses a braille display; however, her student uses JAWS without a braille display. The onscreen keyboard is not accessible with JAWS. This TSVI and student has been on the phone with both Microsoft help desk and with Freedom Scientific. Freedom Scientific stated that you must use a braille display to input symbols and it has to be Nemeth and not UEB. They have let Microsoft know about these accessibility issues.
As always, please share you experiences with Paths to Technology: [email protected].
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