A page with a long written formula and a green pencil.
Guide

How to create an accessible formula sheet

High tech and low tech options for creating an accessible formula sheet for students with vision loss.

When I was in middle and high school, I often had trouble with reading the formula sheets provided for tests and exams and wouldn’t use them, which would lead to me getting lower grades than other students. This changed when I learned how to create an accessible formula sheet in college for my science, math, programming, statistics, and data science classes, and I noticed that my grades on exams increased when I had access to these resources. Here are several options on how to create an accessible formula sheet for low vision and print disabilities, including options for nonvisual access/screen reader accessible formula sheets.

Zoom in on a PDF with Guided Access enabled

For an elementary statistics class, the formula sheet was provided in a high-resolution digital copy for all students, and students were required to print the formula sheet before taking the final exam. My professor gave me permission to reference the PDF copy on my iPad and use Guided Access to ensure I couldn’t access any other resources. From there, I was able to zoom in/out using the pinch-to-zoom gesture on the formula sheet, or use the Zoom magnifier if necessary.

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Copy the formulas into Microsoft Word and use Immersive Reader

My friend would copy equations and formulas into the equation editor in Microsoft Word and have the text read back to them using a screen reader. They liked this method because it was quick and easy to do, and worked well with their favorite screen reader- JAWS. I’ve also used the equation editor to import formulas in Microsoft Word, and read the finished sheet with a simplified reading display like Immersive Reader, which is built into Word.

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Import a copy of the standardized formula sheet into notability

When I took standardized tests like the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) or ACT, there was a standardized formula sheet that all students received. Another option for displaying accessible formula sheets for standardized tests is to import the PDF or other document into Notability, a free app which allows users to annotate documents but not edit them. One of my calculus professors would attach a digital copy of a formula sheet to exams as needed, and I would take the exam in Notability with a remote proctor.

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Write with high-contrast markers on cardstock

My first discrete math professor did not allow students to have typed formula sheets, and instead would encourage us to handwrite formulas. I got permission from the professor to write out formulas with high-contrast Sharpie markers on 8.5″ x 11″ cardstock paper so that the markers wouldn’t bleed through. I would put 4-7 formulas on each page depending on the length of the formula, and the professor had to approve the formula sheet before I could use it on a test.

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Display one formula at a time with PowerPoint or similar program

Another friend who frequently used screen magnification to access assignments typed out formulas for their college algebra class in Microsoft PowerPoint, with one formula on each slide. The presentation was displayed on a separate computer, and they found it easier to focus when there was only one formula on the screen at a time. They had memorized the order of the formula sheet, so it was easy for them to flip between slides.

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Have the formula sheet on a separate monitor

For one of my data science exams, the professor projected a short formula sheet onto the board for students to use for reference. Since I had trouble seeing the board, the same formula sheet was saved to my computer in the computer lab. Font size wasn’t an issue, since the formula sheet was already in large print on the board, I just couldn’t see it due to the bright lights in the classroom distracting from the projector.

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Use a video magnifier or CCTV

Whenever I take tests in the testing center for students with disabilities, I receive a printed small-print copy of the formula sheet for the exam, unless I had another formula sheet approved. In these cases, I use the video magnifier or CCTV to magnify my formula sheet and exam. If I was allowed to use personal technology, I would use my Eschenbach SmartLux, which is a smaller video magnifier, but students are not allowed to use personal assistive technology in the testing center.

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For multiple classes, create a formula sheet with Microsoft Sway

I had to use the same formula sheet for three of my data science classes. To display the formulas, I created a Microsoft Sway document that incorporated pictures of formulas with alt text, code snippets, and typed out formulas in large print. I chose to use Sway because it can be accessed from any device and works well with my assistive technology, plus I could embed additional documents as needed. It’s worth noting that these classes had an open-book policy for exams and that we were allowed access to the internet, so my professors were fine with me accessing a personal Sway.

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Add tactile symbols to a large print copy

A different friend who is a dual media user modified a large print formula sheet for their chemistry class, adding different textured dots and lines. For example, subscripts would be written with a red dot in front of them, while superscripts would have a blue line in front of them. The bold text on their formula sheet was raised so that they could feel the print as needed, which was done by the accessible media office at their school.

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Other tips for how to create an accessible formula sheet

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com

Updated January 2024; original post published June 2020.

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