Access to Mathematics when Presented Online or in Electronic Media

The Challenge of Accessible Maths

Access to mathematics for disabled people has been a research interest of mine for over 15 years.  My degree included Mathematics as a subsidiary subject so I studied maths up to University level but I am an engineer rather than a mathematician.  So, I understand many aspects of the symbolic language that is mathematics.  It is the fact that maths is a symbolic language rather than an alphabetic one that gives rise to the challenge of how to represent maths online.  The WWW was invented with hyper-text in mind, it is fundamentally based on alphabetic languages.  That said since the earliest days of the WWW people have been devising ways of encoding maths in web pages.  However, most of these were not adopted because they were accessible to disabled people and that has been a long-standing challenge.  There is no one way of encoding maths in web pages that is optimally accessible to all disabled people and a lot depends on the level of maths being considered, the type of access modality the disabled person prefers to use, and the authoring tools that were used to create the maths in the first place. To cover the challenge of presenting maths online or in electronic media such as Word documents is a subject that needs more discussion than is appropriate for a simple blog post.  So I propose to address this by pointing to two published articles I have written on the topic.

Martyn's Publications on Access to Mathematics

Two articles written by Martyn Cooper (the first with co-authors) are given here in reverse date order.  The first of these needs to be paid for unless your institution's library subscribes to the publication.
Cooper, Martyn; Lowe, Tim and Taylor, Mary (2008). Access to mathematics in web resources for people with a visual impairment: Considerations and developments in an open and distance learning context. In: Miesenberger, Klaus; Zagler, Wolfgang; Klaus, Joachim and Karshmer, Arthur eds. Computers Helping People with Special Needs. Lecture Notes in Computer Science (5105/2008). Berlin: Springer, pp. 926–933. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-540-70540-6_139

Cooper, Martyn (2006). Making Mathematics Teaching Inclusive – Access for Disabled Students to Symbolic Languages in Electronic Media. In: MSOR Connections Vol 6 No 4 November 2006 – January 2007, pp 29-37. 29_mathsteachinginclusive
 

Screen Readers for Accessibility Evaluations

The Open Source Screen Reader NVDA

Yesterday I downloaded the Open Source Screen Reader NVDA (see: https://www.nvaccess.org/).  I need a fully functional screen reader to enable me to undertake detailed accessibility evaluations.  However, the challenge now is that I have to learn to drive it properly.  That will be a steep learning curve for a week or so.  In the past I have used the JAWS screen reader for such tests becasue when I was at the Open University we had a site license for this.  However I have decided to convert to NVDA in part becasue I support their Open Source ethos whereby they offer their screenreader to any blind person worldwide for free.  While Freedon Scientific's JAWS screen reader (see: https://store.freedomscientific/) is an excellent product it is prohibitivly expensive for some disabled people.  A perpetual licensense for the home costs upwards from $1000 in the USA.  As I plan to use NVDA for accessibility evaluations I am paid to undertake I made a donation to NV Access the Australian organisation that develops and supports it. 

What can learning analytics do for accessibility and for disabled students’ support?

Introduction

I was formally (1998-2016) a Senior Research Fellow in the Institute of Educational Technology (IET) at the Open University (OU) in the UK.  It was in that context that I first started thinking about the potential of Learning Analytics in my field which is Accessibility of eLearning and Disabled Student Support.  Looking back through my work-related blog (https://martyncooper.wordpress.com/) I can see early evidence of that thinking going back to 2014. 

Early Thinking

I posted a SlideShare on "Models of Disability, Models of Learning, Accessibility and Learning Technologies" that illustrated a point with the example of learning analytics;  see Slide 10 of: https://www.slideshare.net/martyncooper/models-of-disability-models....  What I had come to realise is that provided the institution collected data on which of its students declared a disability then you can use that information, with general leaning analytics approaches, to improve access for disabled students and to target support for those that were underperforming or even were predicted to underperform.  The OU did collect that information so I began exploring what was actually possible here using historic data.

Initial Paper Introducing the Field to the World

In 2016, working with a couple of colleagues, we wrote what we believe to be a seminal paper introducing these approaches to the world.  This paper is freely available from the Open University's repository at: http://oro.open.ac.uk/45313/.  If you are interested in this field then this paper would be a good place to start finding out more.

Ongoing Work

The same team that wrote the above-mentioned paper with a couple of additional authors are in the process of undertaking some data mock-ups and writing a journal paper for the Journal of Learning Analytics (https://www.solaresearch.org/journal/) entitled: "Data Science Promoting Inclusion in Education".  It is anticipated that this will be submitted for peer review in February 2020.

Conclusion

This blog post has briefly introduced the topic of Learning Analytics for accessibility and the targetted support of disabled students.  It has pointed to published resources that have discussed this topic.  If you are interested in joining the small existing team working in this field then please post as such in the comments below.  Any other questions or points on the topic are of course also welcome.

 

Main work related blog transferred to here

Moving main blog

While I worked at the Open University my main work related blog was located here: htts://martyncooper.wordpress.com.  This blog has had about 33,000 hits as of today (18 Novermber 2019).  However for various resons I have decided to freeze that blog as it currently is and use this as my main work related blog from here on in.   So posts related to Accessibility, eLearning, Learning Analytics for Disabled Students, etc. will now appear here.

User generated blog posts

I am trying to work out how to configure WPForms to enable user-generated blog posts and testimonials on this site.  Hopefully, this will lead to a more interesting and useful blog.  Watch this space! 

Update:  Too expensive for the time being

I looked into allowing user generated blogs without a login.  It is possible but it was going to cost me an upgrade of WPForms at $200 per year.  TDP is currently not generating enough business to warrent that. 

Accessibility of Moodle eLearning Course

Moodle Logo

Accessibility review for a national church

I was contracted by  former colleague from the Open University who is now the Instructional Designer for a national church.  They are producing a leadership course on the Virtual Learning Enviroment (VLE) called Moodle.  This is the same VLE that the Open University uses so I was familiar with it.  They wanted to ensure that their course was accessible to people with a range of disabilities that might impact on their use of a computer and the WWW.  I was aked to initially undertake a brief review and highlight any glaring accessibility issues and to recommend the way ahead.  I completed this work on the 8th November 2019 and am waiting to hear if they want to commission me to take this forward and complete a detailed accessibility review and write an accessibility policy and statement for them.  

 

Testimonial – The Paciello Group

In  2016 Martyn Cooper undertook a 50 hours consultancy to The Paciello Group (https://www.paciellogroup.com/), authoring an e-learning module on Maths Accessibility, for one of their major clients.  Here is a testimonial he received following that work:

“Martyn was a diligent and thoughtful author, and exhibited strong domain knowledge as well as a high level of sensitivity to the technical and social challenges that digital accessibility attempts to address.”  [David Sloan, The Paciello Group]

A Brief History of TDP

Logo: Technology for Disabled People

This is the first post on the new website of Technology for Disabled People (TDP). The consultancy was founded in 1991 by Martyn Cooper after he graduated from The University of Reading with a B.Sc. in Cybernetics and Control Engineering with Mathematics.  Out of his consultancy work, in 1994, Martyn spotted the opportunity for a major project exploiting smart home technology for disabled people.  This was taken into his alma mater of the Cybernetics Dept. at Reading University.  Thus begun Martyn's academic career.  In 1998 he got an appointment at the Open University.  Throughout this, he undertook occasional consultancies as allowed by his contract.  At the end of 2016, Martyn took voluntary severance from the Open University where he had worked for the previous 18 years. He is now available for consultancy work himself or for larger projects can put together a team from his network of consultants.