Texas A&M team translates thousands of pages of math into Braille

A Texas A&M Disability Resources Team is committed to ensure courses are accessible to all students.

The Department of Mathematics at Texas A&M University had more than 2,300 pages worth of math coursework that were inaccessible to students who are visually impaired.

Historically students with visual impairment have been unable to fully access STEM courses. Since Math is an incredibly visual and spatially ordered medium, blind students are shut out from the course because the assistive technology required is costly to produce and requires expertise.

It is far more likely to see a blind student pushed toward the arts than it is to see people tackling barriers to accessibility for them in the math space.

Math is not read the way we understand it. Even a simple equation such as ‘2 times 2’ on a sheet of paper looks like 2, the letter x and 2. If it’s not made accessible digitally, then that’s how it is read by read-aloud tools.

Collaboration across teams brings accessibility to those who need it the most

So when the Department of Mathematics wanted to accommodate coursework for students who are blind or visually impaired, they worked closely with the staff at the Department of Disability Resources to create a Braille translation for more than 2,300 pages.

They reached out to Justin Romack, Assistant Director for Disability Resources for help and together they identified needs for a Braille translation.

The extensive list included the class’s 1,100-page textbook, lecture notes, exams, group assignments, and check-in questions that were used to gauge student understanding.

A team of student workers were trained to use a processing app to translate the materials to Braille. The complexity and overlapping concepts of the project called for sharp attention to detail and a thorough review of each translated chapter to ensure the math was coded correctly.

The students were involved in identifying how to bind volumes of content and create title sheets for each separately-bound volume.

The team initially faced logistic challenges when using tractor-fed paper in the Braille embosser. Eventually, they started using Braille paper that was already punched for three-ring binders.

The foundation for the Braille project was laid back in 2018 when Texas A&M’s Department of Mathematics worked with the university’s Center for Teaching Excellence to create open educational resources for two foundational math classes. As part of the process, the faculty focused on identifying and removing barriers, ranging from academic to financial to accessibility, which students might encounter

Because Texas A&M requires every student to have six hours of math credit as a minimum, it was important to design accessible coursework from the beginning to support and serve all students.

Adding Up the Benefits

The students involved in this project learnt profound lessons on commitment and teamwork.

As more student workers began to assist with the project, a powerful sense of collaboration developed.

Communication improved and information was shared rapidly about which chapters were completed, unfinished or needed to be started. A spreadsheet was created that included who completed which tasks in different parts of the book.

The standout benefit from this project was creating accessible coursework that will last a couple of years and thereby open the doors to help multiple students with special accommodation requests.

Source: Texas A&M Today

How codemantra helps to create accessible math coursework for higher education institutions?

STEM coursework offered by higher education institutions have complex matrices, multi-line equations, and illustrations that cannot be accessed by students with visual impairments.

Faculty are placed under enormous pressure to handle classes and the special needs of students with disabilities as the semester gets underway. They have to accommodate requests from students with disabilities for accessible material, handle routine lectures, create lecture notes, and presentations all of which have to be made accessible.

Colleges and Universities have to invest time and resources to make these course materials accessible to students before the start of the semester.

codemantra helps higher education institutions to ensure equal access and inclusive learning experience on time critical documents for students and staff with visual impairments.

The AI-powered platform automatically generates math descriptions for simple to complex, multiline equations that can be reviewed by subject matter experts.

The award-winning platform can assist with all document remediation efforts to generate output compliant with Section 508, ADA, and WCAG 2.1 guidelines, can be easily integrated with existing LMS, and accessible across multiple devices. The platform can be used by staff/faculty to self-remediate PDFs or the institution can opt-in for white glove services to remediate bulk documents.

The multi-phase document accessibility program involves:

  1. Assess: Complete compliance assessment and detailed reporting.
  2. Plan: Prioritization of assets and determination of internal, external, or hybrid remediation approach.
  3. Document processing: Machine-learning and AI-assisted processing merged with human-assisted review and alt text writing.
  4. Report: Confirm PDF U/A and WCAG compliance and generate a compliance report.

Final Thoughts

Colleges and Universities need to ensure that they consider all accessibility issues when designing coursework. Higher institutions of learning have to produce course material with today’s accessibility needs in mind, but also ensure it is flexible and adaptable to adjust to any accessibility need that may pop up down the road.