General Resources for Math and Science
Perhaps the single best source to consult for specialized tools for science and math learning is
The American Printing House for the Blind
Its pages on
Tactical Graphic Image Library
as well as
are excellent starting places for tools to assist with math and science. While most of this information is directed
for learning through high school, you will still find some things of use for more complicated study.
Internet Resources for Teaching Math to Visually Impaired Students
A more specialized page on the APH site "for locating resources to help students conceptualize and learn math. APH "has compiled a list of websites that contain information about these tips and tools in order to help teachers get their blind students into the loop."
Tools to Make Raised Line Drawings in Braille
"Create your own raised-dot graphics in minutes using your IBM PC! Picture Braille is a simple-to-use system for producing tactile graphics using IBM(R) computers and braille embossers. It is the first low-cost system for creating and/or scanning line drawings, graphs, and maps and automatically producing raised-dot graphics on braille embossers typically found in schools and resource rooms."
"DOS Triangle is a DOS computer program designed for print-impaired students and professionals in math, science and engineering. This program was completed a number of years ago and is still available for any DOS user who wants it.
However the Science Access Project can no longer provide support for the program. It works well with VocalEyes and DOS Jaws, which [are] the two most popular DOS screen readers. The Windows version of Triangle has been under development since 2001 and is now an open source project of Oregon State University's Technology Access Program. The graphing calculator that is part of DOS Triangle has been expanded into a powerful Windows application, the Accessible Graphing Calculator, now available commercially from
DOS Triangle uses a linear notation for representing mathematical expressions, and provides means for evaluating and plotting expressions. Triangle's table viewer allows users to read, navigate, and edit complex tables in an easy-to-use manner."
Purdue University VISIONS Lab
"The Purdue University VISIONS Lab, which stands for Visually Impaired Students Initiative on Science, is a research laboratory dedicated to providing access to the numerous science courses at Purdue. Since its inception in the summer of 1995, this university-funded lab has both served as a production facility for providing visually impaired students with educational materials and as a research lab for developing new adaptive technologies." This page describes some of the ways that the program has functioned to help make advanced science and math courses at Purdue more accessible.
"The Livescribe smartpen recognizes handwritten marks through a camera inside its tip that focuses on a minute pattern of dots printed on paper. It captures more than 100 hours of audio through a built-in microphone and plays audio back through a built-in speaker or 3D recording headset. Files are uploaded from the pen to a computer using a USB connection." While being an essentially new computer platform, the Smartpen gets most of its information from handwriting rather than a keyboard and a mouse, thereby enabling college students to concentrate on taking notes and then later, when reviewing, tapping the Smartpen to see what the professor was saying when the student took a particular note.
Specialized Math Resources
Tips for Reading Math Out Loud to Blind Students by A. Nemeth
Traditionally, it was necessary for a blind student studying math to have a sighted reader orally communicate formulas and mathematical expressions, etc. This paper, written by a blind pioneer in the study of math, explains the system he developed for most efficiently working with sighted readers.
Learning and Teaching Math by Abraham Nemeth
The text of an excellent presentation to the Mathematical Association of America in January 1996. The paper explains both how Nemeth studied and developed his own techniques for learning and teaching advanced math subjects.
Scientific Reading and Writing by Blind People -- Technologies of the Future
"This paper gives an overview of several new technologies that were described and/or demonstrated by members of the Oregon State University Science Access Project. These are all technologies intended to improve the means by which people with print disabilities read, write, and manipulate information. The major focus is on information that has traditionally been difficult for people with print disabilities. In particular these include mathematical equations, tabulated information, and information conventionally presented as graphs, charts, diagrams, and other types of figures."
Maxima: A Computer Algebra System
Secure and free open source software originally developed at MIT. "Maxima is a system for the manipulation of symbolic and numerical expressions, including differentiation, integration, Taylor series, Laplace transforms, ordinary differential equations, systems of linear equations, polynomials, and sets, lists, vectors, matrices, and tensors. Maxima yields high precision numeric results by using exact fractions, arbitrary precision integers, and variable precision floating point numbers. Maxima can plot functions and data in two and three dimensions."
"MathML (Mathematical Markup Language) is an industry standard adopted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as the approved way of expressing math on the web. Like the more familiar HyperText Markup Language (HTML), which sets the standard for web browsers to display literary text, MathML is an international open standard for encoding math content. MathML is needed because HTML has no means of marking up mathematical expressions. Using MathML provides the highest level of accessibility to math within digital documents.
"Before the advent of MathML, web authors often resorted to inserting graphical images, basically digital "pictures" of equations taken from other software products, into their documents. Such a practice is problematic because graphical images are inherently inaccessible. Although alternate text descriptions (commonly in the form of "alt tags") can be added to these images, this approach has drawbacks because text does not always provide true comparable access to information found in mathematical notation.
"MathML is composed of a number of Extensible Markup Language (XML) tags that provide the means to mark up an equation in terms of both presentation and semantics, thus enabling the expression of the information content or meaning behind equations and not just the visual representation. MathML is therefore able to provide sufficient information and structure of the math to support both visual display and assistive technology access. MathML equations will, for instance, increase in size as users change font size to increase readability. MathML also allows the synthetic speech user to set different verbosity levels, automatically adjusts for the user's native language, and supports aural navigation through complex math equations for better understanding. For Braille users, MathML supports various Braille math formats, subject to Braille translation software support.
"MathML is gaining widespread support among math editors, and converters have been developed for those that don't support MathML natively. Among the most popular web browsers, Mozilla Firefox directly supports MathML, whereas Microsoft Internet Explorer requires the plug-in Design Science's
MathPlayer displays MathML-based formulas visually within the browser and passes the structure and content of these formulas along to screen readers for audible rendering to students who are blind. Most major screen readers are compatible with MathPlayer.
"Design Science, Inc. produces a tool for creating accessible MathML equations, called
MathType - Equation Editor
MathType is a plug-in for Microsoft Word that enables authors to include MathML equations within their text documents. When exported as web pages, the pages include accessible math. Similar products include MacKichan Software's
WC3 Math Implamentation Page
"The World Wide Web Consortium maintains a list of software that supports MathML, including editors, calculators, composition and rendering engines, converters, authoring systems, browsers and browser plug-ins, and more. For details see this page of WC3's site."
"NOMAD is a touch-sensitive pad on which raised-line graphics are placed. The NOMAD pad is connected to a personal computer (supplied by the user) and files describing the graphics are loaded. Once the appropriate file is selected, the user can touch various points on the graphic and NOMAD will describe them with synthetic speech.
"Blind and visually impaired people can use NOMAD to independently learn about geography, geometry, biology, physics, physiology, electronics, astronomy, and any other subjects involving charts, graphs, diagrams or spatial concepts.
"Use ready-made graphics or create your own.
"Calling up existing NOMAD files is an easy, menu-driven process requiring only basic computer skills. Programming graphic information for your own files is also quick and simple: type the information on the computer keyboard, place the graphic on the NOMAD touch board, and then press the corresponding points on the graphic; it is that easy! Once a graphic and its data file have been created, they can be used over and over again."
While calculators are essential to doing math and science, especially on a more advanced level, they have traditionally been extremely difficult to use by a blind or visually impaired student. "Calculators that can perform statistical or scientific calculations, manipulate matrices, and plot functions on a graph are particularly helpful in the study of higher-level mathematics." Tools now exist, however, to make it possible for the blind student to do these calculations.
Susan Osterhaus, a highly respected educator in the field, provides an
of the Accessible Graphic Calculator. (You may download a free, 30 day trial from
While this receives an outstanding review, the product appears to be more appropriate for high school or early post-secondary students.
"Another option [for doing math at this level] is to use a portable electronic notetaker with advanced math functions. Some notetakers combine speech synthesis and refreshable Braille that can be used by students who are blind for performing trigonometric and logarithmic calculations. Check with the notetaker manufacturer to see if a scientific calculator function is supported." For a more detailed discussion, you may want to visit
accessible scientific calculators
of the GeorgiaTech Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access.
"MathSpeak is a popular system for communicating math orally, and is used by many screen readers to read mathematical expressions, such as those written in MathML. An overview of the MathSpeak protocol is provided in an article by Dr.
Nemeth, [developer of the program], simply titled
reprinted with permission . . .. Additional information, including MathSpeak examples, is available from the
Math ResourcesNational Center on Accessible Instructional Materials.
Products for Graphing
These products from The American Printing House for the Blind are primarily designed for K-12 instruction, although some have some application for more advanced study.
What Are Tactile Graphics?
"Tactile graphics, sometimes referred to as the haptic sensory modality, deliver information through touch. They often accompany Braille textbooks to convey content in maps, charts, building layouts, schematic diagrams, and images of geometric figures. Tactile graphics are often handmade by Braille transcribers as part of Braille textbook production. In some cases, the creation of tactile graphics is facilitated by automated processes using various software applications. Some methods used to create tactile graphics are described" in this article.
Haptic Representation of Data
This paper, written by three professors from the University of Delaware, reviews "some of the existing methods of non-visual data representation, [used by blind students] and present two new methods. The first method extends the capabilities of printing tactile graphics. With the aid of image processing techniques, complex images can be printed in a fashion that is more comprehensible as a tactile graphic. The second technique takes advantage of emerging haptic interface technology with a three degree of freedom (DOF) force feedback mechanism. This allows users to interact with two and three dimensional data plots with their fingertip. In addition, aural information and various haptic techniques can be added to aid in navigation and understanding. These two methods of non-visual data rendering extend current techniques and will eventually allow people to gain insight into scientific data without the use of vision."
Techniques for Creating Braille Math Documents
This is a concise explanation, accompanied with some excellent links, of how to create Braille documents. It discusses
some of the problems associated with doing this and how to solve them. The focus is on methods for confronting more advanced mathematical formulas, problems, etc.
"DotsPlus® Braille is a two dimensional Braille format designed to express complex mathematical equations in a format similar to standard print math notation. DotsPlus Braille allows standard Braille and tactile graphical math symbols to be used simultaneously within spatial equations in a form identical to that used in standard printed math documents. Unlike traditional math Braille, DotsPlus is not a code but is a set of computer fonts that allow documents containing math to be printed using tactile spatial math that is readable by a person who is blind. The DotsPlus tactile fonts display in a visual print form on a computer screen or on a print document. To display tactile images, DotsPlus must be used with a specialized embosser capable of creating both Braille and tactile graphics . . .."
ORION TI-84 PLUS Talking Graphic Calculator
"A graphing calculator is an absolute necessity in today's high-school curricula, in higher education and for professionals. The Orion TI-84 Plus is the world's first fully accessible handheld graphing calculator. Based on the popular TI-84 Plus model from Texas Instruments, the market-leader in calculators and educational technology, the Orion TI-84 Plus represents a breakthrough in STEM education for blind and visually-impaired students.
Since its functions are exactly the same as the TI-84 Plus, the Orion TI-84 Plus Talking Graphing Calculator is very easy for teachers to help with. A high-quality, synthesized voice announces each key and the answer on the display, providing a choice of speech rates, voices, etc." You can listen to a demonstration at
Blind Bargain: Audio. Content
"The best and most useful items from the Blindmath Archives" are collected on this site. It is an excellent source of questions and answers regarding math and statistics posted by blind users themselves. Some of the topic areas include calculators, geometry, graphing, iOS, statistics, students, tools, and transcription.
"Each of these topics contains a linked list of subjects (threads of queries and responses) from the archives." The authors acknowledge that they have "attempted to select items that would have the broadest general interest. This means that subjects on more advanced topics may not appear in these gems.
Specialized Scientific Resources
Three Dimensional Chemical and Biological Models
"A blind San Francisco State University biophysicist is developing a basic set of three-dimensional chemical and biological models to be used as educational aids for blind students enrolled in college courses in the physical and biological sciences.
"The method [behind the project] is to select a certain number of chemical and cellular structures and processes that are well-described and common to virtually all courses in both introductory and more advanced biology and chemistry, including courses in biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, biophysics, zoology and botany. These common processes and structures include metabolic processes common to all cells, (glycolysis, the Krebbs cycle,) cell division processes (mitosis and meiosis), and macromolecules like nucleic acids DNA and RNA) and proteins.
"Currently in the second year of a three-year project, . . . models [have been developed] that are a cross between a flat two dimensional picture like a raised line drawing and the full scale molecular model, such as might be represented by a ball and stick type organic chemistry model kit. [These] models are tactile illustrations or representations rather than full-scale molecular structures. . . . A blind student uses the cutaneous touch available through the fingertips to gather information about the structure in a way akin to reading braille. However, by itself, this is slow and "local" and doesn't quickly lead to an overall impression of the structure . . ..
"The models [that are being developed] . . . have features that allow the blind student to use the hand fully in comprehending the structure being represented. They are designed so that the student can use the palms and insides of the fingers to gather information as a whole, rapidly giving the student a larger and broader view of the overall
Associated with Purdue University, Independence Science offers a range of products and services designed to satisfy its clients' assistive technology needs. It researches, markets, and supports laboratory tools, blind-accessible software, curricula, and methods for integrating these to work together. It can consult with you about the purchase of a lab tool, or It can provide onsite setup and training for complete accessible lab equipment systems for your students. Independence Science works on a case-by-case basis, customizing the services it provides for each client.
ILAB - Independent Laboratory Access for the Blind
"ILAB is a Research in Disabilities Education project supported by the National Science Foundation. ILAB seeks to raise the expectations of high school and college students who are blind and visually impaired (VI), as well as educators of these students, with the goal of encouraging them to consider careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) professions. This is being achieved through the development of speech-accessible tools as well as modified laboratory procedures, which will enable students who are blind and VI to perform chemistry laboratory experiments without sighted assistance. This will change the laboratory experience by giving students a more active and independent role."
Laboratory tools and techniques are being developed at Penn State, Truman State, and at partner high schools. These tools have been pilot tested at Penn State and Truman State. They are now being used in science laboratories at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) and at several other schools in which students who are blind or VI learn in mainstream environments. A series of studies (involving controls in which the experiments are done in the traditional way) are being performed. . . . attitudinal assessments and interview data [will be used] to determine the educational value of unassisted laboratory experiments for students who are blind and VI."
The site does, however, provide some excellent
Laboratory Tools and Techniques
as well as
Adapted Experiments for High-school Chemistry and Physics Classes
Classroom Tools for Teaching Science to Blind and Visually Impaired Students.
"ENTRY POINT! is a program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) offering outstanding internship opportunities for students with apparent and non-apparent disabilities in science, engineering, mathematics, computer science, and some fields of business. . . . AAAS has developed unique partnerships with IBM, NASA, Merck, Google, Lockheed Martin, CVS, NAVAIR, Pfizer, Infosys, Shell, Procter & Gamble and university science laboratories to meet their human resources needs. Working with its partners, AAAS identifies and screens undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities who are pursuing degrees in science, engineering, mathematics, computer science, and some fields of business, and places them in paid summer internships." If interested in the program, you will want to read the
"documenting 30 years of the AAAS Project on Science Technology and Disability."
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration
has developed two programs designed to make math and science more accesssible to blind and visually impaired students.
"is a graphing tool for middle school and high school students to graph equations, physics simulations or plot data files. The graphs have descriptions and sound so you can hear and read about the graph. Blind and low vision users can access visual math data and graph or experiment with equations and datasets."
"makes NASA satellite photos and data accessible to blind students.
The . . . software allows blind students to navigate around a picture and "see" it using sound cues about the features in the picture. . . . By incorporating sound elements into maps, the software helps students understand concepts including latitude,
longitude and the geospatial relationship of objects on maps."
You can download the
at no charge.
How Can I Record and Analyze Data in a Science Lab?
This page, from Washington University, provides an overview of some ways in which students with several types of disabilities can record data in a science lab. There are no magic bullets here, but you will find some good suggestions
and a good place to start. More specific advice is available at
How Can I Make Measurements in a Science Lab?
In some cases, computer simulations of laboratory experiments may prove beneficial to students with disabilities. You
can read reviews, publications, and news about appropriate software. Most of the chemistry software is likely only useful for a student with some vision.
Vendors Specializing in Adaptive Technology and Materials for Science Labs
"There are many resources for purchasing or creating technology and materials that make science labs accessible to students with a variety of disabilities. Conducting a web search will locate some of them, but the websites [listed on this page] will provide a good place to start.
In addition to the resources listed at the top of this page as well as our page on
Math and Statistics
you may want to consult the following sites:
Barrier Free Education
Equal Access to Science and Information
Science Access Project
Lab Gear Kit
This commercially available kit contains a talking thermometer, spring scale with tactile markings in Braille, measuring cups and spoons, funnels, plastic m.l. bottles with tactile markings, and a good deal more. The kit is designed for K-12 students. It might either follow a student through various grades or remain in a single classroom.
Working Together: Science Teachers and Students with Disabilities
"As scientific fields make increasing use of technology, new opportunities emerge for people with a broad range of abilities and disabilities. When students with disabilities and science teachers form learning partnerships, the possibilities for academic and career success multiply. . . . the best solutions for maximizing participation come about when the student and teacher work together to develop creative alternatives for challenges faced by students . . .." This overview is targeted more at instructors but, nonetheless, contains information to help the student have a clearer idea of how best to have apositive experience in his/her science class.
Using a CCTV to Access Visual Materials in Class
A brief anecdote of how a first-year medical student with some functional vision, with the assistance of his professor, used a CCTV in the lab. The basic idea is generalizable for other similar situations.
Web Access: A Case Study on Making Content Accessible to a Student who is Blind
A brief, but highly informative, description of how a blind graduate student in atmospheric sciences developed techniques for accessing material on a web site used by his department that was otherwise inaccessible.
What are examples of accommodations for students with low vision in science labs?
A good, practical list of things that can be done to make science labs more accessible. Most of these ideas are relatively simple and inexpensive.
What lab safety issues need to be considered when working with a student who is blind or visually impaired?
Biochemist Adapts Lab Materials for Students Who Are Visually Impaired
This article focuses on two of 125 adaptations that have been made to make scientific tools more accessible to the blind user. The "Submersible Audible Light Sensor, or SALS. This device consists of a submersible sensor attached to a control box, which contains a speaker. The SALS allows blind students to recognize when a combination of chemicals yields a new result. Since the student is unable to see the reaction, the SALS produces a certain pitch when it is submerged in liquid. When two chemicals combine, a completely different pitch is produced due to the change in light content, indicating to the student a change has taken place in real time. . . . Another device . . . [is] the Color Analysis Laboratory Sensor, or CALS. Like the SALS, this device consists of a probe connected to a control box. The CALS identifies the values of red, green, blue and white to tell the student the color of a specific solid or liquid. The CALS can identify certain shades of colors, such as "light red" (pink) or "dark blue" (navy). It currently has a 95 percent success rate . . .."
Topics in STEM Accessibility
"Four blind scientists have collaborated to launch Access2science.com, a site to promote involvement in science, technology, engineering and math by people with disabilities." While there is some overlap with some of the other links on this page, there is still a great deal that can not be found elsewhere.
Studying Protein Structure Can Be A Musical Experience
A brief article outlining how a blind researcher has "developed software that allows him to navigate a protein structure simply by listening through headphones for musical cues; different atoms are represented by different musical instruments." The software will be made available on the Internet as open source code. The author notes, I'm using this tool for proteins, but three-dimensional data is all around us, and this approach could just as easily be applied to geology or architecture." A similar project,
Translating Genes to Music
also provides a promising way for blind researchers to study molecular biology.
Getting in on Science: Strategies for Teaching Chemistry, Physics, and Physical Science With Labs for Blind and Visually Impaired Students
This is a "must read" for any teacher of a visually impaired student who plans to take chemistry, physics, or any advanced science lab course. It is crammed with practical ideas of how to effectively deal with the highly visual aspects of such classes. Concise and readable, it applies many of the tools and techniques described on this page with links to other related resources.
Electronic Mentoring Programs
Parents or guardians should initially check out any site, following guidelines such as those at
This site provides mentoring programs for disabled students; however, inclusion on this list can not imply endorsement.
The American Foundation for the Blind.
"has a database of successfully employed blind and visually impaired adults who are willing to discuss their work lives and how they perform their day-to-day work responsibilities with or without accommodations.
sponsored by the University of Washington, is an e-mentoring program for college-bound disabled students. College students, faculty members, and practicing scientists and engineers serve as mentors.
To contact scientists or engineers with disabilities to answer questions regarding how they have dealt with challenges, you may want to visit
The American Association for the Advancement of Science,
which publishes a resource directory of scientists and engineers with disabilities. You may altternatively want to consult the
American Chemical Society
for its publication,Working Chemists with Disabilities, produced by its Committee on Chemists with Disabilities.
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