STEM courses are a great challenge for students with visual impairments due to their mathematical content: Formulas, diagrams, and graphical charts are presented visually and are therefore not accessible with read-aloud software. So far, only a few universities can offer professional support in dealing with such content. A central platform that informs and makes available accessible materials is the goal of the Math4VIP project. Researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) are contributing their expertise in digital accessibility and assistive technologies.
Until now, affected students have mostly been dependent on assistance to be acquired by themselves. They are largely on their own, which can have a negative impact on the success of their studies.
In the team of the project “Math4VIP – A new dimension in the accessibility of mathematical teaching content for visually impaired students in STEM subjects,” Professor Ilka Agricola, mathematician at Philipps-Universität Marburg, and Dr. Thorsten Schwarz from the Center for Digital Accessibility and Assistive Technology ([email protected]) collaborate to change this situation.
New Standards, Materials, and Guidelines for Greater Accessibility
Their common goal is a central platform that provides information about accessible mathematics and about the necessary steps to prepare mathematical content for students with visual impairments. New standards are developed, materials are created according to these standards, and guidelines are written and introduced. “At each individual university, there are only few students with severe visual impairments, so these often resort to short-term ad-hoc solutions. We want to change this and jointly create a portal that delivers real added value in the German-speaking countries,” says project manager Agricola. Members of other universities can then upload their own materials and thus contribute to the growth of the database. All in all, students with visual impairments from the German-speaking countries will have easier access to accessible materials, regardless of which university they are studying at.
[email protected] Has Been Supporting Students with Visual Impairments for Over 35 Years
At KIT, the Center for Digital Accessibiliy and Assistive Technology ([email protected]) has been advising and supporting visually impaired and blind students and prospective students for more than 35 years in all subjects of study offered at KIT. At the same time, [email protected] is committed to research and teaching. Together with our students, among others, we develop new approaches to all areas relevant to STEM. This is especially true for mathematics: Translation of the necessary graphics into tactile versions is unique with us,” explains Schwarz. [email protected] has a lab for the various printing techniques and a working room for students with state-of-the-art output equipment, such as two-dimensional Braille displays. [email protected] produces more than 20,000 tactile graphics a year, plus 3D models made of plastic and wood. “We contribute these many years of experience to Math4VIP to help shape the groundbreaking standardization of textual descriptions of graphics and formulas,” says Schwarz. (gne-mle)
The Pioneering Projects Initiative: Impulses for the Science System
The Volkswagen Foundation is funding the Math4VIP project in the funding line “Pioneering Projects – Impulses for the Science System” for three years with a total of approximately 500,000 euros. With this funding offer, the foundation aims to create experimental space for fundamental innovations and significant improvements in different areas of the German science system. To this end, promising ideas for pioneering projects from the scientific community are addressed and supported.