Press Release 004/2023

Easier Access to Accessible Materials during Studies of Mathematics

The Math4VIP Project Aims to Create a Central Platform for the German-speaking Countries
2023_004_Leichterer Zugang zu barrierefreien Materialien_72dpi
At ACCESS@KIT, students can work with two-dimensional tactile screens. (Photo: Andrea Fabry, KIT)

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 (ACCESS@KIT) 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.

ACCESS@KIT Has Been Supporting Students with Visual Impairments for Over 35 Years

At KIT, the Center for Digital Accessibiliy and Assistive Technology (ACCESS@KIT) 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, ACCESS@KIT 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. ACCESS@KIT 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. ACCESS@KIT 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.

Further Press Contact: Philipps-Universität Marburg, Hochschulkommunikation, E-Mail:pressestelle does-not-exist.uni-marburg de

Being “The Research University in the Helmholtz Association”, KIT creates and imparts knowledge for the society and the environment. It is the objective to make significant contributions to the global challenges in the fields of energy, mobility, and information. For this, about 10,000 employees cooperate in a broad range of disciplines in natural sciences, engineering sciences, economics, and the humanities and social sciences. KIT prepares its 22,800 students for responsible tasks in society, industry, and science by offering research-based study programs. Innovation efforts at KIT build a bridge between important scientific findings and their application for the benefit of society, economic prosperity, and the preservation of our natural basis of life. KIT is one of the German universities of excellence.

gne-mle, 08.02.2023

Monika Landgraf
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