Making maths more accessible for students with vision impairment

Post date: 
Wednesday, 14 October 2015

How vision friendly are your maths resources to a child who can’t see a whole calculation or read a question in one glance? These simple steps can make maths calculations more accessible.

At a glance, sighted children can see a whole calculation in one go, taking in place values or brackets around one part of an equation. A learner with a vision impairment however, may need longer to work out which operations feature in the calculation before applying the rules which determine the order in which operations should be performed. 

Make operator signs easy to read

When you cannot see the whole calculation, more short term memory and concentration is needed to keep track of what to do next. It is vital that the brackets and operator signs are easily legible and highlighted initially if necessary. 

How many questions?

Maths teachers must judge how many examples a child needs to complete to gain a secure understanding of the skill or concept being taught. The learning outcome is more important than completing the same number of questions as others.  One useful strategy is to ask the pupil to do all the odd or even numbered questions; that way they attempt questions over the full range of difficulty.

Getting into good habits

Children who use large print may find that heavy printed squared paper helps them with vertical written calculation methods.
For braillists, laying out calculations correctly in braille requires additional skills, which should be introduced by a qualified teacher of children with impaired vision (QTVI) with a good knowledge of the maths braille code. The braille maths code has recently been updated with the move to Unified English Braille. See details of a course for staff who want to update their maths braille skills.  
When learning about division it can be useful to work through examples using bricks or counters, to demonstrate in a concrete way the concept of remainders and how these can then be expressed as quotients before progressing to decimals.
When laying out questions in braille, where possible put the question number against the left-hand margin, and indent the actual question a little. This makes the question numbers much easier to locate. Similarly to make page numbers easy to locate, put the braille page number in the top right hand corner, with the print page number in the top left-hand corner.
Some children use a blob of Blu-Tack, or a paper clip, against question numbers to keep track of which ones they have answered, or to mark part of the page that they constantly need to refer to.

Mental methods 

Being able to rapidly recall number and multiplication facts is a particularly valuable skill if you struggle to see complex number sentences or equations in their entirety. The less each part has to be calculated laboriously on paper, where visual confusion can lead to mistakes, the greater the chances of arriving at the correct final answer. It is important however, at GCSE level, that pupils still show the main stages in their working on paper, as a significant number of marks are awarded for working rather than the final answer.
Some children find number songs and audio versions of times tables a useful way to consolidate number facts. 

Calculator methods 

RNIB's online shop sells easy to see and talking calculators . Alternatively many students prefer to use a calculator on their tablet, laptop or Braillenote. It is good practice to regularly review the suitability of equipment and the learner's ability to use the more complex functions, and understand what order to key in calculations.

Make it visible 

Clear numbers

If you are making maths resources for large print users select a font with numbers that are easy to tell apart. The qualified teacher for visual impairment (QTVI) can recommend the best font and size for maths. For example Times New Roman number 6 is much easier to read than an Arial number 6, which can easily be confused for an 8 by a child who doesn’t see in sharp focus. However Arial is often clearer for text. You can mix and match so that both the text in the questions and the numbers are as clear as possible. 

Clear symbols

Make sure that the symbols for the four operations, and <, > and = signs are large and bold enough. Fractions, indices and surds may also need to be in a much larger font size to be legible – a highlighter can also be useful to draw the student’s attention to this finer detail.
Algebraic symbols need to be very clear. Make sure that in your learning materials a student can distinguish between an algebraic "x" and a multiplication sign. Italics are best avoided as these are much more difficult to read for people with a vision impairment; clear bold letters are a better alternative. 

Use a maths editing programme to save time 

When producing resources for KS3 and above, consider using MathsType, a maths editor that works with Microsoft Word. Equations are produced easily, with the correct layout and using the correct mathematical symbols. They can then be inserted directly into a Word document. The font style and size can be set to your own preferences.
  • Our thanks to Jane Sharp, qualified teacher of visually impaired children and teacher-in-charge of a resource base in Wakefield for her advice.


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