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Jeannette R. Nelson
InfoUse, 2560 Ninth Street, Suite 216
Berkeley, CA 94710


InfoUse is in the midst of a three-year project entitled "Math Education for Children with Physical Disabilities." the project is funded under grant #1R43HD33310 from the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health.

This project was initiated in response to information documented in the literature (Hawkridge & Vincent, 1992) and anecdotally (CAT, 1994) that many children with physical disabilities perform at grade level or better, until their math lessons become too difficult or abstract to complete "in their heads". Normally, children accomplish more difficult lessons using paper and pencil, an option that is commonly not available to children with physical disabilities. And "manipulatives" used to promote understanding of mathematics concepts are also difficult for the same students. Thus, as the math becomes more difficult, student are unable to pursue science, economics, and other math-dependent studies.

Now that technology is becoming an integral component of education, mathematics software is making its way into the classroom. Many teachers are also using software as a means of including students with diverse special needs into their classroom activities. This project combines these two aims by creating mathematics software tools designed with accessibility in mind.


The stated mission of this project was "To support the goal of equal access to all students by providing a means for learners with physical disabilities to access meaningful and purposeful mathematics curriculum." Based on this mission, we developed the following six project goals: remove barriers that students with physical disabilities encounter while interacting with mathematics curricula materials; encourage students with physical disabilities to explore mathematical ideas using accessible electronic manipulatives which will enable them to link concrete materials with symbolic representations; provide opportunities for practice and instructional feedback to accelerate mathematics achievement for disabled students; improve the disposition of students with physical disabilities toward mathematics achievement; increase access to, and use of, computer-based mathematics materials by children with physical disabilities; and increase the consistency of curriculum for learners with and without physical disabilities through integration of problem sets from popular texts.


This project has developed a software tool, MathPad, which enables students to solve basic arithmetic problems directly on the computer just as they would using pencil and paper. The program includes many special access features including auditory feedback, high contrast settings, navigational assistance, and multiple font sizes and color settings from which to customize the program to the individual needs of a student.

MathPad is designed to enable students to take advantage of a variety of access methods depending on their different abilities. The program can be entirely controlled from the keyboard, without a mouse, which also allows it to be used with specialized, adaptive keyboards. It can also be controlled without a keyboard, entirely by using the mouse or a mouse alternative, such as a trackball, joystick, or head-controlled or foot controlled mouse. For students who do not use keyboard or mouse, MathPad has built-in scanning access, which allows the program to be controlled by pressing switches connected to the computer.

MathPad is distributed by IntelliTools and is available for the Macintosh and Windows. Further products are under development that will enable students with disabilities access to the rich variety of curricular experiences recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics including conceptual understanding, modeling, procedural skills, mathematical reasoning, and integrated problem solving for a broad range of topics. These topics will include fractions, geometry, algebra, and statistics.


In addition to the expertise of the staff at InfoUse in mathematics education, accessibility, curriculum design, and software and multimedia development, the project has a variety of expert resources. The Center for Accessible Technology, an Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) site in Berkeley, California participates in curriculum research, accessibility, program design, and student and teacher review. IntelliTools, a publisher of technology for inclusion, provides additional design input, accessibility information, product testing and publishing. An expert advisory panel of teachers, administrators, and individuals with specific expertise in mathematics, disability, and accessibility provide feedback at various stages of the project.


Recommendations for curriculum inclusion were based on a review of curriculum standards and approaches relevant to teaching mathematics beginning at the fourth grade level. Teaching standards were reviewed to identify which instructional practices should be emphasized. A meeting of local advisors elicited feedback about content and implementation issues.

Through the curriculum review process, it became clear that a large part of the existing curriculum requires an accessible manner for working out calculations on the computer. The project began with the basics, the ability to work out whole number and decimal computation problems on screen. From there the tools will be expanded to include topics such as fractions, geometry, algebra, and statistics. In addition to the procedural element of these problems, manipulatives and drawing tools will be designed for concept exploration and modeling.

Incorporating manipulatives in the classroom may broaden the experience and the access to mathematics curriculum for many students. One goal of this program is to mimic the classroom experience as closely as possible and to provide a way for students who may have been excluded from the process of exploring with manipulatives, to participate more fully. Students will have the opportunity to make choices about which manipulatives to use and how to place them in their work space (on screen). The student can select, combine, move, and order pieces in a way that makes sense to them.

Manipulatives provide students with an opportunity to explore abstract concepts in a more concrete way. These tools allow students to use their own informal problem solving methods to make sense of mathematical ideas.


The foremost aim of this project is to create programs that will be intuitive to any user regardless of ability. We believe that a student should be able to interact with the program in the way in which they are accustomed whether they use a mouse, keyboard, switch, or alternative keyboard. This project has implemented design criteria for accessibility as a means of reaching this goal. This criteria include general design issues such as intuitive interface design and consistent layout, accessible toolbar buttons and icons, color, text, speech and sound, navigation and program management, and input features.


Hativa, N. (1988). "Computer-based Drill and Practice in Arithmetic: Widening the Gap between High- and Low-achieving Students." American Educational Research Journal, 25, 366-397.

Hawkridge, D. and Vincent, T. (1992). "Learning Difficulties and Computers: Access to the Curriculum", Physical Disabilities., Chapter 4. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, 1989, Reston, VA National Research Council, Everybody Counts: A Report to the Nation on the Future of Mathematics Education, National Academy Press, 1985, Washington, DC

The Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics, The National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, Guide to Selecting Instructional Materials for Mathematics Education, 1993, Washington, D.C.

The National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk: the imperative for education reform, US Government Printing Office, 1983, Washington, DC

Thompson, C. (1992) "the Main Themes From the NCTM Standards." NCTM Standards: New Directions for Mathematics Education: Mathematics Current Issues. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin U.S. Department of Education. (1989) Eleventh Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of The Education of the Handicapped Act.

Wood, J. W. (1989). Mainstreaming: A Practical Approach for Teachers. Columbus, OH: Merrill

Woodward, J. & Gersten, R. (March/April, 1992). "Innovative Technology for Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities." Exceptional Children, p. 407-411.

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