NWEA Announces New Effort Using AI to Identify and Remove Barriers Within Math Assessments for Students with Visual Disabilities

The project was awarded an AI in Accessibility grant from Microsoft.

Portland, Ore., October 14, 2021 — Today is World Sight Day bringing attention to vision and eye care as well as awareness of visual disabilities. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 2.2 billion people around the world have some form of visual disability or blindness, including over 540,000 children in the US. For students, math instruction and assessment, especially online, can pose additional access barriers. More specifically, there is not a good, two-way method for getting math and science information, like charts, graphs, tables, or code for equations, to and from a refreshable braille display on a screen, which poses a challenge for online assessment.

Thanks to innovation, research, and advancements in technology, some of these challenges are being addressed. NWEA — a not-for-profit, research and educational services provider serving K-12 students — announced today a new effort, in collaboration with Perkins Access Digital Accessibility Consulting, the Governor Morehead School, and Sonja Steinbach, a local expert math educator who works with students with visual disabilities, to make middle school mathematics assessments more accessible for students with visual disabilities using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. NWEA accessibility research manager, Dr. Elizabeth Barker, was awarded a generous AI for Accessibility grant from Microsoft to help further these efforts.

“Creating online math that is accessible for students using assistive technology is a challenge. We are tackling math because we want to do more than just improve assessments; we want to expand access for online mathematics, period,” Barker said of the goal of the work.

The AI for Accessibility grant-funded project will use math assessment data from students with visual disabilities and AI data analysis to identify patterns in online math test questions that can create barriers or support successes. With these data, NWEA will then create prototype math questions that address the barriers within the design of the questions that showed to be most challenging to students with visual disabilities. In sum, this project aims to offer more educational opportunities and address unmet accommodation needs that can currently exclude students with disabilities from higher-level mathematics as well as paths to advanced degrees and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)-related careers.

“For math students with visual disabilities, completing an online quiz to prove their aptitude can be impossible if the assessment doesn’t present questions that are accessible. By optimizing the accessibility of math assessment prototypes, this project will eliminate such barriers and ensure that all students have equal access to the questions in order to demonstrate their learning,” said Geoff Freed, Director of Perkins Access, who is a collaborator on the project.

For more information about the AI for Accessibility grant program, visit the AI for Accessibility website, and for more information about NWEA research, visit: nwea.org/research.

About NWEA

NWEA® (formerly known as Northwest Evaluation Association) is a mission-driven, not-for-profit organization that supports students and educators in more than 146 countries through research, assessment solutions, policy and advocacy services, professional learning and school improvement services that fight for equity, drive classroom impact and push for systemic change in our educational communities. Visit NWEA.org to learn more about how we’re partnering with educators to help all kids learn.

Contact: Simona Beattie, Sr. Manager, Public Relations, simona.beattie@nwea.org or 971.361.9526