Disability Pride Month happens every July to celebrate people with disabilities, combat the stigma surrounding disability, and to fight to create a world that is accessible to everyone. Celebrating disability pride isn’t necessarily about being happy about the additional difficulties caused by being disabled in an ableist society: as disabled blogger Ardra Shephard puts it, “Being proud to be disabled isn’t about liking my disability… [It] is a rejection of the notion that I should feel ashamed of my body or my disability. It’s a rejection of the idea that I am less able to contribute and participate in the world, that I take more than I give, that I have less inherent value and potential than the able-bodied Becky next to me.” The celebration started in the US to commemorate the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability, and since then it has spread around the world.
So what does any of this have to do with us here in the math community? Well, while it’s easy to think of mathematics as an objective field of study that contains no barriers, the institutions and tools used to teach math are not always so friendly. For an obvious example, if there's a few steps leading up to your math classroom and you use a wheelchair, that's going to be a challenge. And that's just scratching the surface—there are countless ways to be disabled, many of which are invisible, and many of which make a typical classroom environment very challenging to learn in for a variety of different reasons. As well, it can be difficult for prospective mathematicians to ask for accommodations, because of both the stigma against disability and the systemic barriers to receiving the proper accommodations. Just ask Daniel Reinholz, a disabled math professor at San Diego State University, whose health forced them to drop out of several engineering courses during their undergraduate degree: “Throughout it all, I never had a notion that I could receive accommodation or support, or that I deserved it. (Even though I’ve never really fit into the “right” category of disabled to be accommodated, so who knows what difference it really would have made.)” While Daniel was lucky enough to find a path to mathematics that worked for them, not all disabled people currently have that path available to them. As math professor Allison Miller puts it in her AMS blog post about disability in math, “Success in mathematics should not depend on whether someone’s needs happen to mesh sufficiently well with institutional structures and spaces that have been designed to serve only certain kinds of minds and bodies.”
While we can’t make systemic changes on our own, we here at Maplesoft can still do our part to make tools for math that are something everyone can use and enjoy. As such, we’re excited to share that Maple Learn is now compatible with the screen reader NVDA. By using this screen reader, and with our extensive keyboard shortcuts that negate the need for a mouse, individuals with low or no vision can now use Maple Learn to help them explore mathematics. All you need to do is select “Enable Accessibility” from the hamburger menu, and you’ll be ready to go! Maple Learn also includes the colour palette CVD, which is designed to be accessible to colourblind users. To learn how to access the colour palettes, check out this How-To document.
There is still more work for us to be done to ensure that we’re doing our part to make math accessible to everyone. Not only are there still ways in which we’re working to improve the accessibility of our products, but we all as a math community need to strive towards recognizing the barriers we may have previously overlooked and finding ways to provide accommodation for all mathematicians. One organization, called Sines of Disability, is already working towards that very goal. They are a community of disabled mathematicians dedicated to dismantling the systemic ableism present in mathematics. For this Disability Pride Month, consider taking the time to check out these resources and learn more about this issue.