Calculus for Beginners and Artists

Calculus for Beginners and Artists

"Calculus for Beginners and Artists" is a website sponsored by the math department of MIT and is the work of Dr. Daniel J. Kleitman, an MIT professor of applied mathematics with an extensive and impressive resume. The author of this blog post wishes to strongly assert that this review is only to describe accessibility for the visually impaired, particularly for the blind. It is NOT in any way a review of the eminent Professor Kleitman’s content, as this author is not qualified and would not presume to do. This cursory and limited examination of his “Calculus for Beginners and Artists” web pages was undertaken only in order to advise on its viability for VI use and builds on Diane Brauner's introductory post, Accessible Online Calculus Course.

I found Calculus for Beginners and Artists to be highly accessible with some exceptions to be described later in this review. The content is text based with few graphics to interfere with VI access, and the contrasting color schemes and format lend themselves to VI accessibility and screenreaders. The content as written by Professor Kleitman can be quite entertaining as well, as the good professor makes use of a dry and obviously highly intelligent wit to keep the user entertained. Navigation throughout the site is moderately easy and is accomplished with minimal distracting content and extraneous graphics and links that would tend to confuse a screenreader and a visually impaired user. Since websites that contain distracting, extraneous graphics and often irrelevant information seem to be the norm, Professor Kleitman’s attention to graphic minimalism and accessibility is quite refreshing.

However, using JAWS 2018 and a Windows 7 OS, navigation was a bit clumsy and would take some minimal practice to become familiar with the idiosyncrasies of Professor Kleitman’s pages, relatively uncluttered as they are compared to more elaborate websites. It seems to be a function of JAWS that navigation on websites is specific and varies by website, regardless of accessibility depending on the placement and definitions of HTML tags, JAWS configuration, etc.  but this is not ascribable to Professor Kleitman, whose work can only be described with deep respect for his accomplishments.

Using a MAC and voiceover, “Calculus for Beginners and Artists” will be easily accessible, however, once the structure and formatting of the website is understood. However, as always, graphics depicting plots would have to be presented separately in tactile or audio form as no screenreader at this point in technological advancement other than a human is able to accurately describe the images. The applets for input of values for functions were accessible; only the resulting plots in images were not.

In summation, “Calculus for Beginners and Artists”, based on a  brief examination of the web pages, is a great tool for the VI person and after minimal practice for this specific site, the visually impaired will be able to navigate and greatly benefit from the pedagogical work of a world class mathematician. The content is in clear and well considered language and is engaging, although the pace advances quickly. Visually impaired and all persons in general who are interested in learning basic calculus will greatly benefit from Professor Kleitman’s work, however the visually impaired will need some minimal help in realizing and interpreting plots and graphs that are inaccessible images. Professor Kleitman and MIT are certainly gracious for this freely available offering that is for the most part, accessible to the visually impaired. They deserve the world’s gratitude.

*The author of this review welcomes any thoughts, comments and dissent; this was all a learning process and the impressions described herein are open to modification.