Ensuring full class participation by providing alternative paths to completion of assignments.


The R statistics program is free and open-source software for statistical analysis that is widely used by academicians and industry specialists, and in most statistics classes at Amherst.

The JAWS screen reader understands common formats like Web pages and PDF along with standard Windows menuing, and allows editing in programs with text-based interfaces.

The Notepad++ text editor is commonly used for writing computer code and works well with JAWs.

Featured Faculty

Nick Horton portrait photo

Nick Horton

Mathematics and Statistics


In the course Introduction to Statistics via Modeling, students learn about statistics and data analysis by using the R programming language to construct statistical models of data sets. The course uses an add-on to R called RStudio, an integrated development environment bringing R together with file management, documentation, debugging, and other tools. In the Spring 2017 semester, the course included a student who was blind, who could not use RStudio due to its multi-paned graphical interface design. 

A set of R code describing rollercoasters and used in STAT-135

   This text-only display of data in R was accessible to a screen-reader.Academic Technology Services met with the student and helped set up a development environment using accessible tools, the foundation being the JAWS screen reader, with which the student was already familiar. It works with the original R application and the Notepad text editor, allowing her to test out R code, write and save programs, and generate class assignments.

While Professor Horton usually delivers course materials in PDF format, JAWS had difficulty interpreting the math-heavy text, and he therefore also provided the student with either HTML (Web page) documents or the original “R Markdown” format, which is simple text with equations in a readable (LaTeX) form. ATS also provided instruction on using the R application itself, for example how to install additional R packages, a common task.

Professor Horton and his class assistants then helped the student with interpreting the specifics of his assignments as well as accessible approaches to debugging her code. In addition, they made use of an R library for producing text descriptions of graphs along with Braille output and enhanced images, allowing tactile study of graphics produced by an embossing printer.

By identifying the needs of the course, the student’s capabilities, and the available tools, an alternative approach was designed that allowed the student to fully participate in the course.


Published Spring 2020 by Academic Technology Services