Support for decoding text, mathematical notation, and symbols is a universal design for learning (UDL) guideline that supports multiple means of representation. The UDL guidelines were developed by an organization called CAST. This article will explore how teachers and other educators can support learners decoding notations and symbols.

## Support for Decoding Text, Mathematical Notation, and Symbols in Universal Design for Learning

Some subjects directly teach learners to understand codes, notations, or symbols. For example, math instruction involves learning how to read, write, and solve equations. Similarly, learners in geography need to understand how to interpret maps. Likewise, many science classes involve diagrams that learners need to read or reproduce. In addition, learners first reading Braille need to recognize each letter by touch. Conversely, many other subjects do not involve decoding. For instance, English and history use writing rather than symbols or notation. Nevertheless, written language is also inaccessible to some learners, such as those with dyslexia or other learning disabilities.

In short, at these times, students are directly learning to decode. However, at other times, codes or notations appear when students are not directly learning about them. For example, a geography fact sheet comparing the statistics from different countries would include numbers and graphs. The lesson including this fact sheet is not about how to interpret statistics or graphs. However, students who do not know how to interpret them cannot access the content. In other words, when information is presented in one (1) format, in lessons not focusing on that format, not all students can learn.

## Strategies to Support Decoding

Teachers can use many strategies to support learners accessing coded content. For instance, teachers can offer alternatives for visual information, such as audio recordings or text-to-speech software. While this software is best suited for written information, automatic voicing with digital mathematical notation (Math ML) supports math notation.

Visual notations and symbols will always be inaccessible to some learners, who rely on these non-visual alternatives. In contrast, other learners will gain skill in interpreting codes with more support. For example, learners may listen to audio while they look at a code or notation, until they gain enough knowledge to use only the notation. Similarly, learners may benefit from Braille and audio at the same time, such as through a screen reader and Braille display. However, learners should later gain the skill to read Braille without audio support.

In addition, teachers can clarify vocabulary or symbols with strategies such as glossaries of important terms. Likewise, teachers can clarify syntax and structure. For example, teachers can use a word problem or formula to represent information on a graph. Learners can use any or all of these representations.