Graduate Management News

February 2014

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

The GMAT® Exam and Accessibility: Five Questions for Kendra Johnson, GMAC Director of Disability Services

Graduate Management News caught up with Kendra to talk about how GMAC is using assistive technology to help create access for those with visual impairments.

GMAT Accommodations Large

Q: What role does assistive technology play for those with visual impairments taking the GMAT exam? 

A: Individuals with vision loss use assistive technology in their daily life, and the GMAT exam should be no different. The Official Guide for GMAT® Review is available in a digital talking book format for individuals with print impairments. Our website for test takers, mba.com, is designed to accommodate individuals with sight limitations using assistive technology, such as text-to-speech software. And since October 2013, the GMAT exam has been fully accessible for use with Zoom Text, a widely used and popular screen enlargement software by use by individuals with low vision. 

In the next few weeks, the GMAT exam will be fully accessible with JAWS (Job Access for Windows with Speech), a computer technology that provides text-to-speech capabilities to read the contents of the GMAT exam out loud for test takers with blindness. The JAWS technology will reduce or even eliminate the need for those taking the GMAT exam to use human readers. 

Q: How did GMAC develop these technologies? 

A: Developing partnerships with advocacy groups, assistive technology experts, and people with disabilities for their input and feedback is an integral part of integrating assistive technology to a high-stakes exam. 

The Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessibility Media (NCAM), an expert on making STEM information available to the visually impaired, helped us make our GMAT test prep products accessible to test takers with visual impairments. They worked with gh, LLC Consulting, which created the text-to speech software used to bring our Official Guide digital talking book to market. 

Q: Any special challenges along the way? 

A: Many of the GMAT exam questions are highly visual, so we had to ask: How does text-to-speech software technology successfully and accurately read quantitative equations, multiple charts, graphs, pop-up and drop-down menus and images without confusing the test taker? How do the assistive technology needs of visually based item types affect question writing, publishing, and test security? The design nuances of both JAWS and Zoom Text, coupled with the highly visual construct of our exam questions, meant that our item developers at ACT had to work very closely with both the makers of JAWS, Freedom Scientific, and Zoom Text, Ai Squared, to brainstorm and develop solutions. 

Q: How does GMAC define fair access on the GMAT exam? 

A: GMAC strives to make the GMAT fully accessible to test takers with disabilities without providing an unfair advantage to any test taker, with or without a disability. The key is developing an admissions test that measures what we intend to measure vs. measuring the extent and nature of an individual’s disabling condition. GMAT score reports do not indicate whether or not a test taker has received accommodations. 

Q: What role does technology play in creating access? 

A: The emphasis on technology is just part of the story. Creating access to a diverse applicant pool for management programs is another. 

I am inspired by the story of psychiatrist Tim Cordes, who is believed to be the second blind person admitted to an American medical school. He completed the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health’s medical scientist training program, which requires students to finish both medical school and a Ph.D.-level research program. He’s also a black belt in tae kwon do and jujitsu. 

Nonetheless, Tim doesn’t want to be put on a pedestal. In an Associated Press article, he says, “I just think that you deal with what you’re dealt. I’ve just been trying to do the best with what I’ve got. I don’t think that’s any different than anybody else.” 

GMAC strives to shine a light on capable students like Tim who will increase the rich diversity of the applicant pools of graduate management programs. GMAC’s commitment to GMAT accessibility is just one small path toward that goal.