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Accessible Math

This section provides an overview of the various technologies for representing math in an accessible manner, starting with MathML

MathML

MathML is a markup language used to display equations and other mathematical expressions on the web and in other formats such as ePub. MathML is important for accessibility because it allows equations to be stored as structured text rather than images. Unlike images, structured text can be enlarged with good resolution for low-vision users who need magnification. Blind learners can use screen readers that support MathML to navigate and review the parts of mathematical expressions in the correct order, which is important for understanding complex mathematical expressions.  

According to Accessibility at Penn State, the following browser/screen reader combinations support MathML:

  • Firefox: Supports MathML natively and with MathJax
  • Safari: Supports MathML natively and with MathJax
  • Google Chrome: Only with MathJax
  • Internet Explorer/JAWS: Use JAWS 16+ if possible
  • VoiceOver iOS – Can read limited MathML

Benetech’s Math Support Finder is another source of information about MathML support. According to Math Support Finder, the Firefox/NVDA combination supports MathML with MathPlayer 4  installed.

MathJax

MathJax is set of open-source JavaScript libraries which enable correct display of MathML content across multiple browsers, including those like Google Chrome that do not natively support MathML. MathJax also has a number of accessibility benefits. For example, MathJax allows equations to scale up without a loss of resolution for low-vision users who require magnification. It also provides flexible navigation and exploration options, such as the ability to collapse parts of a complex equation. These features can aid understanding of mathematics for everyone.  

Getting started with MathJax is easy. All you need to do is include the following snippet of code to the HEAD section of the HTML document:

<script type="text/javascript"

src="http://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/mathjax/2.7.0/MathJax.js?config=TeX-AMS-MML_HTMLorMML">

</script>

Authoring MathML

MathType (WIRIS) is an equation editor that can export MathML. It is available as a plug-in for both Microsoft Word and Google Docs. In Google Docs, MathType  adds the math as an image with corresponding alternative text.

MathML Cloud

MathML Cloud is a cloud-based open source tool from Benetech. It was originally developed in response to the slow progress of MathML support, which resulted in many publishers providing math equations as images without text descriptions. With MathML Cloud, math content is exported as both MathML and images (in PNG and SVG formats) that include alternative text for accessibility with screen readers. Expressions can be converted one at a time, or as a batch by uploading an HTML 5 file with the desired expressions. Publishers with a large number of files can process them in an automated fashion using MathML Cloud’s API.

Desmos

Desmos is a graphic calculator with sonification support for students with visual impairments. It works across a number of browsers and is also available as mobile apps for both iOS and Android.  

Amazon Polly

Amazon Polly is a service for creating speech applications, including ones with an auditory presentation for math content. It provides many options for customizing the speech output by using Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML), a W3C standard for speech synthesis applications. SSML tags can be used to change phrasing, emphasis, intonation and more. A full list of supported SSML tags for Polly is available on the Amazon Polly website.

 

Technology

Equipment or system where principal function is creation, conversion, duplication, control, display, interchange, transmission, reception, or broadcast of data.

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MathML (Mathematical Markup Language)

XML-based markup language used to display mathematical content.

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EPUB

Distribution and interchange format standard for digital publications and documents.

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Accessibility

Access for all people, including people with disabilities, to web environments.

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Alt Tag (alternative text)

Brief description of a single image designed to be read by a screenreader as an alternative to the image.

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Text-to-Speech (TTS)

Artificial production of human speech, using special software and/or hardware.

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W3C (World Wide Web Consortium)

Promotes evolution and ensures interoperability of the World Wide Web, producing specifications and reference software for free use around the world.

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