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MathML in NIMAS

In March, 2009, the NIMAS Standards Board voted by a clear majority to recommend to the Office of Special Education Programs, United States Department of Education that MathML become part of the required NIMAS Baseline Element Set.

National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS)

A technical standard used to produce XML-based source files for print-based educational materials.

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Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)

Provides leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts in improving results for children and youth with disabilities.

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MathML (Mathematical Markup Language)

XML-based markup language used to display mathematical content.

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Element

Any identifiable object within a document.

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Download the full text of the OSERS letter
Word | PDF

In response, on June 22, 2012, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services distributed a Dear Colleague letter to all state directors of Special Education referencing the availability of the MathML3 Structure Guidelines. (MathML3 is the current version of the XML-based math mark-up language ratified by the World Wide Web Consortium [W3C], the DAISY Consortium, and the NIMAS Standards Board.)

The availability of a viable and robust technical standard for the inclusion of mathematical content in K–12 instructional materials significantly facilitates the creation of valid XML files containing mathematical content, which in turn will allow these files to be transformed into student-ready versions—such as digital text and braille—that are far more accessible to print-disabled students than the current image-based math files included in NIMAS filesets. For additional information about MathML, see the following:

The June 2012 OSERS letter specifically encourages State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to "ask publishers to use the MathML3 Structure Guidelines recommended by the [NIMAS] Center when requesting NIMAS files." NIMAS filesets for print instructional materials are produced in order to meet requirements of IDEA, where instructional materials are defined as follows:

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)

Supports programs and research that help educate and improve lives of individuals with disabilities, and provides for rehabilitation.

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XML (EXtensible Markup Language)

Universal format for structured documents and data. Set of rules, guidelines, and conventions for designing text formats for data.

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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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DAISY Consortium

Established the International Standard for the production, exchange, and use of Digital Talking Books.

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Digital Text

Published material retrieved and read via a computer.

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Accessible

Content, activity, or technology that is usable by everyone with equivalent ease of use.

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State Education Agency (SEA)

Agency responsible for supervision of a state’s or territory’s public elementary and secondary schools.

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Local Education Agency (LEA)

Agency legally authorized to provide administrative control or direction of publically funded schools.

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Print Instructional Materials

Printed materials written and published for use in elementary and secondary school instruction, required by a SEA or LEA for use by students in classroom.

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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Federal law governing rights of children with disabilities to receive free and appropriate public education in least restrictive environment.

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Definition of Print Instructional Materials from IDEA 2004 [20 U.S.C. 1474(e)(3)(C)]:

(C) PRINT INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS.—The term 'print instructional materials' means printed textbooks and related printed core materials that are written and published primarily for use in elementary school and secondary school instruction and are required by a State educational agency or local educational agency for use by students in the classroom.

The specific use of MathML to provide mathematical content in meeting these requirements is now included in policy recommendations by both OSERS and the NIMAS Center. MathML in NIMAS is an application of the MathML in DAISY modular extension. The MathML module in DAISY details requirements for the use of MathML in a digital talking book (DTB), while the inclusion of the MathML module in NIMAS only refers to requirements relative to creation of the following:

  1. XML source files that conform to DTBook DTD-Z39.86-2005 (and subsequent revisions), and
  2. OPF package files in NIMAS filesets.

Note: Other aspects of the MathML in DAISY modular extension are not currently relevant to MathML in NIMAS.

This extension of the NIMAS does not modify the MathML specification as found in the DAISY Standard, although it places some restrictions upon its use. It is based on MathML3. MathML in NIMAS, like MathML in DAISY, will be updated to align with the most current MathML specification as that specification is updated.

To include MathML in a NIMAS fileset: in the XML source file the DTBook DTD must be updated to include the MathML module, and the actual math content itself must be provided, encoded in MathML, within the XML source file.

MathML Structure Guidelines

The purpose of the MathML Structure Guidelines document is to provide preliminary guidance on the correct application of MathML to the XML element set in DTBook, a key component of the ANSI/NISO Z39.86 Standard to which DAISY and NIMAS conform. The MathML Structure Guidelines detail best practices in the application of MathML in the mark-up of instructional materials of the type commonly found in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary educational curricula.

Prior to the approval of MathML as an extension to the DAISY Standard (and sufficient tools and rendering software became available), the NIMAS Center provided guidance to publishers, producers, and others regarding the creation of accessible math content using images when necessary for content such as graphs and illustrations as well as for mathematical content such as equations, symbols, etc. While the current NIMAS version 1.1 specification does not articulate images for mathematical content specifically, it does require that all images in a print work be provided (in either SVG, PNG, or JPG formats) and the NIMAS v1.1 also states that NIMAS-conformant content must be valid to the NIMAS 1.1 [see DAISY/NISO Z39.86 2005 or subsequent revisions].

The current version of the DAISY Structure Guidelines states that, " while MathML does not require the altimg and alttext attributes to be present on the <math> element, the MathML in DAISY Specification does require these attributes to be specified. These attributes provide a fallback mechanism for basic DAISY players that are not capable of rendering MathML. The resolution of the image referenced by the altimg attribute should be such that it is readable when scaled for large print. The alttext value should unambiguously describe the mathematical expression" ( MathML in DAISY 3 Structure Guidelines). Since the specification referenced requires images, so does the NIMAS. Further, the NIMAS v1.1 states that filesets that do not follow practices outlined in the Structure Guidelines are not conformant to the NIMAS Standard.

Best practices also dictate that images be provided because braille transcribers benefit from image files of math content to assure accurate braille rendering. The above is consistent with the DAISY/NISO Z.39.86 technical specification, the MathML in DAISY modular extension, the DAISY/NIMAS Structure Guidelines, and, from a policy perspective, the control letter sent by OSEP to New Mexico in January, 2008.

Please note that requiring both MathML and images is an interim requirement. It is currently necessary to have a fallback. Later, when MathML is more widely supported, images will no longer be required.

Additional Resources

Browsers that Support MathML

Editors to Create MathML

Players that Render MathML

Relation to Other Standards

The Structure Guidelines refer to or expand upon the following standards:

Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY)

Technical standard for producing accessible and navigable multimedia documents.

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Digital Talking Book (DTB)

Digitally encoded files containing audio portions and full text to increase quality and availability of information to print-disabled persons.

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DTBook

XML element set defining markup for textual content of a Digital Talking Book.

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Document Type Definition (DTD)

Discrete set of XML tags, targeted at a particular type of application.

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Package File

Identifies all other files in a publication and provides descriptive and access information about them.

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ANSI/NISO Z39.86

Format and content of an electronic fileset, comprising a digital talking book and requirements for playback devices.

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PNG (Portable Network Graphics)

Graphics file format that allows users to compress images into smaller sizes for faster download without loss of detail.

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JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

Graphics file format that compresses images into smaller sizes for faster download.

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Attribute

Value or descriptive information associated with an HTML, XHTML, or XML element.

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