Accessible Math for Ebooks Using MathML Cloud: Webinar Q&A

Presenters: Sanders Kleinfeld (O’Reilly Media) and Sue-Ann Ma (Benetech) Webinar recording and PowerPoint slides available at

Q&A Summary – July 15, 2015

1. Question: “Why ChromeVox?” Answer: In order to make MathML Cloud open source, all of the affiliated technologies, including the underlying text-to-speech engine that is used to auto-generate the text descriptions, needed to also be open source. ChromeVox was an ideal choice in this regard. 2. Question: “Does the Description output follow the convention of MathSpeak?” Answer: Yes, MathML Cloud’s speech rules basically follow MathSpeak conventions, but with some light modifications. We worked with a consultant to compile a fairly comprehensive sample set of mathematical expressions spanning a range of disciplines and age ranges. We then went through the 100+ expressions one by one to validate the accuracy of the speech rules and noted a few cases that were ambiguous, so applied some modifications to the MathSpeak base. 3. Question: “There appears to be inconsistent support for MathML in various browsers. Will use of the API serve as the work around for this?” Answer: Not exactly – browsers and readers specify their respective support of MathML and the API will not impact support. The way that MathML Cloud’s API is likely to help digital math support is to provide content owners with fallback options to present math using non-MathML alternatives. For example, if a given reader such as Kindle is known to lack MathML support, a publisher could include a PNG image+alt description in the KF8 file rather than MathML (which might be unrecognized and maybe crash the reader) or nothing at all. This is not the optimal solution, but can serve as an interim solution. And again, the supported MathML reading combinations is the next question we hope to address and make available to the broader community later this year. 4. Question: “Is it similar like MathPad that you can write and convert to MathML directly?” Answer: No, they are not similar. MathPad is a tool that helps students write and solve math problems. MathML Cloud would not be used directly by students. MathML Cloud is used by publishers during the book production process. It makes it faster, easier, and cheaper for publishers to create books that contain accessible math. 5. Question: “Is MathML inherently supported by EPUB3 since MathML is recommended for HTML5 and HTML5 is an integral part of EPUB3?” Answer: Guidelines for HTML5 and EPUB3 are closely aligned, but separate. Currently, MathML is supported by both standards, though EPUB 3 places some additional restrictions on MathML usage: More information about EPUB3 recommendations available at: 6. Question: “What was the name of the tool (alternative to Antenna House) that can be used to convert XHTML5 into printable PDF?” Answer: Prince XML is the other commercial tool that can be used to convert XHTML5+CSS Paged Media into PDF output: 7. Question: “So, does this mean that the screen reader user who is reading these equations in an e-book needs to be connected to the Internet?” Answer: No, internet is not always needed. Incorporating MathML in the source file (e.g. EPUB3 or KF8 file) creates more options for reading with and without internet access. For example, a reader could use a Kindle to access an image of an equation plus the alt descriptions or use iBooks with VoiceOver to read an EPUB3 file directly, both without internet access. For more details about additional screen reader support of MathML, look for updates regarding DIAGRAM’s Math Reading Support Matrix tool, currently in development and due out later this year. 8. Question: “What is the pricing model and cost to the user for the O’Reilly tool set?” Answer: O’Reilly’s Atlas platform is currently in beta, and you can sign up for a free trial here: If after the free trial, you are interested in using Atlas, please contact our sales team at for more information. 9. Question: “What about reverting from image (PNG) to MathML?” Answer: There are math OCR tools such as INFTY Reader that can be used to generate accessible math from images, but this generally involves some level of manual proof-reading. For MathML Cloud, OCR is not available (no open source math OCR technology that we’re aware of at present), so a user would need to manually transcribe the math. 10. Question: “Or even EPS? We have In Design files with EPS / image files that we would like to render as MathML.” Answer: EPS files are similar to PNGs – the open source OCR technology for math is not quite there yet so MathML production would require manual intervention. 11. Question: “Are other publishers adopting this?” Answer: Yes, in addition to O’Reilly Media, Hawkes Learning is another early adopter. While MathML Cloud is in beta, there are several others in edTech (LMS systems, authoring platforms) and conversion vendors who have either already integrated MathML Cloud or are reviewing integration methods. 12. Question: “What AT would a student use to hear it?” Answer: MathML Cloud is a tool for publishers to use to generate MathML and other accessible formats for their ebook production process. Once a student has an ebook that contains accessible math, then they can hear it in any way that their particular device supports.  As with any ebook, how the student hears the spoken math will depend on the combination of tools, content sources, settings, and access modes available to the student. DIAGRAM is currently working on a Math Reading Support Matrix that will help readers understand what combination of tools will work best for them in terms of reading math. Please stay tuned via the DIAGRAM Center website for updates later this year. 13. Question: “LaTeX is also accessible and much shorter than the spoken math. So for refreshable braille displays it would be very valuable! Especially for students at school.” Answer: This is a great point and we’ve heard a couple similar requests, primarily from end-users (as opposed to publishers and conversion vendors) in recent weeks. We’re still trying to better understand this use case, so please email us at with more details about this need. We’d be interested to learn more about how the LaTeX would be presented – perhaps as alt text in lieu of the MathSpeak-based prose description generated from the ChromeVox TTS engine? 14. Question: “What tools can we be using to give students access: MathPlayer, screen readers?” Answer: Please stay tuned for updates regarding our Math Reading Support Matrix (prototype) to be released later this year, which is designed to answer this complex question! 15. Question: “Hello! I worked with Volker, Peter (MathJax), and Gerardo on the initial prototype years ago at SRI. Some of these may be too-technical to answer during the talk and others may have more pressing questions but feel free to pick any:
  1. Early SVG outputs used MathJax and rather than using characters, it used paths to draw each glyph. Is that still the case?
  2. Is there support for batched conversions (multiple equations for each API call)?
  3. Do you support an HTML output? Related: is there a way to get ‘simple’ HTML output for things like `x^2+2a*b+c` which can be represented in HTML?
  4. What is MathML Cloud’s support for Content MathML?
  5. Do you handle wrapping equations that are long?”
  1. Yes, MathML Cloud leverages MathJax for SVG rendering and this uses glyphs.
  2. Yes, it is possible to submit a single equation or bulk HTML5 (including several equations), then request the MathML Cloud API to return multiple outputs (learn more at: We’ve also heard of partners who parse a bulk file (non-HTML5 file), then send those through as individual equations over to the API.
  3. Our friends over at MathJax helped answer this one: “I suspect the person asking is after MathJax’s other output option which generates HTML with CSS not SVG. Our next release will provide a new HTML output that can be generated in MathJax-node.” Once the feature is available on MathJax-node (the underlying code that makes MathML Cloud possible), a few tweaks would then need to be made before this feature is directly available through MathML Cloud.
  4. Content MathML is supported, except for so-called strict mode. Since MathML Cloud uses MathJax as its underlying technology, this means MathML Cloud also has the same level of Content MathML support. To date, we have only received Presentational MathML samples from industry partners, but if you are seeing a surge of interest regarding Content MathML and can pass actual samples along to us, please contact
  5. MathJax supports more line-breaking options, but unfortunately, the current state of MathML Cloud does not leverage these capabilities. Currently, MathML Cloud displays the full expression without an option to set limitations on widths.
16. Question: “If instructors have materials in Word, how can we assist them in converting documents to accessible materials?” Answer: To learn more about creating accessible math in Word, please see details about MathType available on the Design Science website: 17. Question: “Are the O’Reilly books EPUB3?” Answer: Yes, O’Reilly publishes ebooks in EPUB 3 format. 18. Question: “Is there integration with D2L?” Answer: To our knowledge, MathML Cloud has not yet been integrated with D2L. If you would like to discuss this further, please contact and we’re happy to help. 19. Question: “Can this be built into any LMS?” Answer: We haven’t encountered any blockers in the handful of conversations we’ve had with LMS providers. MathML Cloud is available both through an API as well as open source code, so it should be able to able to integrate into any LMS. 20. Question: “Are there sample files available for us to test out the reading of math within applications?” Answer: We have some files that we used internally for testing, but we currently don’t have permission to share them publicly because of copyright restrictions on the content. We’re looking to collect a few sample files of various types that will be released with the Math Reading Support Matrix project we’re currently working on. Please let us know if there are file formats beyond .pdf, .doc, .ppt, .html, and .epub for which you are looking for samples. 21. Question: “How would MathML Cloud work with screen readers such as JAWS 16 or Window Eyes?” Answer: MathML Cloud is a production tool, so one wouldn’t use this tool directly with an AT device. The idea is to facilitate production of source content such as EPUB3 files or webpages to include MathML, which can then be made available to devices such as JAWS16 or Window Eyes. Again, though, the file format, reader, and a series of other technology factors will dictate support. Please stay tuned for updates regarding the MathML Reading Support Matrix tool, due out later this year. 22. Question: “So, MathML Cloud uses content authored in LaTeX and renders based on MathSpeak rules. Is it a JavaScript library, similar to (i.e. competes with) MathJax? Has your testing found that you can get math to render well in PC vs Mac, mobile devices, eReaders?” Answer: MathML Cloud was built in collaboration with MathJax and uses MathJax as its underlying technology (so yes, they use the same libraries). Math support on platforms (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, etc.) varies depending on other what other tools are available and the desired access mode (e.g. braille vs. synthetic speech). Please stay tuned for updates regarding the Math Support Matrix project, due out later this year, for specifics on support combinations. Question: “What applications you can use the API to create MathML output?” Answer: MathML Cloud is platform independent and language neutral. As long as an application can talk to a RESTful API, it is able to leverage MathML Cloud’s API and outputs. 23. Question: “You mentioned working with Ed Tech providers, are you able to share which LMS providers you are working with?” Answer: Canvas is the main LMS that we’ve been asked to approach, though discussions have yet to take place. If there are additional LMS providers or if you would like to join the Canvas discussion, please contact us at 24. Question: “How do we contact you? Is there a group, listserv, or other email? Answer: Please send queries on MathML Cloud to Reach Sanders Kleinfeld via Twitter: @sandersk. 25. Question: “Does PrinceXML produce accessible PDFs?” Answer: O’Reilly uses another tool for producing PDF output, so we have limited experience with PrinceXML and can’t speak to its accessibility features. However, per the forums on its site, it does not look like it currently supports generation of accessible PDF: 26. Question: “What is the contact info for the beta users?” Answer: 27. Question: “If I have a Word doc with MathType equations in it, could I save as a web page and somehow put through MathML Cloud to get content accessible via JAWS?” Answer: According to the Design Science website, this seems to be a supported flow and so MathML Cloud would not be necessary in this case. More details available at: notes for details.

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Ideas that work.The DIAGRAM Center is a Benetech initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Cooperative Agreement #H327B100001). Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the U.S. Department of Education.


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