Q&A: Tools for Creating Accessible Math

“Tools for Creating Accessible Math” – A DIAGRAM webinar presented by Geoff Freed, Bryan Gould, and Steve Noble

Q & A Summary – July 18, 2013

See the closed-caption recording of the webinar.

Download the PowerPoint slides.

  1. QUESTION:“Do you need to be a math expert to convert math?”

    ANSWER: It is necessary to be familiar with the math you are converting to ensure that it’s being done properly. It’s not necessarily an “automatic” process.

  2. QUESTION: “Does the developer need to define the speech styles or is that done on the user end?”

    ANSWER: Speech styles are defined by the user, using setting specific to the application that is reading the math.In MathPlayer, for example, users can right-click on the equation, choose MathPlayer Settings and change speech styles from a dialog.

  3. QUESTION: “Does MathML display in Internet Explorer?”

    ANSWER: MathML will display in IE 9 (currently not in IE 10, though) when the MathPlayer plug-in is installed. It is possible to display math equations in IE 10 if MathJax is used on the server end, but MathPlayer will not be able to interact with the page and provide speech to the screen reader.

  4. QUESTION: “Do you propose that students and or staff learn MathML?”

    ANSWER: Since it’s likely that most students or teachers will be using an authoring tool (MathType, Firemath, TeXmacs or iBooks Author, to name but a few) to write equations and export MathML, and won’t be writing it by hand using a text editor, it isn’t necessary to know the markup from start to finish.Having a basic understanding of MathML wouldn’t hurt, however. Take a look at the W3C’s math activity or “A Gentle Introduction to MathML” for starters.

  5. QUESTION: “Why does math need to be converted for students with learning disabilities?”

    ANSWER:There is a common assumption among many educators that sighted students with reading disorders and other types of learning disabilities only need to use text-to-speech technology when they have to read literary text.However, research studies have documented the fact that these students have even more trouble decoding numbers and symbolic math expressions than they do deciphering plain text. See the IDTJ article that discusses some of these findings: “KY Math Etext Project – A Case Study: Math Curriculum Digital Conversion and Implementation.”

  6. QUESTION: “I have seen sometimes the MathPlayer right click menu conflict with the MathJax right click menu. How do you prevent this?”

    ANSWER: Users can tell MathJax to defer to MathPlayer for menu or mouse events: right-click on the equation, choose Math Renderer > MathPlayer > Let MathPlayer Handle.

  7. QUESTION: “What about LD software reading these equations–I know some work with MathPlayer and IE but what about other browsers?”

    ANSWER: Many LD reading applications, like Read & Write Gold, Kurzweil 3000 and WYNN, will read math expressions, but they all depend upon using IE with MathPlayer installed to get the math speech. There are standalone reader add-ons like FireVox (for Firefox) and ChromeVox (for Chrome) that will read MathML expressions in those browsers, but that is about all the functionality that is now currently supported.

  8. QUESTION: “I thought you said MathJax allowed screen readers to read MathML?”

    ANSWER: MathJax will allow screen-reader users to hear equations, but only if the MathPlayer plug-in is installed in IE 9. See this MathJax page for more information.

  9. QUESTION: “Is there a server program or a javascript library to generate mathspeak from mathml? (as support limited to old IE version on 1 OS with additional plugin installed is not adequate for our use cases

    ANSWER: The closest thing to a server-based utility which could serve MathSpeak from MathML is the SpeechStream toolbar from Texthelp. It currently supplies the Simple Speech rules, but Texthelp can switch the rules to MathSpeak. This is really a product for publishers or website owners to integrate, however.  [Note: the MathML demo on this site is incorrect. Texthelp should have it fixed soon.] [Participant also recommends TeXmacs]

  10. QUESTION: “I use MathML for equations, but what do I do about graphs?”

    ANSWER: Accessible graphs is a whole webinar on its own. Begin with NCAM’s STEM description guidelines. You might also be interested in the online equation graphing tool for 6th-12th graders called MathTrax.

  11. QUESTION:”Can MathML be authored using Dreamweaver?”

    You can use MathType to author MathML from within DreamWeaver. See a tip sheet on accessible math with Dreamweaver on the Design Science web site for more information.

  12. QUESTION: “I have found ‘save as DAISY’ to have some real problems with MathType. Are there any good tutorials?”

    ANSWER: Start with Microsoft’s documentation: for Word 2007/2003for Word 2010.  There’s also a YouTube tutorial: See part 1 and part 2. Finally, try the Save As DAISY Microsoft forum at the DAISY consortium.

  13. QUESTION: “How do you deal with odd MathML rendering issues in MathJax? For example I have an equation with multiple multiplication signs in an <mo> tag(<mml:mo>&#xd7;</mml:mo>). In some places the multiplication sign has spaces around it and sometimes it doesn’t when rendered by MathJax.”

    ANSWER: That sounds like something to bring to the attention of the developers at MathJax.They offer several options for reporting problems.

  14. QUESTION: “Of the various MathML authoring tools…which are the most accessible to authors (people writing the MathML) with print disabilities?”

    ANSWER: Some are more accessible than others. Many of the ones we’ve looked at, including MathType and Firemath, are mostly or entirely keyboard accessible. Firemath, however, is not very accessible to screen-reader users,whereas MathType offers some support for screen readers. The WAVES Toolbar, which we briefly discussed during the session, will be completely keyboard accessible and will provide voice support for all commands

  15. QUESTION: “Other than Pearson, are other textbook publishers using MathML?”

    ANSWER: Not at the scale that Pearson is going for. We have heard of some higher-education specialty titles with MathML but nothing in K-12 or in large usage.

  16. QUESTION: “As mentioned earlier, there are lots of ‘bars’ in Mathematics, at least seven are horizontal and could be used for ‘minus’ – are there any moves towards consistency of input?”

    ANSWER: Some specific bar symbols are actually slightly different symbols which look very similar. These actually have different unicode values (for example, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dash). In such cases, the speech rules can be set to speak a specific symbol in a specific way. In other cases, MathPlayer can use heuristics to try to determine the intended meaning of the symbol based on surrounding symbols.

  17. QUESTION: “As tech support for our braillists/teachers, where do I begin to learn more to help them (tutorials, etc.)?”

    ANSWER: The “Access2Science” website is one place to look for support documentation about creating math braille from digital content. There are also a number of tutorials on the ViewPlus website. Although getting a bit dated now, there is also a good collection of resources on the website of the Texas School for
    the Blind.

  18. QUESTION: “Is Math ML something you need to install into your device or purchase? Math Player? How do you get it to use it?”

    ANSWER: MathML itself is a mark-up language, so you need a browser or other user agent that can understand the mark-up in order to display it properly. For example, Safari, Firefox and Opera will display MathML without any plug-ins or add-ons.IE 9 requires that MathPlayer be installed in order to display MathML. On the other hand, any browser will display MathML if MathJax is used by the author to display the equations. Some Digital Talking Book (DTB) readers, such as EasyReader and ReadHear, will display math,as will some e-book readers, such as iBooks.

  19. QUESTION: “My main area of work concerns Math(s) and Braille here in the UK. During manual transcription to Braille, extra brackets may be inserted to avoid ambiguity – will current systems include and voice these?”

    ANSWER: The question relates to the practice of adding extra brackets by a human braille transcriber in cases where the expression might be considered ambiguous without them. A person would not be listening to manually transcribed braille, of course. However, one can certainly manually add extra brackets to the MathML code for specific expressions, and if that is done then the synthetic speech application will voice them. If that is what the questioner means, then the answer would be yes.

  20. QUESTION: “Has anyone come up with a way to scan an equation and convert automatically into MathML?”

    ANSWER: In general, no, but there is one application called Infty Reader that will scan and convert text into MathML. However, it has a high error rate so human review is required to do quality assurance. (This question was discussed at the very end of the webinar, starting at about minute 56.


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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