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Re: Math in the Page Authoring Guidelines

From: John Gardner <gardner@physics.orst.edu>
Date: Wed, 09 Dec 1998 09:44:11 -0900
Message-Id: <3.0.3.32.19981209094411.015380f0@physics.orst.edu>
To: Jon Gunderson <jongund@staff.uiuc.edu>, nir@nirdagan.com (Nir Dagan), w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Cc: "T. V. Raman" <raman@Adobe.COM>, gardner@physics.orst.edu
There hasn't been much attention paid to math lately.  I am glad it is
coming around again.  Most in-line use of math could be adequately
represented today by writing words in the Alt tag.  A good screen reader
will read the alt tag smoothly.

Personally I do not believe that it is possible for an author today to do
anything except write a longdesc word description of displayed equations
that would make them usable by people with severe print disabilities.  And
I am dubious that long complicated equations would be very usable in word
form.  This is only "better than nothing".  

It may not even be better than nothing.  I do not believe that either
Netscape or Internet Explorer has yet implemented longdesc.  PW Webspeak
has.  At least they say they have, but I haven't found anything to test it
on yet.

MathML is certainly capable of providing accessible math.  My group has
already submitted a proposal to the NSF to make a mathML plug-in that would
render mathML in a linear form compatible with screen readers.  This could
be done quickly but speaking linear math is clumsier than one would like.
Our next step would be to make a self-voicing plug-in that can render math
more naturally.

My concern is that I do not see any groundswell of acceptance of mathML.
Friends tell me that the visual rendering is currently really ugly, and
nobody wants to put ugly things on the web when they have the choice.  So
mathML may soon be accessible to blind people, but if it isn't accessible
to sighted people it won't be used.

The authoring guideline is simple.  Use mathML.  However you can't expect
authors to follow that guideline until browsers support mathML acceptably.  

John Gardner

At 09:48 AM 12/09/1998 -0600, Jon Gunderson wrote:
>My main concern related to math is that I would like to point to the
>guidelines for faculty on the UIUC campus for how to make accessible WWW
>documents.  At least 30 to 40 percent of the instructors on campus use some
>type of simple math and/or complex math in their WWW documents.  There is
>no mention of how to represent mathematical expressions in the current
>guidelines.  Currently most instructors use images, which we know are not
>very accessible.  Since educators may be the first group forced (due to
>educational legislation in the USA) to use the guidelines, I think it would
>be important to have a technique or section the clearly indicates what to
>do now and in the future for math with some examples to demonstrate.  
>
>John Gardner at Oregon State or T. V. Raman at Adobe may be a good
>reference for this issue, if the working group wants to pursue it.
>
>Now:
>Some type of alt text or longdesc that represents math?
>
>Future:
>MathML ?
>
>Jon
>
>Jon Gunderson, Ph.D., ATP
>Coordinator of Assistive Communication and Information Technology
>Division of Rehabilitation - Education Services
>University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign
>1207 S. Oak Street
>Champaign, IL 61820
>
>Voice: 217-244-5870
>Fax: 217-333-0248
>E-mail: jongund@uiuc.edu
>WWW:	http://www.staff.uiuc.edu/~jongund
>	http://www.als.uiuc.edu/InfoTechAccess
>
Received on Wednesday, 9 December 1998 12:46:07 GMT

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