W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-ig@w3.org > July to September 2003

Re: Musings: MathML and Accessibility

From: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@sidar.org>
Date: Wed, 13 Aug 2003 12:53:05 +1000
Cc: WAI-IG <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
To: Joe Clark <joeclark@joeclark.org>
Message-Id: <431D71D1-CD39-11D7-AC50-000A958826AA@sidar.org>
This guy wrote, in July,

   alt="" may pass the W3C Validator , but is still isn’t accessible.


   I doubt there are any screen readers out there that grock MathML

I have no doubt that he is a smart guy, but he seems to be less than an 
expert on accessibility. True, lynx doesn't handle MathML. Nor is it 
useful for chemistry or music. It handles documents of the kind that 
can be sensibly encoded in HTML. It doesn't even handle XML in general, 
which is readily used for specific document types (invoices, particular 
types of company document, etc), let alone something as specialised as 

Actually, it seems he is right that MathML is the sensible way to 
encode maths, and there are several ways of accessing it through 
speech. One is to use an XSLT to transform it to TeX/LaTeX and use 
Aster to read that. Another is to use IBM's Techexplorer (a browser 
designed specifically for this type of content), which can provide 
speech output through ViaVoice. Another is to use a math-processing 
program such as mathematica with a screen reader.

The real difficulty turns out to be in producing braille. There are a 
number of people doing this around the world, wrestling with the 
differences in braille usage (because originally standardisation didn't 
seem that important), and making steady progress.

On the other hand, MathML lends itself to production of diagrams, etc. 
using common math processing tools - learning to recognise a curve that 
makes sense for an equation no longer involves the hours of 
hand-plotting points that I had to do as a kid, in much the same way as 
understanding logarithmic tables is no longer necessary for many 
real-world applications, since calculators are cheaper and more 

Specific to accessibility of mathematics for blind people, a new list 
has just been created - there is an announcement to the blinux list 
which is archived at 
and the home page for the group itself is at 



On Wednesday, Aug 13, 2003, at 06:38 Australia/Canberra, Joe Clark 

> <http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/archives/000199.html>
> <quoth>
> MathML and Accessibility
> [...]
>    So right now, the recommendation to use MathML for accessibility is
>    just ... wishful thinking. I'm using it because it's the only 
> sensible
>    was to put math on the web. But accessible? Not for the foreseeable
>    future.
> </quoth>
> And you ain't seen nothin' yet till you've looked at a MathML page in
> Lynx. Cf. 
> <http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/archives/000193.html>.
Charles McCathieNevile                          Fundación Sidar
charles@sidar.org                                http://www.sidar.org
Received on Tuesday, 12 August 2003 22:54:10 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.1 : Tuesday, 13 October 2015 16:21:25 UTC