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Re: Musings: MathML and Accessibility

From: B.K. DeLong <bkdelong@pobox.com>
Date: Wed, 13 Aug 2003 13:40:15 -0400
Message-Id: <>
To: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@sidar.org>, Joe Clark <joeclark@joeclark.org>
Cc: WAI-IG <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
At 12:53 PM 8/13/2003 +1000, Charles McCathieNevile wrote:
>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.

We've been trying to tackle TeX, MathML, PDFs and accessibility here at the 
OpenCourseWare project. We're about to launch 500 courses at the end of 
Sept. and have about 86,762 PDF files - the majority of which were created 
from a TeX source.

Based on our work with MIT's ATIC lab (http://web.mit.edu/atic), it's been 
more accessible to convert these TeX file to PDF than HTML as the latter 
produces hundreds of graphic files for each mathematical or scientific 
equation. We've even started a campus-wide committee to look at the 
accessibility of PDFs.

I'm hoping that Acrobat 6.0's XML functionality will allow us to embed 
MathML converted from the TeX files into PDFs (since if we did MathML in 
HTML we'd still have to have a graphical representation to work on older 
browsers). My main concern is retaining the contextuality of the 
information and secondly, allowing for screenreaders to read the math.

I've also taken a look at MathSpeak (http://www.mathspeak.org/) at the 
suggestion of the ATIC lab. Lloyd posted something about it in early June. 
It's built-in to LiveMath's MathEQ 4.0 which we received a trial copy of. 
MathSpeak takes a mathematical equation you create in MathEQ and creates a 
verbal textual equivalent.

For example, the graphic at this location: 

Produces a ALT tag text that reads: integral from lower limit negative 1 to 
upper limit 1 of integrand  x to the 2 power plus 3x plus 2 dx

This is excellent, in my opinion and really goes to make graphical versions 
of mathematical and scientific equations accessible. Unfortunately, MathEQ 
is incredibly non-intuitive and if you're not a math person, it is 
impossible to recreate equations visually and would be faster to type out 
the text oneself. As far as we could tell, it did not come with any sort of 
instructions and its claims of producing "special HTML tags" were not 

Now -if I could give our math & engineering professors a set of guidelines 
for accessible source documents (i.e. TeX) that produce clean and 
accessible XHTML + MathML...I'd be a happy camper.

B.K. DeLong
Web Production Specialist
MIT OpenCourseWare


+1.617.797.2472 (cell)
Received on Wednesday, 13 August 2003 13:42:11 UTC

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