ACTION-195 Contact edu folks re: mathml support


Likely overcome by time and events, this is in response to a comment made
regarding @longdesc by James Craig, which resulted in an ACTION item on me.

The comment suggested that the specification note (non-normative) that for
complex math equations that authors use MathML over an image + @longdesc.

Concern was raised that at the current writing (and continued to this date -
May 23, 2014) support for MathML in user agents and assistive technology
does not meet sufficient enough accessibility support to warrant excluding
the use of image + @longdesc as a viable technique for success.

I contacted 2 well-respected accessibility experts, Sean Keegan (Stanford
University & President of ATHEN - Access Technology Higher Education
Network) and Greg Kraus (North Carolina State University) to solicit from
them the current state of accessibility support for MathML. Both men are
known to be involved specifically with accessibility issues related to

Both respondents noted that overall, support for MathML in browsers, and in
combination with Assistive Technology is far from robust. Both were in
agreement that moving forward, using (and anticipating continued improvement
for MathML support) was the correct response; however both also noted that
today using MathML alone does not provide the support to their students that
they are legally required to provide, and both institutions are using a
combination of MathML and external (non-html) content to provide that

Both Mr. Keegan and Mr. Krause agreed that using an image with @longdesc
*could* be considered a viable technique for success, but both also noted
that the effort required, and the final outcome delivered, would likely not
constitute a viable solution for them, and both were fairly firm in
suggesting that they would not personally adopt such a solution.

Conclusion: neither technique has robust support today, and recommending
either is problematic. Recommendation is to strike any reference to the
suitability or non-suitability of using @longdesc for complex math, but to
avoid suggesting that MathML has sufficient support today.

Selected comments follow:

	"The visual rendering issue is a bit muddy right now in that you
need to rely on MathJax to get full cross-browser support. Using an image of
math would require @alt or @longdesc and *could be* a solution, but
practically is not a real solution. There are issues with @alt in terms of
the language used, specificity of the description, navigation within the
equation, etc. The example you provided of using @longdesc to deliver a
secondary HTML document with MathML content would be an improvement over
just @alt, but IMO, a less than ideal solution. It might be noted as a
success technique, but is not something I would recommend." (S. Keegan -

	"For visual rendering, only Safari and Firefox will visually render
MathML correctly, so MathJax is really a necessity for presenting Math on
the Web. You could present the math as an image and use alt or longdesc to
more accessibly describe it, but you run into problems. If you render in
alt, you have to vocalize that math, in other words, translate the math
equation into how it would be spoken. That is not the easiest thing to do.
If you store it at the target of longdesc, the math will still ultimately be
HTML, so the same browser/MathJax issues come into play. So if you are going
to "display" math in the longdesc, why not just do it in the main page to
being with? Unless they want to store the vocalized math in the longdesc,
but you run into the same problems as before in trying to produce that
text." (G. Kraus 5/7/14)

	"I think of the @alt/@longdesc solution as a workaround hack in an
attempt to deliver MathML, because (I would think) it would be *more work*
to implement such a solution than to just deliver MathML. In any case, I
agree with Greg this might be a technical solution.although far from what I
would want to recommend." (S. Keegan - 5/7/14)

	"To make HMTL-based math accessible requires the use of MathPlayer
from DesignScience. MathPlayer requires IE 9 or less and will not work IE
11. They say it partially works with IE 10. Without MathPlayer the other two
options for consuming accessible math are either converting to a DAISY
format or MS Word." (G. Kraus 5/7/14)

This report closes ACTION 195

John Foliot
Web Accessibility Specialist
W3C Invited Expert - Accessibility
Co-Founder, Open Web Camp

Received on Saturday, 24 May 2014 19:49:43 UTC