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user agents, screen readers, and math

From: Paul Topping <pault@dessci.com>
Date: Thu, 6 Jun 2013 18:25:13 +0000
To: "w3c-wai-ig@w3.org" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>, "wai@w3.org" <wai@w3.org>, "allanj@tsbvi.edu" <allanj@tsbvi.edu>, "po@trace.wisc.edu" <po@trace.wisc.edu>, "lorettaguarino@google.com" <lorettaguarino@google.com>, "jeanne@w3.org" <jeanne@w3.org>, "cooper@w3.org" <cooper@w3.org>
CC: Neil Soiffer <neils@dessci.com>
Message-ID: <B6C5B1ABA88AF446821B281774E6DB71243C04@FERMAT.corp.dessci>

Several people from my company (Design Science) have been involved in the W3C Math WG and, in particular, math accessibility: myself, Neil Soiffer, and Robert Miner (deceased). We have also been involved in the AT industry, providing s/w to convert math (MathML) to speech and braille. To this point we have been supplying this functionality as part of our MathPlayer plugin for Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which adds MathML rendering (visual and aural) to that browser.

The reason for my email is that we seem to be a crossroads with how AT s/w works within a user agent. (See http://accessibility.oit.ncsu.edu/blog/2013/05/31/screen-readers-at-a-crossroads/.) Until now, screen readers have mostly worked with browsers as a platform-specific plugin. As you know, browser plugins are now deprecated for security and reliability reasons. And they do not fit in with the world of mobile devices. As far as I know, 3rd party screen readers are currently shut out of the mobile AT business. AT users must rely solely on facilities provided by the OS vendor for their device, usually Google, Apple or Microsoft.

Since the W3C's HTML5 effort can be partly characterized as bringing virtually everything (camera, GPS, local storage, etc.) into the standards-based HTML5 environment, it seems natural to bring screen readers and their interaction with the DOM and UI under that umbrella as well. In my reading of the various WAI initiatives I have yet to discover anything that seems to address this. There is a lot of material on how UI should operate for accessibility and how accessibility information should be encoded in content but nothing on how screen readers and other helpers should integrate with the user agent. Everything seems to assume that how screen readers and browsers discover and interact with each other is left to AT vendors and browser makers to work out amongst themselves. Perhaps I am looking in the wrong place?

In our particular area of mathematics accessibility, we would like to be able to provide our math-to-speech/braille functionality via JavaScript APIs and web services. We envision a world in which AT s/w can register itself with a user agent (browser) and our math s/w can also register itself as a service with either the user agent, the AT s/w, or both. And, of course, this would all be done in a standards-compliant, non-proprietary, non-browser-specific way.

If you have pointers to any existing standards efforts that address these areas, we would appreciate it. If you think there's a better venue in which to ask these questions, this would also be appreciated. Thanks for your time and attention.

Paul Topping
President & CEO

Design Science, Inc.
"How Science Communicates"
Makers of MathType, MathFlow, MathDaisy, MathPlayer, Equation Editor
Received on Thursday, 6 June 2013 18:25:45 UTC

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