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Making Mathematics Accessible

According to a survey by Microsoft, 17% of computer users have a mild visual difficulty or impairment, and 9% have a severe visual difficulty or impairment.  The use of images such as GIFs to display mathematics in Web pages makes those pages difficult or impossible to read for people with visual impairments.

To address this problem, Design Science has started a project to make mathematics encoded by MathML be accessible to those with visual impairments.  MathML is the W3C recommendation for encoding math in Web pages.  A primary goal of this work is make the mathematics accessible to the tools used by those with visual impairments.  The results of this research are being incorporated into MathPlayer.

We have identified five areas of focus for our work:

  1. Communicating an audio description of the math to a screen reader;
  2. Allowing navigation of the expression using the keyboard and communicating this information to a screen reader;
  3. Communicating a Braille description of the math for use on an on-line Braille display and for embossing;
  4. Adding linebreaking to each application, so that larger fonts needed by low vision users will linewrap in a meaningful way and be visible on the screen or not run off the edge of a printout;
  5. Synchronizing highlighting of a subexpression with what is being spoken to help people with certain learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

MathPlayer 2 contains a demonstration of our ideas for communicating an audio description of the math to a screen reader.  Most screen readers will work with MathPlayer 2  (JAWS users need version 5.00.809 or later).  The right button menu item "speak expression" can be used by those who do not use a screen reader but are interested in a demonstration of MathPlayer's speech capabilities.  Please see MathPlayer's accessibility page for more information.  MathPlayer 2 also contains MathZoom, which allows individual expressions to be enlarged, so fine details can be easily read.  MathPlayer has always supported matching the font size of expressions with those of the surrounding text.  This allows people who use large fonts for text to see large fonts for mathematics also.

Further Information and Resources


This work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program under Grant No. 0340439.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of Design Science and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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