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:
- Communicating an audio description of the math to a screen reader;
- Allowing navigation of the expression using the keyboard and communicating
this information to a screen reader;
- Communicating a Braille description of the math for use on an on-line
Braille display and for embossing;
- 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;
- 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
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.