How to Make Math Accessible the DAISY Way
Neil Soiffer, Senior Scientist
Steve Noble, Director of Accessibility Policy
Design Science, Inc.
In 2005, a new version of DAISY (Z39.862005) was approved. This version of
DAISY specifically allows for extensions to the standard. The DAISY Consortium
formed a working group to specify how math should be incorporated into DAISY.
The W3C MathML standard was chosen because it, like the rest of DAISY, is an XML
format and because MathML was specifically designed for universal access.
The added complexity of math accessibility and the earlier lack of a solution
have meant that math accessibility has up to now not been explicitly tied to
accessibility policy such as NIMAS or state textbook laws. Since the draft
regulations for NIMAS specify that the protocols for tagging digital files
should conform to the DAISY specification, it is possible to now include
accessible math in NIMASencoded books. Various State and Federal laws such as
Section 504 and NCLB provide mandates for the effective inclusive education of
students with disabilities, and this creates market pressures to provide
efficient ways to create accessible math textbooks.
What makes math accessible differs depending on a person’s disability. For
individuals who are blind, converting the math into speech is important, as is
the need to convert the math into braille. Perhaps not as obvious is the need to
be able to navigate the math so that a mathematical expression does not have to
be read from start to finish without stopping; navigation allows users to repeat
parts of the expression and explore its structure.
For individuals with low vision, the ability to magnify mathematical
expressions is important. Because math uses smaller fonts for subscripts and
superscripts, even if the math is displayed using the same size font as is used
in the text, it is important to be able to individually magnify expressions that
might contain hard to read subscripts or superscripts. For persons with marginal
visual acuity, audio reinforcement and synchronized highlighting of the math
with the audio can also be of benefit. Synchronized highlighting is useful as
well for persons with certain learning disabilities.
The W3C MathML website (www.w3.org/Math/Software) lists over 20 applications
that author or edit MathML. The most popular of these is Design Science’s
Equation Editor (the math editor in Microsoft Office and many other products)
and its professional version, MathType. With a single click, MathType can
convert a Word document with math into a web page containing MathML. If the text
was authored with the proper tags, the resulting web page is in a NIMAS
compatible format. This web page can be opened in Firefox and Internet Explorer
6 using the free MathPlayer plugin from Design Science. MathPlayer currently
integrates with many screen readers including JAWS and WindowEyes so that the
math is seamlessly read by them. MathPlayer also adds synchronized highlighting
and individual magnification of expressions along with matching the size and
color of the surrounding text. Navigation has been implemented in a development
version of MathPlayer.
Work on MathPlayer is supported in part by a SBIR grant from the National
Science Foundation.
