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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 (Z39.86-2005) 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 NIMAS-encoded 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 personís 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 ( lists over 20 applications that author or edit MathML. The most popular of these is Design Scienceís 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 plug-in from Design Science. MathPlayer currently integrates with many screen readers including JAWS and Window-Eyes 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.

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