Solutions for the accessibility community

At Wiris, we believe math can and should be made accessible. The unfortunate reality, however, is that virtually all math in educational content and assessments is not accessible to many students with disabilities. We believe this is a problem that needs fixing and that it can be fixed. We are committed to working with the accessibility community to make math fully accessible in the near future.

We will be adding more information to this section of our documentation soon; please check back for updates or write us at support@wiris.com.

Contents of this page

Terms defined

  • Math accessibility. We often use the terms access and accessible in various ways, depending upon the context of our discussion. It is not uncommon to hear someone talk about a document being "accessible," for example, meaning its content was easy to comprehend or perhaps meaning the reader could identify with the author's points. When applied to mathematics, the term commonly means capable of being used or seen. These basic definitions are useful for building an understanding of the term accessibility as it relates to people with disabilities, and specifically to the concept of what we call math accessibility.
  • Comparable access. One of the fundamental principles of information accessibility is expressed in the language of the Section 508 statute: that individuals with disabilities must "have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of the information and data by such members of the public who are not individuals with disabilities." Comparable access to and use of information in electronic formats has been understood to mean that individuals with disabilities who use assistive technologies such as screen enlargement, synthetic speech, or speech dictation will be able to effectively utilize and benefit from these electronic formats on par with the way that people without disabilities use standard computer displays, keyboards, and mice.

Understanding comparable access

The concept of accessibility to mathematical information must also be understood within the framework of comparable access. Although basic mathematical information can be expressed using the alphanumeric characters found on the common computer keyboard, one does not have to go very far in the complexity of math to run into issues. The common usage of elements such as superscripts and square root symbols, for instance, will typically be inaccessible to a blind person using synthetic speech unless this information is properly embedded in the digital content to provide for accessibility.

MathML

To achieve accessibility for mathematical content, MathType uses Mathematical Markup Language (MathML), which goes much farther than images toward true comparable access to math. MathML is an XML application for describing mathematical notation and capturing both its structure and content. Using MathML enables mathematics to be served, received, and processed in digital environments just as HTML has enabled this functionality for literary text. Furthermore, using MathML provides for a standard approach to content tagging and information structure which can make mathematical information available to assistive technology in a way that is comparable to standard visual access.

Using MathML provides not only comparable access to math content for students with disabilities, but gives all students access to rich math content with support for enhanced learning delivery modes. Equations authored in MathML can be displayed onscreen with highlighting that moves in sync with synthetic speech, providing students with multi-modal visual and aural learning support. MathML also provides the capacity to allow students to visually and aurally "walk through" various parts of an extended equation at their own pace. These capabilities will aid all students as they learn math concepts.

Thus by using MathML, MathType creates math that is truly "capable of being used or seen" by all people — even by those who cannot "see" in the traditional sense of the word, but who depend on assistive technology to access information. And just as physical structures are made accessible by the inclusion of standardized design features, documents containing mathematical information can be made accessible by using MathML, a standardized digital design feature providing unrestricted comparable access to math for people with — and without — disabilities.

Further information on MathType accessibility

  • Math Speech: ClearSpeak.ETS logo This project was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R324A110355 to the Educational Testing Service.

    This project's goals:
    1. Create rules for synthetic speech for math expressions typical of high school-level Algebra that produce speech that is similar to speech used in typical classrooms. This style is called ClearSpeak.
    2. Create the means for content-authors and content-users to customize features of ClearSpeak to suit the needs of a student, class, or occasion.
    3. Create the means for content-users to use the keyboard to navigate a math expression as it is spoken by the computer.
    4. Create the means for math expressions to be spoken in ClearSpeak (including its customized settings) using screen readers within Microsoft Word and elsewhere.