[Athen] for all you math accessibility guru’s

Sean Keegan skeegan at ccctechcenter.org
Fri Oct 16 23:06:11 PDT 2015

Hi Krista,

Answers below:

> 1) Why does LaTeX not work with adaptive technology?

LaTeX is a programming language for typesetting documents and is presented
in a text format. A person can work in a LaTeX editor and the text content
will be read, but it functions like code. If you understand the code, then
you will understand the equation. It's a bit like looking at HTML code and
being able to envision the web page. So, if you are interacting with the
code view, then screen-readers can read the text string of a LaTeX
equation. When you use LaTeX, you are providing specific instructions for
content (e.g., text, equations, etc.) to be rendered visually in a specific
manner. Once a LaTeX file is compiled and printed, you are no longer
dealing with LaTeX content.

> 2) How would you explain professor about how to make LaTeX accessible?

(aka is the only option to turn into MathML

> and use it in a word document or with HTML)?

Some students who are familiar and/or literate in LaTeX may prefer to use a
LaTeX file directly as the student would be working with the language
directly. I worked with a few students who preferred this interaction as
they had access to the actual equation code. Further, there were several
majors in which students were expected to be literate in LaTeX, regardless
of disability. It was just how that academic community communicated.

LaTeX serves an input format (essentially) and as such is much more compact
and easier to understand than MathML. However, it was not intended to be an
output format and provide the semantic structure of math content - that's a
role MathML provides. LaTeX was intended for authoring documents so as to
then print them out in an accurate manner.

If the student is not familiar with LaTeX and prefers to use an HTML or MS
Word format (depending on the preferred AT), then you will need to jump
through a few steps. If you want to use MS Word with NVDA, then MathType is
the easiest tool to use to copy and paste LaTeX into MS Word and use
MathType to convert these to math objects. Alternatively, if you want to
use HTML, then you can embed LaTeX math equations in an HTML file and use
MathJax to convert the LaTeX into MathML content.

> 3) What do you use to go from a LaTeX-based document to a MathML one?

You could use MathJax or MathType as conversion tools. MathJax if you are
dealing with web pages and MathType if you are dealing with MS Word. There
may be others, but these are the two I was most familiar with during

> 4) Do you know of any updates about making math accessible within a PDF?

I believe MathML is supposed to be part of the next PDF/UA specification. I
have heard rumors of PDF documents with accessible math equations, but have
not seen one yet. Of note is that even if MathML becomes part of the PDF/UA
specification, AT will still need to do some work to support such

> 5) If you got to stand in front of all math faculty at your campus, what

would you want to share with them?

While I think there has been some progress in terms of math accessibility,
I don't think there is one "great" solution as it depends on what AT a
student is using to interact with math content. In many cases, there is
some level of alternate format conversion involved. That said, what I think
does tend to work well at this time is the following:
a) Using MS Word+MathType to author math content. This does give a lot of
flexibility in terms of interacting with the content directly or converting
it into another format (e.g., HTML, DAISY, etc.). A student can use
NVDA+MathPlayer+MathType to interact directly with math equations in MS
Word or the student can use the Central Access Reader to read text/math

b) However, math faculty tend to prefer LaTeX and so the option is to
provide access to the .tex files so these may be accessed directly or
converted by an alt format team into the desired format.

c) If I had an audience, I may even go so far as to say that the
hand-scribbled and scanned PDF solution sets are really not helpful if
trying to convert into an alternate format (you know, the solution sets in
which it looks like a felt-tip marker was used upside-down and in a mirror
to write out the answers). I'm not saying every math professor does it, but
there are certainly a few...it's just painful for everyone.

Not sure if I answered your questions sufficiently, so feel free to ask

Take care,
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