Network for Inclusive Distance Education


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Physics Lab Haptic Pendulum Project A-Prompt Music Notation
Interactive Learning Tools MathML Project

MathML Accessibility Project

Update, 04.04:
The ATRC has conducted an informal evaluation of a new system, MathPlayer. We have found this system to be an excellent step in the right direction, potentially a future solution of the presentation problem. MathPlayer is a screen-reader friendly product for the display of MathML in webpages, working on Windows with Internet Explorer.
MathPlayer Main Site
MathPlayer Accessibility Notes

There are many obstacles to effectively displaying mathematical expressions on the web and most current solutions (such as using GIF images to represent math equations) remain inaccessible to people with disabilities.

Mathematical notation is not only quite complex it is also constantly evolving. Mathematicians continually invent new notations to present innovative concepts and ideas, but current accessibility tools (such as screen readers) are not capable of reproducing these symbols. To further complicate matters, the meaning of a mathematical symbol can change depending upon the context in which it is used.

Discovering ways of displaying traditional mathematical notation within a browser presents many unique challenges and does not even address how to effectively communicate the information to people with a visual impairment.

The University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (ATRC) is developing a Mathematical Audio Browser (MAB) designed to make math notation fully accessible to individuals with disabilities. This endeavour was part of the ATRC's Network for Inclusive Distance Education (NIDE) project funded by Networks Ontario's Telecommunications Access Partnerships (TAP) program.

The MAB application will be able to produce audio output for all web pages that include mathematical expressions created with MathML. MathML is a World Wide Web (W3C) initiative capable of displaying virtually any mathematical notation. (Current screen reader applications are not capable of rendering this type of information.)

Because of the complexity of math expressions, the MAB will add another dimension to audio output by including inflection with synthesized speech through voice pitch, rate of speech, etc. A mathematical notation containing superscripts, for example, may be indicated by a higher pitched voice.

In addition, MAB users will be able to further clarify the audio presentation by applying specific mathematical rules to equations within a web page. If, for example, the user realizes a document contains arithmetic, a client would be able to load a set of mathematical guidelines to ensure that symbols are interpreted for arithmetic expressions.

When sighted users examine a mathematical equation, they are able to separate content visually and break it down into manageable chunks. Those relying on speech synthesizers, however, do not have this type of control. Because listening is essentially a passive process, it can be very difficult to extract information from a vast amount of data – especially complex data like mathematics.

The MAB will allow users to control the pace and order of reading mathematical notations. The application will include a mechanism for dividing content into smaller, logically ordered blocks of information that can be more readily processed by listeners. Users will also have control over which elements of the mathematical expression are re-read and which can be bypassed.

With regard to the future, subsequent versions of the MAB will include more sophisticated ways of scanning a mathematical equation and users will have expanded sets of mathematical rules available to apply to web documents.

The ATRC also conducted a survey of existing tools used to create or render mathematical notations. Currently, a tool capable of presenting or authoring MathML for vision-impaired users does not exist and MathML mark-up remains inaccessible to most people with disabilities.

The survey did, however, identify a viable method of presenting mathematical notation under another mark-up language, and uncovered a promising new approach currently under development.

MathTalk is a notation system that not only allows users to access and author mathematical formulas and equations, but also provides a mechanism for performing algebraic operations.

Developed by Metroplex Voice Computing, MathTalk includes a Braille and speech-enabled interface for the visually impaired. Braille output may be sent to an Embossed Printer or a Refreshable Braille Display.

With its extensive array of symbols, MathTalk is capable of meeting the needs of most students at the undergraduate level in mathematical sciences.

EzMath is an approach to math notation currently being developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The system has a working mechanism for authoring that utilizes linear notation to present equations and formulas that can then be converted into MathML.

EzMath notation is capable of producing a comprehensive list of math symbols, including those used in early undergraduate courses in Calculus, Linear Algebra and Statistics. Additionally, it offers limited support for Logical expressions and Theorem-Proof notation.

At present, EzMath requires a cumbersome plug-in to display math notation in a browser. In addition, a routine to translate standard MathML into EzMath does not currently exist.

Related Work

The following people or organizations are involved in work similar to the goals of this project:

Related Links

The following are links to descriptions and specifications for technologies mentioned above.

Contact Information

The Adaptive Technology Resource Centre

J.P. Robarts Library, First Floor, University of Toronto Information Commons
130 St. George St. Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 3H1
Telephone: (416) 978-4360 Fax: (416) 971-2629

For additional information please e-mail Laurie Harrison