[Blindmath] Proprosal for making math more accessible

Paul Wright paulrite at math.umd.edu
Fri Jun 3 16:08:11 CDT 2011

Hi Everyone,

Sorry for getting in a little late, but I wanted to respond to the
discussion from last week regarding making math more accessible.

I have limited experience with MathML, and so I can't critique it
directly, but it seems to me that there might be better ways of at least
substantially addressing the current difficulties.  Furthermore, I agree
with Ken:  True accessibility means that the math documents everyone
creates are automatically accessible.  Otherwise, we are trying to live
in a "separate but equal" universe, and I personally don't want to be

Here are the relevant points to what I have been thinking about:

1.  Virtually all serious mathematical typesetting is done using some
variant of TeX.  Implementations such as LaTeX are not hard to use, and
these days you can plug TeX equations into many standard word processing
documents. TeX is the basis for everything from advanced physics papers
to most of the math textbooks.  If you want serious math written by the
general population to be accessible, you have to deal with TeX based
code.  Furthermore, TeX is open-source and free.

2.  TeX was written to convert ASCII code into beautiful math equations
on paper and screens.  However, the problem of converting the same code 
into speech has also (more or less) already been solved by Emacspeak. My
understanding is that this is also open-source.  However, Emacsspeak
must deal with the original .tex document, because math equations
usually end up as images in things like PDF files.  This is highly
inconvenient, because most people don't distribute their source files,
which can look quite ugly and come in many pieces. 

3.  Here is what I would like to see happen:  TeX implementations need
to be slightly rewritten so that, when they generate, say, a PDF file,
they include the source code of each equation as a tag.  Then a plug-in
for screen reading software, based on AsTeR (the basis for Emacspeak),
could be made.  When installed, whenever your screen reading software
came to an equation, it would switch to AsTeR and read the equation in a
pleasant way.

I know that I am leaving out some details, but to me this seems like the
simplest and cheapest way to make most of the math documents being
generated today accessible.

Any thoughts?


  Paul Wright
  Department of Mathematics
  University of Maryland

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