[BlindMath] Your experience of learning LaTeX

Godfrey, Jonathan A.J.Godfrey at massey.ac.nz
Thu Dec 3 20:18:06 UTC 2020


I started my LaTeX journey in 1998 or thereabouts.

There was no perfectly accessible LaTeX editor at the time among the tools being used by sighted people specifically for LaTeX documents so I ended up using a standard text editor.

Not having the shortcuts at my disposal was a curse and then a blessing as it forced me to learn things my sighted peers didn't know.

The target outcome file was always a problem. This was when we didn't go straight to a pdf file even, but had to create a postscript file and then print to a pdf file.

Far too many years later, I discovered tex4ht, courtesy of discussions on this list as it happens. Finally, I had a tool that meant I could start with the plain text files and end up with something quite readable, being the HTML pages. I totally changed my workflow to build int the HTML output immediately.

At about the same time, I was introduced to an editor that did work well with screen readers; the problem was of course that my own solutions were so deeply ingrained that I tinkered with it, but never fully embraced it.

I'm still at a loss as to why we (blind people) persist in using a tool that is specifically designed to create an A4 page as against HTML. When it comes time to fit the content into the page layout construct (increasingly rare I add) this can be left to the very end of the process.

This brings me to my last point. I don't use LaTeX anymore. I'm not ruled by the page layout mentality because we deliver practically all content via online documents not dead trees. Use of HTML means my students are now in control of the printed pages' layout if they do ever decide to go that way. They are thoroughly in control of the on-screen experience with HTML.

So, given my life is so heavily dominated by HTML, the use of LaTeX in its full glory is somewhat diminished. I'm wanting HTML, so I use the tools that give me HTML as the primary product and the additional pdf if ever I need it. 

I said "full glory" because so many of the things I need come from my knowledge of LaTeX, mostly being the expression of mathematical formulae.

I now recommend that people learn markdown instead of LaTeX. Even our graduate students are using markdown for their doctoral theses. They can build any LaTeX stuff into their work to get the layout things going nicely for the pdf, but in the meantime they're doing 99.9% of the work in a layout-free mindset. This is of course one of the main points mentioned to most LaTeX novices who were more accustomed to a WYSIWYG way of working.

In closing, I'd like to be a little flippant. It ahs been said that NZ is ten years behind the rest of the world; a common response is yes, but we're still 2 hours ahead of Australia. I introduced myself to a group of blind people as Jonathan, and I come from the future.

Jonathan G
Proudly safe  in NZ, 

-----Original Message-----
From: BlindMath <blindmath-bounces at nfbnet.org> On Behalf Of Jonathan Fine via BlindMath
Sent: Friday, 4 December 2020 8:43 AM
To: Blind Math list for those interested in mathematics <blindmath at nfbnet.org>
Cc: Jonathan Fine <jfine2358 at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [BlindMath] Your experience of learning LaTeX

Hi Jason J

You wrote

In recommending resources to others, I have found the following to be
> especially useful:
> Formatting Information:
> http://latex.silmaril.ie/formattinginformation/
> LaTeX2E unofficial reference manual:
> https://latexref.xyz/

I know Peter Flynn and Karl Berry, the principal authors of these two
resources. I think it is noteworthy that both use a structured document
(XML / Texinfo) as the source from which the documentation is produced.

I'm now much less interested in comments on the three URLs I posted. I am
very interested in more resources such as the above, and disseminating the
accessibility benefits of this approach.

with best wishes

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