[BlindMath] Inaccessible math books

Nikita nikitamailings at yandex.com
Mon Mar 1 16:20:20 UTC 2021

Hi Susan,
Why don't you use InftyReader in your work?
InftyReader is OCR software for mathematical document. See
Have you tried this tool? Doesn't it help automate at least some of your
Best regards, Nikita.

-----Original Message-----
From: BlindMath <blindmath-bounces at nfbnet.org> On Behalf Of Susan Kelmer via
Sent: Monday, March 01, 2021 6:54 PM
To: Blind Math list for those interested in mathematics
<blindmath at nfbnet.org>
Cc: Susan Kelmer <Susan.Kelmer at colorado.edu>
Subject: Re: [BlindMath] Inaccessible math books

As an alternate format manager for a very big university, it just pains me
to see the struggle with accessible math.  We regularly convert math
textbooks from PDF format from the publisher into MathML and Braille for our
students and for clients who contract our services.  Those clients are
usually other colleges and universities who do not have a production
facility.  We have a full production facility.

That being said, the production of MathML is not just clicking a few buttons
and collecting the output.  Math conversion takes hours, many hours.  A full
calculus book may take us 250+ hours to complete.  That is for one book.
Imagine having a stack of six or seven, all received at the beginning of the
semester with no lead time, and students who need them right now.

We cannot count on publishers to ever provide this extensive alternate
format. In the U.S. there is no law compelling publishers to provide
alternate format of any kind. That burden falls on people like us who work
in disability services office all over the country. I've been doing this
work for 20-plus years, and while it has been easier to get original content
from publishers for our work, the content we are getting is not accessible
to everyone.  We are obviously grateful to get any content at all, because
it keeps us from having to cut and scan books, but the conversion for STEM
materials is a multi-step process that not just anyone can do.  I train
student staff in how to create MathML, and I don't let them work on projects
until they've had 20 hours of hands-on MathML production. We use MathType in
Word to create the files we then turn into Braille, MathML, or other

To say there are no vendors producing alternate format during the pandemic
is not accurate. We are busier than we've ever been, with more courses being
taken online during the pandemic and higher needs of students with multiple
types of disabilities. We are out there, and we are doing the best we can.
But the workload is overwhelming, and there are only so many hours in a day.
And I do know that one major vendor, AMAC, stopped doing Math remediation
several years ago. All of our current clients came out of that loss of a
vendor.  I'm not sure why they stopped, but they did.  I think there has
always been a lack of enough vendors in this field.  But campuses often balk
at the price of having materials converted by a lab like ours.  We are not
gouging, but we do charge appropriately for our services, and less than some
other vendors in the field. 

Something that I think would help us all is if books didn't get updated
every year.  A calculus book from 2001 is just as valid today as it was in
2001.  There are lots of files available from older books, as campuses and
vendors produced MathML or Braille files, etc., for books as needed.  Yet
every year, they have to change the books, so publishers can make more
money.  This is a frustration.  I have three different editions of Linear
Algebra and its Applications by Lay in MathML format, and just received a
request for the "newest" edition. Such insanity! But, it is what publishers
do, and we are stuck continuing to do new and newer versions of things, when
the older version would work just fine.  Math doesn't change from year to
year.  They just word it differently or put in different problem sets.  

Trust me when I say that those of us that produce alternate format for
students are doing our absolute best to keep up with things and get
materials converted and out to students (and others) as quickly as possible.
We are frustrated and angry that we can't get decent materials from
publishers. We are frustrated and angry that some publishers hold onto files
for weeks, instead of just providing them to us when we ask. We are
frustrated and angry that long-time campus culture doesn't give us enough
lead time to work on materials because we don't know what those materials
are until just before or sometimes after classes start.  We do our best to
advocate, and work with faculty on this issue, but our hands are often tied.
And math conversion is so much more complicated than just making Microsoft
Word files of a standard textbook or novel.  I can convert an 1800 page law
book for a blind student in about 8 hours or less.  Yet a 400 page math book
takes us 180 hours. It is a whole other animal.

I fight with publishers all the time.  I'm a socially-justice-minded person
and fight often for the rights of my students when it comes to alternate
format.  Things are better than they were 20 years ago, but they are not
where they need to be.  All I can do is promise that I will continue to
carry on this fight with publishers.

And if anyone on this list is looking for a particular book in MathML or
Word with MathType format, PLEASE reach out to me in email.  If I have the
files, I will share them with you.  Susan.kelmer at colorado.edu

Susan Kelmer
Alternate Format Production Program Manager
Disability Services/Student Affairs
University of Colorado Boulder
Susan.kelmer at colorado.edu


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