[BlindMath] Inaccessible math books

Brandon Keith Biggs brandonkeithbiggs at gmail.com
Mon Mar 1 17:09:28 UTC 2021

What I have done is found a student who is open to using pandoc and who
knows LaTeX, and has taken the level of math we're doing. Then I have that
student convert The textbook to LaTeX, using Pandoc to check their output.
This has worked rather well.

Brandon Keith Biggs <http://brandonkeithbiggs.com/>

On Mon, Mar 1, 2021 at 8:14 AM Mike Gorse via BlindMath <
blindmath at nfbnet.org> wrote:

> Textbooks are out of my wheelhouse these days, and I'm not particularly up
> on the related technology, but I feel like there ought to be a solution
> that doesn't involve a lot of manual work on your part. I wonder about the
> source for these textbooks, since it is definitely not a PDF. If they
> don't already exist, then couldn't the publishers put resources into
> improving existing tools to convert the existing source (maybe LaTeX) into
> MathML?
> On Mon, 1 Mar 2021, Susan Kelmer via BlindMath wrote:
> > 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 outputs.
> >
> > 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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