[BlindMath] Please, more talk between blind math users and LaTeX developers

Godfrey, Jonathan A.J.Godfrey at massey.ac.nz
Wed Mar 3 21:48:03 UTC 2021

Hello Jonathan et al.,

I agree and I disagree. This is about communication, but not between students and developers.

Students ought to be working with the people providing (or failing to provide) their education.

Those staff can't fix the tools they are using in order to support those students. Those staff could be told that other tools exist though.

All too often though, those very same staff push the problems they have (perhaps unwittingly) created onto disability support staff who must try to help the students.

The development community needs to realise that they have failed, and are continuing to fail, all of the groups mentioned above. Offering solutions five years from now might be the best they can hope to achieve, but that will only help a student entering the system five or more years from now. They must look after those future students so the work must continue. 

What I question is whether the accessible pdf is a reality worth hunting down (?) as against admitting that it is not a good use of resource and accepting that access will come in a different form/medium. If the development world gave me access in five years under one plan or access in ten years under another plan, I'll take the five year option, but offering a glass of sea water to a person dying of thirst doesn't really seem much short of cruel.

I do love HTML because it offers better access to information than practically anything else I use. I think it is better to say that blind people prefer an accessible solution over inaccessible ones. At present, that is often (but not uniformly) HTML. The preferences of individuals are determined by their equipment (often insufficient) and training/experience (should I start?).

When I first heard about work to make pdf more accessible (ten years ago) I did not get excited, and unfortunately, my lack of enthusiasm was proven warranted. I found other projects that were already delivering greater access were at risk of floundering. I considered some of them to already to be thinking years ahead. The mindset that every road leads to a pdf document drove people's response to the access problem. In today's world, publishing to multiple formats is common. The question ought then be, which of those multiple formats can be improved most easily to get the best access?

I'll back HTML until such time as a better, more accessible, solution comes my way. Maybe that will be pdf, but from what you and others are saying, I might be hitting retirement age by then.

Jonathan G

-----Original Message-----
From: BlindMath <blindmath-bounces at nfbnet.org> On Behalf Of Jonathan Fine via BlindMath
Sent: Thursday, 4 March 2021 4:46 AM
To: Blind Math list for those interested in mathematics <blindmath at nfbnet.org>
Cc: Jonathan Fine <jfine2358 at gmail.com>
Subject: [BlindMath] Please, more talk between blind math users and LaTeX developers


This is about improving communication between blind math students and support staff on the one side and the LaTeX developers on the other.

I'll be brief. Kellee Sanchez's request for help started a discussion which I found to be very good. It covers many interlinked topics. It will take me some time to digest and understand. I'm learning so much from this discussion.

I'm a long-time TeX user. I'd like the developers there, particularly those focussed on accessible PDF and on TeX-to-HTML (or XML), to similarly learn from this discussion. To make this discussion more accessible to them and others, I'll summarize it in posts on my blog.

I think there's a real social problem. TeX users care about typography.
Blind people can't see typography. TeX users love PDF. Blind people, it seems to me, love accessible HTML. Blind students need accessible material during the course. TeX developers think long term.

This need not be a problem. We all care about communication and usability.
We have shared interests and values. The social problem I see is that there are too few connections between these two communities.

Let's have more sharing between the people on the Blind Math mailing list and the developers on the LaTeX project. This conversation can help both sides.

The LaTeX developers hope to produce tagged PDF no sooner than 4 years from now, with math support to follow later. For math support they need to extract and store the TeX source for the equations.  Achieving this LaTeX developer goal will I'm sure help blind math users.

Let's make progress by talking more with each other. And working together when we can.

with best wishes


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