[BlindMath] Tutorial on Using RMarkdown?

Jonathan Godfrey A.J.Godfrey at massey.ac.nz
Wed Jan 12 04:16:49 UTC 2022

Hello Brandon,

I'm writing this assuming less knowledge than I know you have just in case it helps others get started.

RStudio is not accessible, but all tasks that your classmates do in RStudio can be replicated by you in R. It won't matter if you are using the GUI or the terminal version, the choice over which is a personal preference determined by your screen reader, whether you use a braille display,  and your skills with that combination.

An R markdown file is  just plain text, editable using any text editor, even Notepad. It reads well in braille, especially 8 dot computer braille (my preference) which caters to the variety of brackets and other symbols as well as managing upper and lower case (crucial in R) well.

It does get compiled into HTML by RStudio, which in turn uses various R packages and Pandoc in the background. The "knit" button used in RStudio just calls an R command: `rmarkdown::render("<MyFile.Rmd">)`

Assuming your Rmd file is in the working directory (check using `getwd()` and list.files(pattern="Rmd")` at the R prompt) you use the render() command above to process the Rmd file (use the proper filename instead of <MyFile.Rmd> of course).

A bunch of output will come into the R session window as the processing proceeds. Most of it is noise, but if the job gets done properly, the last line will tell you the name of the file you created. It should be the name of your Rmd file with "Rmd" replaced with "html".

Open that html file in a browser. You could keep it open as you update the Rmd file. Inevitably you will need to update your work, fix mistakes (yes we all make them) and add your thoughts etc. The process we follow to replace the RStudio experience is:

1. Update and save the Rmd file.
2. Render the Rmd file in R.
3. Open or refresh the browser.
4. Repeat 1-3 until completion of your work.

An RStudio user has multiple windows open on screen at the same time so they can see everything at once. Even if RStudio was accessible, you'd still have to cycle between windows for input and output with your screen reader to complete your work. The only additional pain for a screen reader user is to open the files and to quickly move around them. This is why I mention the skill level with screen readers and braille displays back at the outset. Rather unfortunately, far too many of the people who rely on screen readers are not using their tools to their full potential; I might even include myself in that criticism. Even novice screen reader users seem to gain skills in basic navigation of a webpage which makes the Rmd to HTML process really appealing even if the work required to get there feels burdensome.

You can improve the experience with the output file by using standard markdown formatting practices. I use plenty of headings in my work so that I can jump around easily. I refresh my output html file and jump backwards from the top to get to the bottom quickly.

Aside from the above, I expect all other assistance in learning R markdown should come from your course staff. Most people forcing students to use R markdown are doing so because we use it ourselves. Our work is therefore accessible to all students by default, certainly more so than it was using older LaTeX based workflows. There really does not need to be a tutorial for learning R markdown targeted at blind users beyond the above work arounds for RStudio.

Feel free to ask more questions as required.

-----Original Message-----
From: BlindMath <blindmath-bounces at nfbnet.org> On Behalf Of Brandon Keith Biggs via BlindMath
Sent: Wednesday, 12 January 2022 10:03 AM
To: Blind Math list for those interested in mathematics <blindmath at nfbnet.org>
Cc: Brandon Keith Biggs <brandonkeithbiggs at gmail.com>
Subject: [BlindMath] Tutorial on Using RMarkdown?


I'm wondering if anyone has any tutorials on how to use RMarkdown on the
command line, with pandoc, or in some other accessible fashion?

My class requires all assignments to be compiled to HTML from RMarkdown,
but they're using R Studio which is not super accessible.

I installed R, but it wasn't added to my path, and there's little
documentation on how the different exe applications in the R bin work.

I'm on Windows 10.


Brandon Keith Biggs <https://apc01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fbrandonkeithbiggs.com%2F&data=04%7C01%7Ca.j.godfrey%40massey.ac.nz%7Ce56472d29e0f4627c47608d9d545fbf7%7C388728e1bbd0437898dcf8682e644300%7C1%7C0%7C637775318835863145%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C2000&sdata=Sd%2By%2FxxocnefIHD52KH%2Beucp0zI5AP2br5SIeKF8AQE%3D&reserved=0>
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