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9th European e-Accessibility Forum
e-Accessible Knowledge

8/06/2015, 9:00-18:00
Cité des sciences et de l'industrie - Universcience - Paris

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The State of Accessible Math

Neil SOIFFER (Long Beach, USA)
Design Science

Speaker's information

Neil Soiffer

Dr Neil SOIFFER received his PhD in Computer Science from U.C. Berkeley. He was a member of Tektronix's Computer Research Lab, where he created experimental math computation systems, math editors, and tools for embedded systems. Dr Soiffer moved to Wolfram Research, where he was responsible for a number of user elements that are part of Mathematica, including the WYSIWYG math editor and programmability of Mathematica's notebook interface. He joined Design Science in 2003 and has worked on math accessibility in their MathPlayer plug-in for Internet Explorer. Dr Soiffer was a principal architect of MathML, and continues to have an active role in the W3C math effort.



The last few years have seen tremendous advances in solutions that make mathematical equations accessible. There now exist accessible calculators and software that can make graphs accessible. Moreover on most computer platforms, properly encoded web pages are accessible on Apple devices, on Chromebooks and on Windows, using Assistive Technology (AT) from various vendors.

Most of these solutions support speaking math expressions, synchronized highlighting of what is spoken, and interactive keyboard navigation of math. Some also support output of some braille math codes such as Nemeth and UEB on refreshable braille displays.

Until recently, many web sites used images to represent math. The usual way to make images accessible is by adding alt text. For math this is a poor solution because:

MathML is a W3C standard for putting MathML on the web. It has been around for quite a number of years and has been included in many standards such as DAISY 3 and EPUB. Its use on the web was less common until recently because it was an XML dialect and not part of HTML 4, the format most web pages used. However the most recent version of the HTML, HTML 5, includes MathML.

This inclusion has helped spur development in browsers. Firefox and Internet Explorer (IE) together with the Design Science MathPlayer plug-in have long supported MathML. More recently, Safari has added MathML support. The main exceptions are eBook readers which do not currently support JavaScript such as Amazon’s Kindle reader.

The ability to display MathML in almost every browser, along with MathML’s inherent accessibility, has spurred many more sites to use MathML either directly or indirectly in the last couple of years.

Even more important than having accessible math is having AT that can take advantage of that accessibility. In the last few years, great strides have been made.

It is very likely that the next few years will bring many more accessible editors and that math accessibility will no longer be difficult to achieve.

Watch Neil SOIFFER's presentation on YouTube. This presentation is followed by a demo given during the DEMO Session.


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