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How is Design Science making math more accessible?

Learning Points:

Design Science is working to help develop some of the technology infrastructure that will be critical in addressing the issue of math accessibility. Design Science is also actively involved with groups like the World Wide Web Consortium, the DAISY Consortium and the NIMAS Development Committee to further develop the international and federal standards that will support math accessibility in the future. We have also been involved in research and development activities supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create advanced math accessibility technologies, including improved math-to-speech, synchronized speech/highlighting of math equations, braille support, and math search engine technology.

DSI's leadership role in MathML technology development and support

Many of the software applications created by Design Science are key components to the worldwide math accessibility infrastructure. DSI's commanding lead in MathML technology has greatly promoted the new math accessibility revolution that is being made possible by using MathML. The reality of universally designed mainstream educational math materials is now within reach. 

Our MathType product is already being used throughout the world to facilitate authoring of accessible math and to provide accessible equation entry for people with certain types of disabilities. DSI's MathFlow and WebEQ product lines make professional publishers' systems ready to produce accessible mathematics by helping them integrate MathML into their XML-based publishing workflows. Our free MathPlayer product allows Internet Explorer for Windows to display accessible mathematics and demonstrate our math-to-speech technology. Since MathPlayer works with popular screen and text readers like JAWS, MAGic, Windows Eyes, HAL, Supernova, Serotek System Access, TextHelp Read & Write, and BrowseAloud, access to math content accessibility is transparent to the end user. We are continuing to work with the manufacturers of screen readers, learning disability tools, and Digital Talking Books to supply them with our software technologies that will enable accessible math content to be widely available to consumers with various disabilities in a variety of accessible math formats.

DSI's math leadership in national and international standards organizations

We worked with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to help pioneer MathML, which provides the vital link to creating accessible math. Several Design Science employees are members of the math working group that creates and maintains the MathML standard, including Robert Miner, DSI's Vice President for Research and Development, who is the co-Chair of W3C's Math Interest Group. A growing number of software packages including browsers, editors, computer algebra programs and publishing software use MathML to communicate.

Neil Soiffer, DSI's Senior Scientist, has an active role in the PDF Universal Accessibility (PDF/UA) working group. This group is writing a specification that defines what is required in an accessible PDF document. These requirements include the use of MathML tags to make the math accessible. PDF is an open standard maintained by the International Organization for Standardizationn (ISO).

Design Science is also providing math leadership within the Digital Accessible Information SYstem (DAISY) Consortium, which administers the DAISY-NISO standard for Digital Talking Books. Neil Soiffer is the Project Lead of the Mathematics Modular Extension Working Group, which created an extension of the DAISY international standard allowing MathML content to be integrated into DAISY-compliant digital content.

The recently reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 now requires US textbook publishers to make textbooks accessible via the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS), which is a related standard based on DAISY. The DAISY mathematics modular extension additionally provides for the integration of MathML content within NIMAS-complaint math textbooks, further increasing the availability of accessible math materials. Steve Noble, DSI's Director of Accessibility Policy, serves on the NIMAS Development Committee and is helping to ensure that accessible mathematics is a priority for NIMAS.

DSI's NSF funded math technology projects

Design Science has received a number of grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to make mathematical content more accessible to the public. In 2003, DSI received funding to bolster our research and development efforts to make web-based mathematical content accessible to people with disabilities.

This funding was extended via another NSF grant in 2005 to further support math accessibility techniques and to extend math accessibility beyond web-based digital environments. Some of the enhancements examined were keyboard navigation within a mathematical expression, highlighting of sub-expressions as they are spoken, enlarging the visual size of math expressions for partially sighted readers, customizable speech and braille support.

Design Science received an additional NSF grant in 2003 and to work on math search engine technology. This project examined the ability to search for mathematical formulas and notations in scientific literature, the same way one can now do full-text keyword searches in common text search engines.

Further Information and Resources


This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program under Grant No. 0340439.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of Design Science and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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