Introduction to Math Accessibility

Making math accessible involves using formats and tools compatible with screen readers. MathML and LaTeX are commonly used for this. Some screen readers can interpret these formats. Software like MathType can help create accessible math content. Guidelines like WCAG and Section 508 offer best practices for math accessibility. Training and user testing are important to ensure accessibility.

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Topics in this post

Today, we’ll cover an array of topics to help you understand and implement accessible math. We’ll begin with an overview of LaTeX and MathML, two essential encoding languages for mathematical notation. You’ll also learn how to generate MathML, use software like Mathpix Snip, and add accessible equations into MS Word.

What is Encoding?

Encoding is crucial for math accessibility. It is the way mathematical notation is converted into a format that can be visually displayed and interpreted by assistive technology. When encoding isn’t applied, math equations would merely show as images, creating a barrier for visually impaired students. Encoding types like MathML, LaTeX, and OMML each have their benefits and use cases.

LaTeX vs MathML

LaTeX and MathML are both powerful tools but serve different purposes. LaTeX is human-made and excellent for academic and professional documents. It is highly flexible but requires a learning curve. MathML, on the other hand, is machine-friendly. It’s a markup language designed for machine-to-machine interaction, not meant to be edited manually.


About OMML

Office Math Markup Language (OMML) is what Microsoft Word uses for equations. This markup language allows you to compose intricate mathematical equations and notations directly in a Word document.

Screen Readers and Encoding

Screen readers can interpret math equations if they are encoded correctly. The key to making mathematical content accessible is to use compatible encoding types that are supported by widely used screen readers like JAWS and NVDA. This compatibility ensures that users can access the mathematical content irrespective of their choice of assistive technology.

Encoding TypePlatformJAWSNVDAVoice Over (ios)Talk Back (android)
MathMLWordYesYes – with MatCATNoNo
MathMLHTMLYesYesYes – In iBooks onlyNo
LaTexWordYes – Poor experienceYes – Poor experienceNoNo
OMML (native Word equation editor)WordYes – basic equations onlyYes – with UI setting activatedNoNo
OMML (native Word equation editor)ePubYesYesYesYes
Encoding types

Benefits of MathML

MathML not only allows the display of math equations but also syncs with speech software, offering visual and auditory learning support. This dual-mode support can be invaluable for students with specific learning needs. MathML provides a unique opportunity for students to walk through complex equations at their own pace, enhancing their understanding and retention.

Creating MathML and LaTeX

Creating MathML and LaTeX is relatively straightforward, thanks to software like MathType and Mathpix Snip. MathType is highly versatile and integrates seamlessly with MS Word, allowing you to create equations that can be used in multiple formats. Mathpix Snip is another excellent tool, especially useful for converting printed or handwritten math problems into digital format.

Student Needs

Knowing the specific needs of your students is crucial in making math accessible. Some may prefer receiving content in MS Word documents, while others may find Canvas Pages or HTML pages more convenient. Whichever format you choose, the importance lies in ensuring that all mathematical notations are encoded correctly and are accessible via screen readers.

Adding Math to Word

Adding math equations to MS Word is seamless with tools like MathType. Always put each math equation on a new line for better readability. Keep all equations as “inline” to ensure they flow naturally with the rest of the text.

MathType to HTML

MathType allows you to convert MS Word documents full of equations into HTML files. These HTML files are highly accessible and compatible with screen readers like JAWS and NVDA. However, note that this feature may have some bugs and should be tested before widespread use.

Mathpix Snip

Mathpix Snip is a powerful tool that can digitize handwritten or printed text and convert them into LaTeX or MathML. This tool can be a game-changer in making older, non-digital math accessibility It is simple to use and highly effective.

Barriers to Accessibility

Accessibility is not without its challenges. Differences in screen readers, browsers, extensions, and personalized settings can all affect user experience. It’s crucial to understand these barriers and find ways to mitigate them, ensuring that your mathematical content is genuinely accessible to everyone.


To sum up, creating accessible math content involves understanding encoding, using the right tools, and being mindful of the end-users needs. MathType and Mathpix Snip are excellent tools for creating equations in MS Word, which can then be converted into various other accessible formats.

General Notes

Keep in mind that VoiceOver & Talkback work best with ePub. NVDA has some limitations when reading MathType in Word unless specific settings are enabled. JAWS, however, will read MathType in Word without issues.

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