What are some techniques for creating Braille math materials?

DO-IT Factsheet #4

Conveying mathematical equations in Braille is usually accomplished through the use of specialized math Braille codes. In the United States, a generally accepted practice is to use Nemeth [1] Braille code. Students may also use a type of two-dimensional spatial tactile mathematics notation called DotsPlus [2], which is a composite of standard Braille with raised lines and symbols. Creating a DotsPlus document requires embossing which can be done on a Tiger Braille Printer [3], which supports DotsPlus documents.

Braille math materials can often be created from electronic files with Braille translation software. However, since many of the symbols and spatial typesetting conventions used in mathematical equations cannot be replicated with the standard ASCII character set, nor recognized by standard optical character recognition (OCR) systems, additional processing is often required. When possible, a copy of the original electronic document should be obtained. If the document was created with Microsoft Word, using either MathType [4] or Equation Editor [5], then creating Nemeth code with Braille translation software like Duxbury Braille Translator [6] will be much simpler.

If the only option is to begin with a printed page, then it must be scanned; OCR software can be used to capture the literary text; then a specialized math typesetting tool like MathType can be used to manually enter the math equations before the Braille is generated. A better strategy may be to use the math OCR software InftyReader [7] which is able to convert an image of math to either MathML or LaTex, two very popular markup languages for mathematics. Both MathML and LaTex documents can be translated to Nemeth Code using Braille translation software such as Duxbury [8] and Braille2000 [9]. This automated process of using a combination of InftyReader and Braille translation software is not yet widespread, but, when used properly is a fast way to translate mathematical documents to Nemeth.

It is often the case that a student who is blind has a math teacher who cannot read Braille. The student can produce solutions to math problems in Nemeth, but the teacher will have to consult with a Braille specialist to have it translated to a math form they understand. An alternative is to use a Nemeth to LaTex translation program available from Accessisoft [10]. The student can produce Nemeth, then use the software to translate it to LaTex which can be compiled into PDF format and viewed or printed. The result is mathematics content that is readable by the math teacher.

For information on creating accessible math textbooks consult the Knowledge Base article How can publishers create accessible math textbooks? [11]