How can publishers create accessible math textbooks?

Date Updated

Standard print textbooks are often not accessible to students with disabilities. A number of disabilities—such as blindness, low vision, learning disabilities, or mobility impairments—may make standard print very difficult or completely impossible to read. In such cases, the transformation of print textbooks into alternate formats is often necessary. Common alternate formats include Braille, large print, audio, or electronic text. Although publishers do not generally produce specialized alternative format materials like Braille, many textbook publishers do create electronic versions that can be used with many types of assistive technologies.

When creating an accessible electronic version of a textbook, publishers should consider using a digital format that can be universally used by all students, both with and without disabilities. In the case of mathematical content, the best format for universally designed math is MathML. MathML can be used for math equations within standard XHTML or XML content, and unlike image formats, MathML equations can be accessed via standard assistive technology applications, such as synthetic speech or Braille access technologies. Furthermore, when authors are careful to use math formats that can easily be converted to MathML, like LaTeX, MathType, or Equation Editor formats, further accessible transformation is much easier. This is especially important for faculty who publish their own materials for class use.

Digital textbooks containing MathML equations can be provided to students in an online environment, via CD-ROM, or other digital media. Since MathML content is text based, rather than an image format, it can be manipulated in the same ways that text can. MathML equations can be easily enlarged; font styles, font colors, and foreground colors can be altered; synthetic speech with synchronized highlighting can be used; and Braille output is possible. All of these benefits make MathML the most accessible choice for creating math content within digital textbooks.

For publishers creating math textbook files in compliance with state and district textbook adoption language required under the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS), the DAISY Modular Math Extension provides details about proper MathML usage in electronic files.

For more information on this topic, consult the following DO-IT Knowledge Base articles: What is MathML?, What is the DAISY Modular Math Extension, and Are there commercial products designed to make math accessible to students with disabilities?