Producing Accessible Equations

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Producing Accessible Equations

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Author :
Stephen Thomas, Jeremy Van Hof, and Leslie Johnson
Producing Accessible Equations

SJ Contact profile image
Author :
Stephen Thomas, Jeremy Van Hof, and Leslie Johnson


All public institutions are required by law to make their educational experiences accessible to those with disabilities.  Anecdotes and research both point to the fact that making materials more accessible helps all students regardless of capabilities.  For simple documents that are text and images only this process has been relatively straight forward.  However, when we start looking at embedded equations in text it starts to get more complicated.  This overview is meant to serve as a brief guide to the issue and give you some recommendations for how to improve your accessibility with documents that contain mathematical equations.


Overview of technology:


In general, technologies for equations fall into three categories: production, translation, and output.  See samples of each of these technologies in the table below.  Technologies that produce equations in text such as LaTex, may have to go through a translation technology to be formatted as MathML that allows for multiple outputs (and thereby accessible).  Ideally, this translation step could be skipped to allow production to be directly outputted in the various formats, but for some disciplines the culture is to use technologies that are not capable of doing this.


Workflow elements





Sample Technologies for accessible equations

MS Word

MathJax (to web)

Kurzweil 3000


Equatio (handwriting to digital)

Nemeth Braille


MSU Math Online (LaTex to html)

Screen readers (e.g. JAWS, NVDA, etc.)


MS Word with MathType add-on (many formats to MathML


Written on paper



Proposed suggestion:

Faculty and staff who are looking to make accessible documents should consider converting documents into MS Word.  In light of the issues with PDFs discussed in the 2/19 letter from Provost Youatt, the main recommendation is to use the MathType add-in for MS Word.  Because it can import LaTex equation and translate those to MathML that can then be outputted in various formats depending on the need of the student.  This tool seems to be the most robust to translate prior work to be more accessible.   


You can learn more about the MathType add-in MSU’s accessibility site:


Take home message:

Ideally, faculty and staff should create a workflow that allows their work to be accessible by its nature, where it does not need further processing by the faculty, staff, or student to be accessible.  We realize that different discipline’s culture of technology and publishing may drive inaccessible practices, but identifying this goal and moving towards it at any opportunity will not only help those with disabilities, but will also increase the dissemination of intellectual work more broadly, which is ultimately tied to our mission as an institution of higher learning.

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Stephen Thomas Creating Equitable Instruction through Universal Design for Learning