Mathematics and Statistics Accessibility

A maths lecturer presenting in front of a blackboard of equations

Mathematics and accessibility is a complex area without many clear solutions. This guidance pulls together best practice and ideas from within the University of Sheffield and other institutions.

On this page you will find links to further information as many of the ideas mentioned here require specialist guidance. The London Mathematical Society has also collated a large amount of useful information on mathematics and accessibility.

The Digital Learning Team would be keen to hear more suggestions or experiences, and if you have a situation that is not covered by this guidance please contact us: digital.learning@sheffield.ac.uk


Equation editors

Blackboard equation editor

The inbuilt equation editor in Blackboard is by WIRIS and creates accessible content. Standard text with superscripts or special characters should not be used (e.g. using superscripts as powers or using the Pi symbol), as they will not be recognised as equations and will be read incorrectly by assistive technologies.

Microsoft equation editor

For equations or formulae in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint the inbuilt equation editor should be used. Standard text with superscripts or special characters should not be used (e.g. using superscripts as powers or using the Pi symbol), as they will not be recognised as equations and will be read incorrectly by assistive technologies. In Office 365, LaTeX can be used and the SIGMA network provides advice for keyboard only entry.

Blackboard Ally does not recognise the equations when converting files, so they will not be included in any of the alternative formats it produces. An accessibility score of 100% may be shown despite it not being accessible. Students will need to be told this and should use the original file with any adaptive technologies required which is likely to produce better results. If converted to PDF before uploading the equations are shown but on one line with no formatting so they are not useable.


Creating content

LaTeX for creating content

There is no simple way to make LaTeX outputs meet accessibility requirements by default. There have been some attempts to create packages that produce accessible equations in PDFs (e.g. the axessibility package) but these still fall short of acceptable. Matthew Towers from UCL provides a good summary of the issues and possible solutions around creating PDFs with LaTeX.

Some colleagues at the University have produced a working draft of accessibility guidance about creating xhtml accessible documents with LaTeX. At present the most suitable alternative is to compile your LaTeX to HTML. HTML is very well suited to screen readers and the MathML tool renders mathematical content appropriately.

Some resources have been developed for this purpose, such as the LaTeXML tool, but at present this is not institutional supported. If you wish to use the LaTeXML tool, you will need to install it, and make both the PDF and the .xhtml / .html5 files available to students. Be aware that MathML does not yet work via Google Chrome. You should test the .xhtml / .html5 files in a different browser such as Mozilla Firefox.

There is additional advice available on using LaTeXML to convert files to accessible HTML here.

Providing the source LaTeX alongside the PDF may also be useful, in which case students may prefer that visual layout commands are not included.

RMarkdown for creating content

RMarkdown allows output of HTML that can be rendered with MathJax which works well with assistive technologies. The Learning and Teaching Hub at University of Bath have guidance on using RMarkdown to create content.


Creating graphs, tables and diagrams

The DIAGRAM Center provides advice around accessible image descriptions for many different areas including STEM subjects.

Desmos for Graphs

Desmos is a free graphing tool that can be used by staff and students which has a number of useful accessibility features built in. For details and a video demonstration please see the Desmos website.

Tables

Complex tables, such as those with rowspans, colspans or multiple levels of headings are very difficult for screen reader users to understand. There is advice on creating accessible tables from WebAIM.


Live captioning

Any recorded material on Kaltura or Encore uploaded after 21 September 2020 will be automatically captioned using Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), and this is not always 100% accurate. There may be some inconsistencies, particularly in mathematical material.

Frazer Jarvis (School of Mathematics and Statistics) has provided a method for producing mathematics in captions should you wish to edit for accuracy.

There is also guidance available for editing Kaltura captions and editing Encore transcripts.