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Graphic showing equations need to magnified, converted to audio, read aloud or customised to be accessible.
Equations need to magnified, converted to audio, read aloud or customised to be accessible

Maths notation and terminology

Unlike text, maths notation and equations in digital materials needs some extra care to make accessible. Students may want to use a magnifier or change the look of equations to make them easier to read. Some wish to hear them read aloud or may need to use braille to access the material.

Often equations are inserted into ebooks, slides and websites as images. This means that they are not resized when the reader wants to make the font larger. It also means that they can not be easily read aloud by assistive technologies. Inserting equations using markup such as LaTeX or MathML can help solve these problems and allow users to hear and navigate through equations. The LexDis guide on making scientific content accessible explains some of the challenges and solutions for accessible scientific notation.

PDF files are the most popular file format for distributing scientific materials, particularly if they have been written using LaTeX markup. If possible try to provide additional formats to PDF as currently it is very difficult to make equations accessible in PDF files. The best approach for supporting the widest range of users is to add descriptions in the caption to describe the equation. But if space or style constraints make this impossible then make sure images of equations are described within the alt-tag. It is possible to convert LaTeX files to accessible html or Word documents (the most accessible formats for screen readers) and the University of Bath Maths Access document describes the procedures they use to support their students.

Don’t forget that the terminology used for Maths can also be an issue. Speech recognition in search engines and on phones has made it easier to look up words along with subject specific glossaries such as the Open Science glossary. Have you found any other useful resources?

© This work is created by the University of Southampton and licensed under CC-BY 4.0 International Licence. Erasmus + MOOCs for Accessibility Partnership.

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