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Making digital mathematical documents fully accessible for visually impaired students is a major challenge to offer equal educational opportunities.

Improving Accessibility to Mathematical Teaching Resources


Making digital mathematical documents fully accessible for visually impaired students is a major challenge to offer equal educational opportunities. Currently, the only ways to make mathematical formulae accessible via screen readers or refreshable Braille devices are very labour intensive and expensive. But if more visually impaired people are going to explore the  sciences as a study option, there is an urgent need for tools that allow learners to access formulae in digital texts without their learning providers having to incur significant costs.

Although much teaching material today is electronically prepared and available in standard formats such as PDF, screen reading tools only work well for regular text but commonly fail to correctly articulate embedded mathematical formulae, as they generally do not follow standard linear patterns of text. In previous work we have developed methods to turn electronically prepared PDF documents containing mathematics into accessible documents containing markup of mathematical formulae that is suitable for further electronic processing. In particular, formulae can be translated into presentation MathML and LaTeX as well as into natural language description.

Project Aims

In this project we now want to turn our current program, that is the result of our research, into an assistive technology tool. This will aid accessibility support officers in their task of preparing fully accessible teaching and assessment material in mathematical subjects by translating it into suitable markup.

Project Methodology

While we currently assume that accessibility will be achieved by translation into a mixture of HTML and presentation MathML, the flexibility of our solution allows easy adaptation to other output formats. Therefore, in the initial phase of the project we will closely work with our project partners from JISC TechDis, who have already identified a target user group of accessibility support officers, to collate specific user requirements. According to the identified requirements we will adapt and embed our tool into an existing open source solution for editing markup to allow post-processing of recognised and translated documents for correction and further editing. We will also add facilities to our tool to allow for suitable subject specific customisation by expert users.

In addition to working with accessibility support officers we also want to enable individual learners to employ the tool by making it available firstly via a web interface and finally for download under a Creative Commons License.

Both target groups of users will be involved in user testing during the project in order to incorporate feedback into the product as well as to further fine tune the recognition parameters to ease its fully automatic use. User testing will again be carried out in collaboration with our project partner JISC TechDis.

Project Documents

Project Staff

Project manager:
  • Dr Volker Sorge, School of Computer Science, B15 2TT Birmingham, tel. 0121-414 3746

Start date
1 April 2012
Funding programme
Academy/JISC Open Educational Resources Programme Phase 3
OER Rapid Innovation
Project website
Lead institutions

The University of Birmingham

Partner institutions

JISC TechDis