MathML...On a Screen Reader

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As part of the Penn State accessibility initiative, I've been working on how to accessify math/science courses along with others like World Campus and Dutton Institute.

Part of that has been figuring out how to post MathML on modern browsers, but the second part has been to determine if the output can be read on a screenreader. The answer is yes...on some browsers with the right plugins.

Screen Reader Results

I was able to get native MathML read aloud correctly on JAWS, but only on Internet Explorer with the MathPlayer plugin. For IE, you also need to ensure that the first line of the Math ML code links to the spec (see below)

<math xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1998/Math/MathML"> <!-- xmlns link for IE 9 Support -->
**EQUATION MATHML CODE HERE**
</math>

Sadly JAWS and Firefox were not a good match and neither were Safari plus VoiceOver. The good news, many blind users do use the IE+JAWS combo, but many are moving to Mac. For these users, the alternative may still be an image plus apprpopriate ALT tag, particularly for multi-line equations.

So Close...Except for Browser Upgrades

The good news is that MathML is really becoming a viable option, but there are issues. One pointed out by my colleague Stevie Rocco is that many systems like ANGEL support only Firefox 3 and it's not until version 4 that improved MathML support is available. Similarly, not everyone may be upgraded to Safari 5.1 or Internet Explorer 9.

But I do expect that within 6-12 months, that could change, and MathML could mature into a key technology with relatively few quirks, like CSS and Unicode.

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