Following on from my previous post, ‘Geophysics blogging means new HTML entities!’, I discovered the maths was getting yet more complicated, with the need to represent equations like this:
Ideally, I didn’t want to use images, for accessibility reasons, unless I could provide a meaningful alt tag, which takes me back to the original problem of representing the equation in text, but with less useful characters. Here’s a page with a lot of equations as an example: https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/easc080162019-0sv1sem2/2020/02/06/7-2-1-electrical-resistivity/. I’ve made a lot of progress using HTML entities, but they can only get me so far.
Luckily (I hoped), the internet was on the case…
HTML based solutions?
The first solution I tried was on a W3 page from the 1990s: W3.org: 12 – Mathematical Equations. From the description, this looked ideal, but sadly, I found that key features of this maths markup, like
<over> were not being rendered in my posts. Perhaps these features have been deprecated, but for whatever reason, they aren’t working with my setup.
I did find this useful post about Writing Fractions in HTML, but they still aren’t complicated enough.
The next place I looked was good old Stack Overflow, where this question, ‘How to write equations in html?’ pointed me towards two very promising looking solutions: MathJax and CodeCogs.
The first one I looked at was CodeCogs: CodeCogs: Equations in HTML (SVG + GIF) – This looked great, but I decided against it because what it produces is images, which takes me back to the problem I started with!
Next, I looked at MathJax, which I think looks like a great solution.
MathJax out-of-the-box math accessibility solution
Well I am so impressed: firstly with the MathJax creator(s) for making this work, and also incredibly impressed with anyone who learns maths this way!
This is what they say about it on YouTube:
This video summarizes the state of MathJax’s work on an out-of-the-box accessibility solution which can be used on any website. Our goal is to enable speech-text, navigation and exploration of mathematics on any combination of platform, browser and assistive technology.
For more information, please check the project overview at https://github.com/mathjax/MathJax/wiki/Semantic-Enrichment-project as well as the support matrix and other information at https://github.com/mathjax/MathJax-a11y/wiki/Support-Matrix-a11y-toolf (didn’t see much on that one, but ok!)
Unfortunately, installing MathJax requires more customisation than our University-wide installation of WordPress allows for security’s sake. But I did find this plugin, that might be a very useful option for the University to install:
A Useful WordPress Plugin for MathJax
The home page for this plugin is here: https://www.beliefmedia.com.au/mathjax-wordpress-shortcode
Finally, this led me to what I should have done first, which was to check the list of plugins already approved by the University, where I found this: WP QuickLaTeX
I’m out of time for this project deadline now, but I’ll be making a note of the page numbers where I can go back and replace the images later.
Update: One more piece of the puzzle
I asked around at the WordPress Edinburgh meetup group, and no one else there had had to solve this particular problem, but they did suggest looking into browser based accessibility extensions.
I discovered there are also accessibility software plugins for web browsers and desktop software that can be used to make maths accessible. Texthelp offers EquatIO in versions for Google, Windows (Desktop version of Word), or the Mac.
EquatIO for Google is free for teachers, however, one of EquatIO’s premium (ie, paid) features is the Screenshot Reader, which can take a screenshot of a maths equation from any web based or desktop application, read it aloud and convert it into accessible maths which can be copied and pasted into EquatIO and then into documents. Annual licence prices for this upgrade can be found here: https://www.texthelp.com/en-gb/products/equatio/upgrade/
Here’s a video of EquatIO’s Screenshot Reader in action:
I did look in our Software Center to see if we already had EquatIO, and I found another program by Texthelp called Read & Write Gold 12, which looks as if it is also assistive software, but for dyslexia.
However, I will be trying out EquatIO, and next time I have 30 comparatively free days coming up, I’ll also do the free test of their premium features to see what they do and if they will work with my setup. One question I still have, for example, is whether the accessible output can be pasted into WordPress – or will we need a WordPress plugin anyway?
Next time I go to an e-Learning catch-up with the other science departments, I will have some questions for them too!
To be continued…
If any of my readers are (or know any) maths or science students who use assistive software, I would love to hear from them to get their views and experiences of this. Please do get in touch – post a comment and I’ll get back to you!
- W3.org: 12 – Mathematical Equations.
- Hmm. Perhaps this is deprecated too? https://www.w3.org/MarkUp/html3/maths.html
- CodeCogs: Equations in HTML (SVG + GIF)
- Stack Overflow: How to write equations in html?
- Writing Fractions in HTML
- MathJax: Accessibility
- MathJax Semantic Enrichment Project
- The University’s approved plugin: WP QuickLaTeX
- Writing Math on the Web – Brian Hayes, in American Scientist, March – April 2009. An interesting article about the history of mathematical typsetting, markup and encoding.
- Math in HTML (and CSS)
- MathType for Equations – Web Accessibility, Michigan State University
- More Web Accessibility Tutorials from Michigan State University
- How to Make Math Accessible on the Web – Texthelp
- Texthelp: EquatIO Feature List
- EquatIO for Google
- EquatIO – Math made digital (Chrome Browser Extension)
- Annual Licence Fees for EquatIO with Premium Features
- Read & Write Gold 12: assistive software for dyslexia
- WordPress Edinburgh meetup group
See, sometimes it’s worth scrolling to the end!
Quadratic formula song by Kathy Troxel – Public domain