Why is digitally accessible content important?

  • Inclusive for all students and a legal requirement.
  • It allows students to use screen readers (which need to be accessible for equations and symbols to make sense):
    • supporting readers with visual impairment access the content
    • supporting literacy (e.g. students with English as a second language)
    • to reduce cognitive load in a body of text (e.g. dyslexia, dyspraxia).
  • It allows readers to easily navigate and jump to different sections, which also supports students with motor difficulties and issues around working memory (e.g. dyslexia, dyspraxia, mental health issues).
  • It allows zooming-in and viewing on smaller screen (Tablets, Phones) with the content reflowing. This can support readers with motor difficulties (avoid scrolling) or needing a larger font size.
  • Publishing digitally can also support other media types, e.g. videos, interactive graphs, etc. in addition to external hyperlinks.

What does "accessible" mean for technical content?

There are many different aspects to making content accessible, which are covered in our main guidance and also resources for inclusive teaching. The additional physical accessibility challenges relating to technical disciplines (particularly STEM) are:

  • Lossy formats for maths content. For example, the structure/semantics of equations is not accessible for a pdf produced using LaTeX to a visually impaired student.
  • Inadequate encoding of content: For example, superscripts typed outside the maths environment may not be conveyed to a screen reader.
  • Unable to interact with the material. For example, missing or inadequate descriptions (alt text) to fully access the information contained in a diagram.

What works?

There needs to be adequate provision for all readers to engage with all content, including images, diagrams, plots, etc. In some cases this requires using another method of interacting with the content: for example having adequate alternative text supporting a figure.

To make the maths content is physically accessible there are two main routes to authoring a document:

  • produce the document with Microsoft Equation Editor (which supports Word and Powerpoint).
  • create the document as an html webpage with the maths rendered using MathJax. There are different routes to achieving this, with the simplest being to use Rmarkdown (bookdown) or write maths equations directly into Moodle (both support LaTeX-like maths entry).

In the following links you will find support and guidance on how to create accessible maths documents:

Resource Who is this for? Advantages Disadvantages
Microsoft Equation Editor Guidance Word & Powerpoint users
  • Very simple to use
  • Not just a GUI: most equations can be typed using LaTeX syntax
  • Misses extended control of LaTeX equations
RMarkdown Guidance (bookdown) LaTeX users
  • Maths syntax is same as LaTeX
  • Focus on content. Control of the document properties is controlled elsewhere
  • Very clean in contrast to verbose LaTeX markup.
  • Can convert to LaTeX, pdf, html, beamer outputs
  • Detailed control of typesetting elements (e.g. pagebreaks) is separate step
  • Theorem/proof environments are not styled well "out of the box".
  • Lose support for some LaTeX packages/macros (though it is possible to reproduce functionality in R)