Making Equations in Online Learning Accessible


Preparing equation intensive content for inclusion in online courses presents challenges for accessibility of the content because frequently the tools used to create equation-based content cannot be read through screen readers. For example, when equations are produced using the equation editor in Microsoft Office, there is no way to make the equations readable in an HTML environment.

Whiting School of Engineering encourages the creation of equation-based content using either LaTeX or MathType because both of these tools can output the completed content/equations into Math Markup Language (Math ML) format which is fully accessible to screen readers.

Once equation content is created using LaTeX or MathType (either in documents (lecture notes and assignments)) or on PPTs, the follow-up is to also produce/output the equation content into MathML format to be archived with the course production materials. Having the equation-based content in MathML format is beneficial for the following reasons:

  • Expedites requests for accommodation
  • Complies with the American with Disabilities Act
  • Incorporates research-based best practices in universal design for learning (UDL)

What is Math ML?

MathML is an XML application for describing mathematical notation and capturing both its structure and content. The goal of MathML is to enable mathematics to be served, received, and processed on the Web, just as HTML has enabled this functionality for text.

Why is it important to convert equation content to MathML?

Web-based content must be made accessible to people with vision, hearing, and motor impairments per the Americans with Disabilities Act. Producers of web-based content who are recipients of federal funding, including colleges and universities, must comply with this mandate. In addition, producing content that is accessible to people with sensory and motor impairments is an industry best practice[i] and the right thing to do. Producing accessible content is also in keeping with universal course design principles: the creation of content across all courses to serve as diverse a population and audience as possible.

Converting Equations/Content to MathML

  • To produce accessible versions of content that includes equations, the bulk of the content (textual content) is rendered as HTML which is completely readable to a screen reader.
    • Render the text-based content in HTML into a content management system or into an application such as Dreamweaver or Notepad.
    • This procedure can be as simple as copying and pasting source code from a web page.
  • The next step is to convert the equations themselves into MathML format and paste them into the HTML code at the appropriate locations.
    • (This process assumes that the equations were created using LaTeX or MathType and that they are being cut and pasted from a text format/NOT picture format.)
      • Note: If the equations are in a graphic format (JPG, PNG, TIFF, or GIF), they have to be re-typed using MathType before they can be converted to MathML.
    • Open the free-standing version of MathType on your computer. (When you install MathType on your computer, it installs as a plug-in equation editor in Word and PowerPoint – but you may also open it as a free-standing application.)
    • Before you cut and paste equations into the MathType interface, check these settings:
      • From the Preferences drop-down menu, select ‘Cut and Copy Preferences’
      • Select the second radio button ‘Equation for application or website’
      • In the dropdown at that radio button, select ‘MathML 0’
        • If multiple ‘MathML 2.0’ options appear in the list, select ‘MathML 2.0 (namespace attr)’
      • Leave the other radio buttons blank and exit the dialog box by selecting ‘OK’
    • Now that you have chosen the proper settings in MathType, copy the text-based equations from Word or PowerPoint and paste them into the Math Type interface.
      • Visually check the pasted equation to make sure the equation is correctly formatted in the MathType window.
    • Next, copy out of MathType and paste into the web page at the source code level.
    • What you have pasted into the source code is the true MathML code, readable by a screen reader.


[i] World Wide Web Consortium (WC3)