MathML Cloud Converts Mathematical Expressions into Accessible Formats

By Benetech, posted on

Provides Individuals with Visual Disabilities or Learning Differences
Equal Opportunity to Study Math Concepts

Palo Alto, California, May 27, 2015—Benetech announces the beta release of MathML Cloud 1.0, a free, open source, cloud-based tool that automatically generates accurate images and image descriptions of mathematical expressions. By converting the math into multiple forms, MathML Cloud allows content developers easily to express digitized math and render it through visual display and alternative access means, such as synthetic speech. This service provides access to math for readers who have visual disabilities or learning differences, thus enabling them properly to study math concepts critical for successful Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.

Benetech built MathML Cloud to address the challenge of making digitized math accessible and usable across the widest range of learner variability. The challenge stems from the fact that most standard reading technologies lack native support for MathML (Mathematical Markup Language)—an open standard for encoding information that facilitates the use of mathematical expressions in web pages and digital textbooks. That is why, to date, content developers have often defaulted to rendering digitized math as an image, sometimes without retaining the detailed math markup for reference. In the absence of this information, however, when a screen reader user comes across the image rendition, s/he hears the word “image” (or sometimes meaningless words) spoken, but has no means to perceive the math content behind it.

MathML Cloud solves this problem by generating the image that the publisher needs for display while also generating the prose transcription, scalable vector graphics (SVG), and MathML that the reader needs for accessibility. In addition, the MathML is saved in the cloud for later retrieval and use by future reading systems as new technologies emerge. Because it is free and open source, publishers can easily integrate MathML Cloud into their content production workflow, ensuring that their MathML-encoded math is compatible with all reading devices and is made accessible from the outset—what Benetech calls “born accessible.”

MathML Cloud is a product of Benetech Labs, where Benetech creates new technology enterprises for social empowerment, and of the DIAGRAM Center, a Benetech-led research and development initiative that makes it easier, cheaper, and faster to create and use accessible digital images. “MathML Cloud demonstrates the Benetech Labs’ approach to product development, which is rooted in rapid prototyping and convening nonprofit, corporate, technology, and stakeholder communities,” says Anh Bui, vice president of Benetech Labs. “We are delighted to see this tool emerge out of the Labs program and the DIAGRAM Center, and believe it is poised to make lasting impact by empowering the educational community to give all individuals equal opportunities to learn critical math concepts.” With the soft launch of this open source project, Benetech is seeking user feedback.

MathML Cloud was made possible thanks to an award from Microsoft’s Solutions for Good Program, and through partnerships with the American Mathematical Society. It is built using open source technology for MathJax and ChromeVox, Google Chrome’s text-to-speech engine.

“MathML Cloud will enable us to generate alternative text descriptions for mathematical equation content in our ebooks quickly and easily,” said Sanders Kleinfeld, Director of Publishing Technology at O’Reilly Media. “We have been very excited to watch the development of this tool and know that many STEM publishers will be able to benefit from it.”