Microsoft Supports Benetech to Make Math Accessible; Advancing Equal Education for All Students

By Benetech, posted on

Benetech is one of three U.S. nonprofit organizations to win Microsoft’s Solutions for Good award—which funds the development of MathML Cloud, a cloud-based app that automatically creates accurate images and image descriptions of mathematical expressions, while retaining the detailed math markup for reference. This service will provide access to math for students 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.

“Microsoft selected projects that had a clear go-forward plan and leveraged various pieces of the Microsoft technology ecosystem,” said James Rooney, Senior Manager of the program. “Choosing only three winners was not an easy task.”

MathML (Mathematical Markup Language) is an open standard for encoding information that facilitates the use of mathematical expressions in web pages and digital textbooks. It allows content developers to accurately express digitized math and render it through visual display and alternative access means, such as synthetic speech and braille.

However, “while some publishers and content creators are beginning to include accessible math equations in digital content, most standard reading technologies—including ebook readers, word processing programs, and web browsers—lack native MathML support,” explains Betsy Beaumon, Vice President of the Benetech Global Literacy Program. “That means publishers still often default to the least common denominator, an image, and lose all the important accessible coding. Because of Microsoft’s generous support, Benetech can now create this bridge to help the educational community deliver accessible math.”

This winning project was selected by Microsoft business leaders across various teams, including Disaster Response, Citizenship and Public Affairs, Skype, and experts on civic engagement from Microsoft Research.