Math equation accessibility is an extremely nuanced topic, but it is also extraordinarily important, as math is a major component of a myriad of UCLA courses.
The most important thing to take away from this section is that the only accessible tool for distributing math equations is LaTeX.
That being said, the processes for implementing math equations and expressions in a course will depend heavily on the type of course you teach and your preferred lecturing method. In this section, we will go over your best options for implementing math in:
- Math-heavy courses
- Courses that use math sparingly
- CCLE/within a learning management system
- HTML format, via pandoc
Case 1: You teach a math-heavy course.
If you, as a faculty member, are not familiar with LaTeX, or you have a student who relies on screen reader technology who is not familiar with LaTeX, the only solution at this time is for all parties to learn LaTeX syntax and implementation.
If you aren’t familiar with LaTeX, refer to this collection of tutorials: Getting to grips with LaTeX. Particularly relevant sections are Absolute Beginners, Document Structure, and Mathematics - Part I and Part II.
Many faculty opt to use a LaTeX editor to simplify the process of writing and producing LaTeX documents. A common LaTeX environment is TeXworks.
Lectures and Distribution of Lecture Materials
In all cases, make sure you describe content out loud whenever possible.
Best option: Use PDFs (converted from a LaTeX source document) for teaching.
Why: This is the least effort-intensive option, and the most accessible - you can screenshare the document as you scroll through, and then distribute the same PDFs via CCLE. You will not need to translate written notes, nor a presentation, to a typed document.
Alternative option: Lecture via whiteboarding (writing live with a stylus on a tablet, or once lecturing in-person again, literally writing on whiteboards/blackboards).
Why: If you prefer whiteboarding, then you will need to distribute typed lecture notes, created using LaTeX. This is highly encouraged, regardless of whether a visually impaired student is taking your course, because handwritten notes are (1) not screen-reader compatible, and (2) often illegible and hard to parse. You are welcome to also post your written notes along with the typed notes.
Worst option: Use Powerpoints presentations for teaching.
Why: Neither a PPT file nor a PPT file that has been converted to a PDF file will be accessible to students who rely on screen readers, unless you follow the guidelines under Situation 2 (Note: this is not advised, since it would be extremely time- and effort-intensive). If you choose to use Powerpoint for lecture presentations, make sure to distribute your notes as a PDF created using LaTeX. Again, you are welcome to also post your slides along with the typed notes.
Case 2: You teach a course that uses math expressions sparingly.
You are also welcome to learn and implement LaTeX, and follow the guidelines above. That being said, if math equations are not a large component of your curriculum, you may instead follow the following guidelines to add math equations to your Powerpoint presentations. We will go over the terminology and practices you will need to know, below.
- An inline math equation refers to a formula embedded within a sentence. For example:
In physics, the mass-energy equivalence is stated by the equation E=mc2, discovered in 1905 by Albert Einstein.
- A display math equation refers to a formula that stands alone on a line. Display math equations are more commonly seen with complex equations and formulas, such as summations, integrals, etc. For example:
In physics, the mass-energy equivalence is stated by the equation
discovered in 1905 by Albert Einstein.
There is currently no free and easily accessible tool in Powerpoint for math equations, whether display or inline. If you plan to distribute your lecture materials (which you should), the math equations within them must be made accessible for all students.
At this time, the best practice is:
- Save the equations as images and reupload them with alt text. You may use Microsoft’s equation editor to write any formulas you need (if you don’t already have a method of inserting equations), and then save them as images and reupload. Refer to the Grouping Images section for more information on how to save as a PNG.
- Note that using Microsoft’s equation editor without reuploading the text as a PNG will not output accessible math equations/formulas/symbols. Thus, the equation editor should never be used in isolation.
- Avoid inline equations as much as possible. If inline equations are necessary, you will need to create separate text boxes between equations, and double check reading order (see our Reading Order guide for instructions). This ensures that the reading order is logical for screen reader users.
When distributing your presentations, distribute PDF copies, NOT ppt or pptx copies. Non-PDF versions are completely inaccessible to screenreader users, regardless of whether or not you implemented the changes outlined above.
To convert to PDF, click the “Create and Share Adobe PDF” icon on the Home tab (Mac) or click the Acrobat tab, then click “Create PDF.” (Mac and Windows). On any platform, do NOT: select File > Save As or Print > Save As PDF.
The most important things to remember are:
- Use display equations rather than inline whenever possible.
- Reupload equations as PNGs and add informative alt text.
- Distribute your presentations as Adobe PDFs.
Case 3: Math Equations in CCLE
For adding math equations or expressions to a CCLE page or post, use the built-in equation editor - it will render LaTeX accessibly. To use the equation-editor:
- In the Atto HTML editor, you will see the first row by default. Click “More” to see additional buttons. Select the equation editor (calculator icon).
- Write your equations/expressions into the pop-up using LaTeX, and click “Save equation” when happy with the expression.
- Note: If you can't find the math equation editor icon on your toolbar, make sure that Atto is your default text editor by going to your Edit Profile screen and checking the Text editor field.
Case 4: Using pandoc for accessible HTML documents
Here, we provide an advanced technique for math equation accessibility. If you’re interested, pandoc is a way of converting LaTeX source files to accessible HTML documents. As this is an advanced technique, we do not expect everyone to implement it! We’d just like to give the option to anyone who may be interested.
Note: This process assumes you're familiar with the following:
- Opening and using a command line interface
- Navigating file systems
Pandoc is a “swiss-army knife” of converting files from one format to another. It’s particularly useful when it comes to implementing math equations because it makes converting your resources into accessible HTML pages extremely straightforward.
Pandoc is a command-line tool, so conversions will require the use of a terminal on your machine.
To install pandoc:
- Visit the pandoc installation page and click the download button.
- Run the downloaded installer file.
To perform the conversion from LaTeX to HTML:
- Open a terminal and type "pandoc math.tex -s --mathjax -o mathMathJax.html"
- math.tex can be replaced with the name of your LaTeX file
- mathMathJax.html can be replaced with your desired output filename
If unfamiliar with the command-line interface, pandoc has an extensive getting started with pandoc page. In addition to their guide, we’ve listed a few ways to open up the terminal below:
- To open terminal on Mac:
- Type Command + Space to open the Spotlight Search (or open with the magnifying glass in the top right corner of your screen), and type “Terminal.app”. Double click the icon or press enter to open.
- Open Launchpad (rocket icon in dock), search for “Terminal”, and double click or press enter to open.
- To open terminal on Windows:
- Click the Windows icon on the bottom-left corner of your desktop. After opening the Start menu, type “cmd” or “Command Prompt.” Click the Command Prompt app on the menu to open the Command Prompt terminal in a new window.
- Hold down the Windows key on your keyboard, and press the "R" button. This will open the "Run" tool in a new pop-up window. Type “cmd” in the Run window, and click “OK.”
Once your terminal is open, navigate to the location of your LaTeX file and follow the directions above for performing a conversion to HTML.