Dealing With Maths and Screenreaders: Introduction

There is a question which I hope to answer in this series on accessibility of maths (or math) content on a computer. This is a big issue for not only blind and visually impaired students around the world, but even their teachers and lecturers.

The enquiry is: “Is it possible for a blind person to access mathematical content?”

This first question presupposes that since mathematical content may tend to be too visual in some of its branches (think algebra and geometry for instance), or even in statistics where descriptive summaries use graphs. Thus, anyone sighted may be curious as to how blind people access maths.

Of course, it is possible to do maths even while blind. This is particularly true when one is using Braille.

The next question, which even other blind people ask is, “Can I access mathematical content using a screen reader?”

This trepidation is understandable considering that the primary material to be considered for access is literary stuff.

Yet, when you are seriously invested in quantitative research, there is no way you can avoid working with maths, especially its branch of statistics.

Statistics is an attempt to quantify randomness. This is usually done through collection of data from samples of a larger population. You have to describe the data you got as numbers or graphs.

As this site is concerned with both accessible research and education, I will be discussing how to access maths using a screen reader. However, for the meantime, the short answer is: yes, it is possible to do maths using a screen reader.

but why a Screen Reader?

In this set of posts, I will be talking of the screen reader for practical reasons:

  • Screen readers such as NVDA and JAWS for Windows are not specialised tools per se. Instead, you can just install them as any standard program on your ordinary computer.
  • In fact, modern computers, both Windows and Mac OS X, come with built-in screen readers. Mac comes with Voiceover whilst Windows comes with Narrator.
  • Other alternatives, such as Braille displays are expensive, and not affordable for ordinary users in this country, so I will not speak of these for now.

In the next three posts, I will discuss accessibility of maths content,

  1. First, with reading it in a document;
  2. Then we’ll look at how to write maths.
  3. The final post will be dedicated to dealing with statistics in particular.

I trust these would prove useful for your productivity. Until next time, happy reading!

Ishe Chinyoka
Ishe Chinyoka
Access Technology Instructor

My research interests include operating systems, access technology, programming, and science fiction.