a11y stands for accessibility, where 11 letters are omitted.
Since my birth I am visually handicapped due to macular degeneration. At the ages of 6 and 9 I was operated for congenital cataract and the optic lens was removed from my left eye. During my Bachelor studies, after a series of operations to fix a retinal detachment, I lost complete vision in my right eye. In 2017 the ophthalmic pressure collapsed in my right eye and had to be surgically repaired. I am considered legally blind.
Compared to my childhood and youth, technology has improved greatly in the last few years. This makes many tasks less challenging, but there is still a long way to go reach inclusivity. On this page I want to collect and share resources both for visually impaired as well as their peers, mentors, colleagues and friends.
Mathematics literature is easily available on internet in Latex and PDF format. This includes both educational and research material. Currently this literature is not easily accessible to visually impaired “readers”.
There is an abundance of software that can render normal text to audio and read books. However, these programs do not read mathematical formulas. This makes all STEM literature difficult to access for people without sufficient sight.
I am interested in improving available resources and am engaged in conversation with experts in the field of math accessibility. Some promising projects I am aware of are the following:
- MathJax for beautiful (and accessible) math in all browsers supported by the AMS and SIAM
- Maxtract for converting mathematical formulas from PDF into Latex etc.
- axessibility to access formulas in PDF files by assistive technologies
- RoboBraille for automatically converting documents to Braille
- Braille Mathematics Notation (an overview)
Conventional ways to make Math accessible
Classroom and seminar lectures contain a lot of visual information, both on blackboards and slides. What gets lost is mostly due to lack of verbalization. The excessive use of pronouns, for example “this is equal to that”, is a problem not just for visually impaired audience but for anyone who is not sufficiently familiar with the subject.
There are some simple and effective strategies to make talks accessible:
- How can you make your presentation accessible
- Making your conference talk accessible by Richard E. Ladner, University of Washington (a more detailed version of the first link)
- Creating accessible lectures/tutorials and Accessible power point presentations by the University of Edinburgh
(Almost) Blind mathematicians
- Leonard Euler (1707-1783) gradually lost his eyesight starting in his 30ies
- Lev Pontryagon (1908-1988) lost eyesight at 14
- Bernard Morin (1931-2018) lost eyesight at 6
- Larry Baggett (1939-) is blind since age 5
- Nicholas Saunderson (1682-1739) was blind
- Louis Antoine (1888-1971) turned blind at 29
- Alladi Subramanyan (my personal hero at IIT Bombay)
An article in the AMS Notices from 2002 talks about The World of Blind Mathematicians.
Some personal stories and links in academia/education
- Notes on Blindness (movie about John M. Hull, a blind Professor at the University of Birmingham)
- Doing math in Braille (tips for visually impaired and blind school children, by Carol Castellano and Dawn Kosman)
- Teaching math to students who are visually impaired or blind (by Susan Osterhaus)
- Blind mathematicians? Certainly (by Alfred P. Maneki)
- In the dark on the sunny side: A memoir of an out-of-sight mathematician (by Larry Baggett)
- Experiences of a blind computer scientist (by Sangyun Hahn)
- Stop talking about accessibility. Start talking about inclusive design. (by Paul Boag)
- How new technology helps blind people explore the world (TED talk by Chieko Asakawa)