Moving STEM Documents Online: Sustainable Workflows for Accessible Content

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Although for many years there has been a steady push to move teaching content online, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend, suddenly forcing all faculty to focus on delivering teaching and learning online. However, rushing material online without understanding some of the requirements of usability and accessibility of web content will not only lead to a negative student experience, but may also threaten fair and inclusive education for many years to come. This threat is particularly potent in scientific subjects where equations and diagrams play an integral role in education and present a major obstacle for accessibility. This talk will discuss how to overcome these obstacles and present techniques and technologies that enable the conversion of existing documents to accessible web content with relatively little effort but high impact on inclusive STEM education.

This presentation includes a general introduction to web accessibility and usability issues related to scientific online content, past and future. This will include the implications of accessibility and requirements for barrier-free access to STEM teaching with the perspective that the Web is nevertheless the ideal platform for hosting and curating modern math-based content. At the end of this presentation, attendees will be more familiar with a set of open source software for conversion of mathematical documents from standard sources (like LaTeX, Word or text) to accessible web content. The presentation will highlight how specific tools like pandoc and TeX4ht allow for bulk conversion of documents resulting in material that can be directly rendered and made accessible in any browser using MathJax.

Presenter Bio: Dr. Volker Sorge is Professor in Document Analysis and Accessibility at the School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham, UK. He leads the Scientific Document Analysis group whose research primarily focuses on mathematical document analysis, diagram recognition and handwriting recognition. For many years Volker has worked on STEM accessibility. As a visiting scientist at Google he integrated mathematics support into the ChromeVox screen reader. As a member of the MathJax consortium he has worked on formula accessibility on the web. Most recently, in collaboration with the PreTeXt group, the NFB and the American Institute of Mathematics he contributed to the automatic transcription of LaTeX textbooks into tactile Braille books. In his start-up company Progressive Accessibility Solutions (, Volker focuses on exploiting pattern recognition and image analysis technology for automatically making STEM diagrams accessible for use in teaching and science. Volker Sorge has studied Mathematics, Computer Science and Philosophy at the University of Würzburg, University of Texas at Austin, and University Saarbrücken. He holds Research Masters in Mathematics and a PhD in Computer Science (Computational Logic).

This is the feature presentation of Virginia Tech's 2021 Open Education Symposium.

accessibility, mathematics, accessible technology, document creation, computer science, inclusive STEM education, LaTeX, pandoc, screen reader, equations, scientific diagrams, document analysis, web accessibility, digital math, scientific online content, MathJax