Making Equations in Online Learning Accessible


Creating accessible equations presents challenges for accurate and accessible content. Frequently, equation authoring software tools create equations that cannot be read accurately or contain errors when students are using assistive technology, such as screen readers. For example, the Microsoft PowerPoint equation editor cannot create accessible equations or support conversion to an accessible format.

Whiting School of Engineering encourages the creation of equations using EquatIO, MathType, or LaTeX because these tools can output equations as either an accessible image containing alternative text or in Math Markup Language (MathML), which are accessible to screen readers.

Please note that MathType is only provided to WSE faculty currently in an active course development with an assigned instructional designer. All WSE faculty can use our divisional license for EquatIO to create and edit math content.

Note: All equations regardless of program or tool used must be verified for accuracy, including the visual display and alt text of images.


MathML uses Extensible Markup Language (XML) tags to mark up both the presentation and mathematical semantics of equations. This provides access to the visual representation and meaning of equations for assistive technology. MathML has several benefits such as giving the user the ability to change font size and translate into native languages. A significant advantage in complex equations is allowing screen reader users to take a deeper dive into the structure of equations using audio navigation. MathML may be inserted into the Canvas HTML editor and correctly displayed on Canvas pages.

MathML provides the highest level of accessibility to math in a digital format. Images with alternative text are considered an acceptable alternative for simple math content that can be accurately described using alternative text (alt text). For more complex equations, however, images with alt text do not provide truly comparable access to the information found in equations built with MathML (DO-IT, 2021; Lattin, 2022).

Having the equation-based content in MathML format is beneficial for the following reasons:

  • Expedites requests for accommodation
  • Complies with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
  • Incorporates research-based best practices in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) by anticipating learner diversity


LaTeX is a typesetting language used to convey mathematic notations using only keyboard characters. LaTeX can be used as an input to various equation editors, including the Canvas equation editor, EquatIO, and MathType.

LaTeX files (.tex) may be converted to HTML with equations in MathML using a conversion program such as Pandoc. The converted file may then be used to create a Canvas page that includes accessible math equations.

Pandoc LaTeX Conversion Process


EquatIO has several input methods to create math content, including

  1. Typing the equations.
  2. Using voice dictation.
  3. Writing equations by hand using a mouse, stylus, or touchscreen.
  4. Using a cell phone to take photos of handwritten or digital mathematical equations.
  5. Taking screenshots of existing handwritten or digital equations, either in documents or online.

Typical EquatIO output   is an equation image   with alt text that can be read aloud by assistive technology, such as a screen reader. Note that instructors must verify the accuracy of alt text produced by EquatIO.

Other output options include MathML or LaTeX code that may be used to edit the equation or copy and paste into other applications such as MathType, the Canvas equation editor, or the Canvas HTML editor.

Using EquatIO for Accessible Math

Equatio Overview Video


MathType is an equation authoring software for creating accessible MathML equations. MathType includes a menu of mathematical symbols and templates, keyboard shortcuts, and LaTeX input capabilities. MathType can produce MathML or LaTeX outputs, as selected in the Cut and Copy Preferences settings.

MathType may be used in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to create accessible equations that provide access to MathML. Because PDFs are not typically accessible, content needs to be provided to students in the original format (i.e., .docx or .pptx) rather than as a PDF.

MathType Quick Start Guide

Math Tools Comparison

This table provides an overview of the types of documents you may encounter, the accessibility of the built-in equation editor in each application, and accessibility of content created with LaTeX, EquatIO, and MathType.

Canvas Pages are the recommended method for providing accessible equations, either as the single source or as accessible alternatives to external documents.


Location Is the Built-In Equation Editor Accessible? LaTeX EquatIO MathType


The native Canvas equation editor is LaTeX based.


You can input LaTeX directly into the Canvas equation editor.


You can copy LaTeX from EquatIO and insert into Canvas editor.

You can copy MathML and insert into HTML code for the Canvas page.


You can copy MathML from MathType and insert into the HTML code for the Canvas page.



Screen readers often ignore parts of the equation leaving the spoken math content meaningless.


You can input LaTeX into MathType to create accessible equations.


EquatIO inserts an image with alt text.

Alt text must be verified by subject matter expert.

Editing the equation image requires taking a screenshot to open the equation in EquatIO.


Use the MathType desktop application, as the add-in creates images without alt text. You must provide the PowerPoint file, rather than a PDF version.

Note: Equations may appear visually incorrect in the PowerPoint file when viewed in some browsers but should be read correctly by the screen reader.



You must provide the file as a Word document, rather than a PDF. NVDA requires the addon MathCAT.


You can input LaTeX directly into the Word equation editor.


EquatIO inserts the equation as an image with alt text.

You can also copy the LaTeX code from EquatIO to insert into Word equation editor.


You must provide the file as a Word document, not a PDF.



There is no built-in equation editor in Adobe Acrobat.



Images with alt text can be correctly read by screen readers.



Output N/A LaTeX code could be used in other applications such as Canvas, EquatIO or MathType. It can be typed directly into these tools or copied from one and pasted into another. EquatIO Output Options include images with alt text, LaTeX, and MathML. MathType Output Options include MathML, LaTeX, and a MathType object which does not need alt text.



Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology (DO-IT). (2021, April 9). What is MathML? University of Washington.

Lattin, Z. (2022, February 15). Arbitrarily close to access in STEM [Video]. YouTube.


Interactive Accessible Math Decision Tree

Converting Equations to MathML

Was this article helpful?
0 out of 0 found this helpful