Bookshare Making Math Accessible One Image at a Time

Handouts Media

Presented at 2:00pm in Plaza Court 3 on Thursday, November 18, 2021.



  • Charles LaPierre, Principal, Accessibility and Content Quality Architect, Benetech
  • Hema Natarajan, Product Manager, Benetech

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: Beginner
  • Type of session: General Conference


Images of math equations unfortunately is the norm for digital textbooks and a huge percentage of those have no alt-text descriptions. Bookshare aims to rectify this by detecting images containing math and adding a description of the equation to the image initially and ultimately replace the image with MathML.


Since the dawn of digital publishing, publishers have been putting images of math in their textbooks and unfortunately most didn't include any textual descriptions of these equations leaving screen reader users in the dark.

As publishers embrace accessibility and look to gain third party certification, they are slowly starting to include accessible math into their publications, but there is still a huge backlog of textbooks in need of remediation.

Benetech is proud to share that we launched an exciting new technology initiative focused on accessible Math. This pilot project, called Math Detective, uses machine learning to automate a scalable process to convert algebraic equations into accessible math for students with visual impairments and learning disabilities. We have successfully developed a working prototype and is an incredible breakthrough in the accessibility that will allow the conversion of math equations into accessible form at scale.


  1. Most of the math in digital publications are not accessible, Bookshare is determined to rectify this
  2. Accessible Math in EPUBs can be a reality, the first step is adding the math equation as accessible text.
  3. Bookshare plans on improving the math in our existing collection and on all EPUBs moving forward.

Disability Areas

Cognitive/Learning, Vision

Topic Areas

Accessible Educational Materials, Alternate Format, Uncategorized

Speaker Bio(s)

Charles LaPierre

Charles LaPierre, Benetech: Principal, Accessibility Standards, and Technical Lead, Global Certified Accessible. Charles has over 25 years’ accessibility development experience and has been a pioneer in accessible product development since 1993. Charles currently a member of the following W3C Working Groups: Publishing Working Group, MathML Refresh, ARIA, APA / Personalization Task Force, as well as a member of the EPUB3 W3C Community Group, and co-chair of the Accessibility Metadata W3C Community Group. Charles is the technical architect of the new Global Certified Accessible initiative at Benetech to certify publisher content as conforming to the new EPUB 1.0 Accessibility Specification. Charles has a bachelor's and master's degree in Electrical Engineering from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

Hema Natarajan

Hema Natarajan is a product manager with Benetech where she is part of the Global Literacy team and manages the Bookshare Reader Suite and Accessibility Engine line of products. Hema is passionate about forging equity in literacy and through her current role at Benetech, she is working towards making accessible STEM materials available to all students who need them. Prior to Benetech, Hema has spent more than 12 years building various products at companies like Microsoft and Facebook. Hema holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Washington and a Bachelor of Engineering from CIT.