What’d you say? Harnessing Speech Access for Accessible Digital Mathematics: Importance, Potential, and Challenges

Handouts Media

Presented at 9:15am in Penrose 1 on Wednesday, November 8, 2023.



  • Brian Richwine, Senior Accessibility Strategist - Learning Technologies, Indiana University Bloomington
  • Mary Stores, Accessibility Analyst, Indiana University
  • Neil Soiffer, Chief Listening Officer, Talking Cat Software

Session Details

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


Many assume braille is vital for visually impaired students to excel in math, but not all read braille. Technologies providing speech access to digital math and science content hold great potential to remove STEM access barriers. In this talk, we'll explore speech access options and their configurability, tech advancements, and supports for learning to access math via speech.


While many believe that learning braille is essential for visually impaired students to excel in mathematics, not all individuals with visual impairments read braille. Expecting students to learn both the UEB and Nemeth braille codes simply to complete a single math course for their degree requirements is impractical and unreasonable.

A variety of technologies, media formats, and workflows have emerged to create accessible electronic mathematical content. Costly refreshable braille displays should not be a prerequisite for accessing the vast array of accessible math content on the internet. Instead, technologies that enable effective speech access to digital math and science content offer immense potential for removing barriers for accessing STEM content.

In this presentation, we will immerse you in the experience of taking a simple math quiz using speech access. We will delve into the importance of understanding and configuring the various options for providing speech access to mathematical content by exploring the history and modern applications of using screen reading software with accessible digital mathematics.

By demonstrating linear and non-linear speech access with screen reading software and expression explorers, we will highlight the efficacy of these technologies and we will scrutinize areas where further progress is needed and where caution should be exercised. Additionally, we will discuss supports individuals can use to build their skills in accessing mathematics via speech.


  1. Braille Shouldn't Be Vital: Alternatives to braille via technology for accessing STEM materials with speech
  2. Navigating the Tech: Showcasing tech options for speech access, their configurability, and latest advancements
  3. Skills & Challenges: Discuss supports for speech-based math access & address where caution is necessary

Disability Areas

Cognitive/Learning, Vision

Topic Areas

Accessible Educational Materials, Assistive Technology, Other, Research, Uncategorized, Web/Media Access

Speaker Bio(s)

Brian Richwine

Brian has a BSEE from GMI Engineering & Management Institute (now Kettering University). He has worked with assistive technology, alternate media, and web/IT accessibility at while supporting the accessible use of learning technologies (LT) at Indiana University for 22 years.

Mary Stores

Mary Stores has worked at the Assistive Technology and Accessibility Center for over 20 years. She is currently an accessibility analyst and has her JAWS certification.

Mary enjoys living in this time of technology advances. 20 years ago, she never would have thought that people who are blind could take pictures. However, thanks to the smart phone and a book from the National Braille Press, she was able to learn how to successfully take pictures of quite a few things to share with her friends.

Neil Soiffer

Neil Soiffer is a principal architect of MathML, the standard for putting math on the web. He was the main developer of MathPlayer and its replacement MathCAT. MathCAT is used with NVDA and other Assistive Technology to make math accessible in Web, Word, and PowerPoint documents. He has published numerous papers on math accessibility and is a member of various standards groups concerned with accessibility on the Web and elsewhere. He currently co-chairs the W3C Math Working Group that is working on greater browser support for MathML along with updating the MathML standard. He received a B.S. in Math from MIT and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from UC Berkeley. He has worked at Tektronix's Computer Research Lab, Wolfram Research (Mathematica), Design Science (MathType, MathPlayer), and has now formed his own accessibility company, Talking Cat Software where he been focused on the open source MathCAT (Mathematics Capable Assistive Technology) project.