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Community Member

Accessibility of built in equation editor?

In talking about accessibility and campus, several of our faculty have asked about the equation editor in the RCE. From what I can tell, it encodes using LaTeX, which is (I think?) readable by screen readers. In searching this site, the General Accessibility Design Guidelines and the Accessibility Within Canvas doc don't really drill down to this level. 

What has your experience been with accessibility and the built-in Math editor? And if it's not awesome, what alternates have you worked with? 

Oh, I should note... the questions are framed around reading it, but authoring equations is equally interesting/important. 


6 Replies
New Member

Hi Marc,

It does use LaTex, but the nice thing about it is when you add it to the page it generates it as an image with alt text that has both LaTex and MathML. Since it has MathML attached to it, someone using a screen reader should hear the equation read correctly. The LaTex is also read by screen readers. The only potentially confusing thing is you will hear the LaTex first followed by MathML, which may be initially confusing for some users.

Community Member

Math equations generated by the math editor were not accessible when we tested them with screen readers like JAWS.  Screen readers do not support LaTex, according to this site: Accessibility at Penn State | Equations: MathML, Images and LaTeX 

Equations generated with the 3rd party math editor MathType/WIRIS were accessible, but that tool is not free.

A workaround for now is to manually edit the alt text for the image of the equation generated by the built-in math editor.  Of course, this risks people making mistakes and producing inaccurate alt text.

Screen readers do support MathML. Some 3rd party math homework tools like MyOpenMath and Ximera use the MathJax library to make their equations accessible with MathML.

See this Canvas feature request: 

Community Member

As Matt said in November, the Canvas math editor does produce accessible content for everyone. It displays the math as an SVG that enlarges nicely, provides the LaTeX code in the image title attribute and generates correctly spoken math for screen reader users in the background when the page is saved. At the moment, the only place this is not working correctly is in the quiz platform (the old one). I have been working with tech support to get that fixed and the fix is currently in beta and should be moved to production soon.

LaTeX and MathML can both be accessible for screen readers. At  Penn State we have added the MathJax script to our instance of Canvas so that people can author in LaTeX or MathML on the page in the HTML editor view. MathJax causes the code to be rendered visually correct in all browsers and provides some nice built-in accessibility features. Both will read correctly with JAWS and NVDA.

Some of us have brought this up in the ATHEN group to ask that Instructure add MathJax to Canvas to allow for additional math authoring workflows for all Canvas users. I see that is also a feature request.

 @szw151adm ‌, you said "At the moment, the only place this is not working correctly is in the quiz platform (the old one). I have been working with tech support to get that fixed and the fix is currently in beta and should be moved to production soon." Do you mean that the screen reader wasn't working correctly? Do you know if this was included in the Production release this weekend?

I ask because we also have MathJax installed in our instance, and today I received a ticket from a teacher using the native Equation Editor in the old quiz who is seeing their equation duplicated in the quiz preview. I'm still testing, but it appears that something in the HTML is getting picked up by MathJax and generating a MathJax object of that equation. I've only seen it so far when a quiz question has been setup as multiple fill in the blanks. Wondering if it's related to Saturday's release. Have any issues come your way?


I am seeing two issues.

  1. If you add math content via the math editor in the RCE, the math content is not reading correctly with a screen reader because the MathML that provides correct math speak is not being generated as it should, and as it does in other places in Canvas. This is supposedly fixed. The fix is in beta, but I tested it yesterday and it was not fixed in our beta instance, so I did let them know.
  2. If you have MathJax in your instance, adding MathML code directly to the page does not work. It does not display correctly. What I see on the page after saving is the raw MathML code. I have worked with our programmer and Canvas tech support and not been able to identify why this is happening. Again this is only in the quiz platform.

We did create a work around, which is where you use the free online version of the MathType editor to generate the correctly spoken math and then use that text to replace the LaTex code in the math image alt text.

Let me know if you have other questions.

Thank you, dear Sonya! We at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) are dealing with the same issue. We use Canvas for the campus system (which is very good!) and we would like to add MathJax to our Canvas, to make math content readable by screen readers. Right now as you said math content is formatted as MathML, and screen readers do not seem to work with this as is. But MathJax would be very helpful. I tried to manually add script HTML line to the preamble in editing window, bu Canvas simply cuts it off.

Who can add MathJax to our existing Canvas at UNR, and how? I am not a IT expert, just an assistant professor of Mathematics & Statistics. Your help will be greatly appreciated.