[Mathematical Access for TecHnology and Science for visually disabled users]

A project funded by the European Commission under its Tide programme (Technology Initiative for Disabled and Elderly persons).

TIDE logo

Project number 1033.


mathematics, blindness, visual disability, visual impairment, speech, non-speech sounds, braille, SGML

Notes on these pages for blind readers


Maths is a completed project. Details of subsequent developments are available from the former lead partner.

Mathematics is the basis of many other disciplines: science, technology - and even social sciences often rely on statistics. Exclusion from mathematics can be a serious handicap in education and work. Communication of mathematics is usually visual - formulas, diagrams, graphs etc. That makes it very difficult for blind and partially sighted people to do mathematics and effectively bars them from many work and educational opportunities.

The following equation illustrates many of the problems:

x equals the fraction negative b plus or minus the quantity b squared minus four ac, denominator two a

It is complex, two-dimensional and very concise - to delete any one symbol would completely change the meaning of the equation.

Written mathematical notations are important not only as a means of one person communicating to another, but also as a memory aid to assist someone doing mathematics (writing down intermediate results, for instance). So, blind and partially sighted students require a means of accessing mathematical books and a substitute for pencils and paper.

Much of this project was based upon the work carried out by Robert Stevens in his PhD thesis,
Principles for the design of auditory interfaces to present complex information to blind people, DPhil Thesis, University of York, 1996
The thesis is available by FTP (zipped Latex format)

A multi-media workstation

Providing an alternative is not as simple as it may seem, mathematics notations are rich and complex. While braille is very useful, it is not a complete answer. The aim of the Maths project is to develop a multi-media computer workstation for the presentation and manipulation of textual mathematical material.

The workstation will present the material using

Design objectives

The Maths workstation is capable of handling most of the mathematics required of upper level secondary school students. Later developments should pass the ideas and facilities down to younger mathematicians.

The workstation will not be a teaching machine. Human teachers will still be responsible for that; the workstation will simply be the student's 'pencil and paper'.

The workstation is based on SGML - the Standard Generalized Markup Language. This is an international standard for book publishing and increasing numbers of books are being published using this format. That means that it should be comparatively straight-forward to transfer maths books published in this format onto the workstation.

HTML - which is used for all Web pages is closely related to HTML and it is hoped that soon the two will be fully integrated - including mathematics. (As it is you will notice on some of the pages linked to this one, that we have had to unclude mathematical expressions as pictures, because they are not expressible in HTML).

Using standard texts, published in SGML will mean that visually disabled and sighted pupils will be able to work from the same texts and - as far as is possible - the mathematics will `look' the same to all of them. The workstation will run on standard PC computers.


There were five partners in the project. Their names and main responsibilities are:

In addition the University of Bradford acted as a subcontractor to York, advising on the use of SGML and Sensotec was a subcontractor to Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.

List of Publications

The Maths project started in 1994 and finished in 1997. If you would like to be kept in touch with developments, please contact:

F. H. Papenmeier GmbH & Co. KG 
PO Box 1620
2 Talwegstrasse Schwerte

Alistair Edwards
Login name: alistair
Domain: cs.york.ac.uk


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