How to create an accessible equation in learning?


Context: At the Canada School of Public Service we create online courses for federal employees. A team in my department is developing a new online course that introduces several mathematical equations. They want to add the equation as an image and create hot spots on the various parts that learners can click on to learn more about the various parts of the equation. They plan to provide a graphic description, but they are not sure if they should use words or the actual symbols and equation.

Currently, my recommendation is that they use MathML to code the equation (instead of an image) and provide a long description (in an accordion). This long description would include the definitions of the parts of the equation and a word version of the equation in plain language. The main issue I found is that NVDA cannot interact with MathML, but JAWS is fine with it.

We are considering universal design learning (UDL) and the multiple means of representation. If we do provide more than one way to interact with the content then we will ensure that all versions are accessible. We would also provide clear and detailed instructions of the various options, how to navigate (to, from and around) them and how to use them.

This is a three-part question.

  1. Has anyone created multiple ways to present content (information or an activity) in an online course?
  2. What is the best way to provide an equation in a course?
  3. Should we provide a plain language version the equation to learners? and How? I did some research and found conflicting information on whether to use symbols or words for the plain version of the equation.


UDL: The UDL Guidelines (

MathML Core (

Getting started with MathML - Learn web development | MDN (

Taking steps toward more usable and accessible math online - Brightspace (

How do I provide a text alternative to a plain text equation using HTML and CSS? - Stack Overflow

(PDF) Textual Description for Mathematical Equations (

Automating Alt Text for Math Equations with PREP (


  • Stefanie.B.518
    Stefanie.B.518 Posts: 469 admin

    Hi @Melissa.T.336
    This is a wonderful question and I'm so grateful to you for posting it here in Community.

    I'm going to do my best to answer your 3 parter and hope to offer a few extra bits that I hope will be handy too

    1) I've helped to create our Free Course accessible from the Learning Center for free to all called 3 Keys to More Accessible Written Communications. In this course, we try to provide a few different examples for how images might be presented in the Learning Environment in different ways. ex. increasingly complex images of flowers and the alt or descriptive text that might accompany them.

    2) When I've worked with more complex equations in Brightspace, I've used the Equation Editor to help me author them in quizzes and in content. Others here in the Community may have different suggestions to offer, but this has been my experience (typically in these situations I've been using the equation editor to respond to Community questions or address a need for a Math or Science Educator- but for transparency my "teachables" are not in STEM)

    3) American Legislation on Accessibility of Web Content recommends the use of "linearized form[s] of the equation as part of your alt text when using equation graphics" ( )

    W3C WAI recommends "Images of math expressions should only be used in exceptional circumstances," and suggests that "the preferred method for displaying math expressions is MathML" ( )

    Based on this, I would recommend not putting a picture of the equation in a hotspot, but perhaps using the Brightspace Equation Editor to author an activity in a quiz or other editable spaces in the environment. The Equation editor is built on MathML so it makes it easier to follow this best practice without having to know or speed learn a new code language. Doing this also makes space for everyone in the class to get the same access to "hint" information/plain language/additional context that you might provide in content or throughout a part of the activity.

    I think you may already be connected with our Accessibility Interest Group, but I wanted to offer a shameless plug here for them because they're a WONDERFUL Community group and would probably just love to chat more about the activity with you and other approaches.

    If you Bookmark This AIG Events Discussion you'll get automated email notifications when new monthly events are coming up. The next one happens to be this week Feb 1, 2024

    Hope this has been helpful- truly glad to be connected and learning from your excellent question!