Presentation: Adding Math to Digital Talking Books

Original Author(s): G. Kerscher, D. Leas and N. Soiffer (2007)


MathML in DAISY Logo

George Kerscher, DAISY Consortium

Dennis Leas, gh, LLC

Neil Soiffer, Design Science, Inc.



Vision: All information that is published should be accessible:

  • at the same time
  • at no greater cost
  • in a highly functional feature-rich format

Based on open, non-proprietary W3C standards such as SMIL, XHTML and XML.

DAISY 2.02, the DTB format most commonly used worldwide today
ANSI/NISO Z39.86 (DAISY 3, DAISY/NISO), Specifications for the Digital Talking Book
Second version of ANSI/NISO Z39.86 released, coined the DAISY/NISO Standard

Exactly What is NIMAS?

It is...

  • An application of the DTBook element set of the DAISY/NISO Standard
  • XML
  • A collection of digital files that provides an accessible representation of the printed book for blind, visually disabled, and print-disabled users

NIMAS is eloquently described on the CAST Web site as follows:

NIMAS guides the production and electronic distribution of digital versions of textbooks and other instructional materials so they can be more easily converted to accessible formats, including Braille and text-to-speech.

The key points about NIMAS are:

limitations & barriers print poses will be eliminated
different people have different reading needs
subset of DAISY
does not provide richness of DAISY, but does at least provide for consistant markup; full DAISY can be requested
  • Navigation Center: provides the global navigation mechanisms
  • DTBook: XML textual representation of the complete book-- NIMAS Points to this
  • Compressed audio files, such as MP3, that allow up to 40 hours on a single CD
  • Images of photos, flow charts, pie graphs, etc
  • Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL) files to coordinate text, audio, and images
  • Resource file: helps reading systems present more information
  • Bookmark file: for notes, bookmarks, audio notes, etc
  • Package file: packing list of all the files

Math in DAISY

  • DAISY/NISO and previous versions allowed only images with alt text
  • DAISY/NISO allows for "modular extensions" (think toppings on a pizza)
  • The first topping (math) was approved by the DAISY Board February 23, 2007
  • Working group was formed in 2005
  • MathML chosen because:
    • Can be converted to speech
    • Can be converted to braille math codes
    • Already lots of MathML tools
  • First Public Draft: Summer, 2006
  • Second Public Draft: December, 2006
  • Final approval: February, 2007
  • Public announcement: CSUN, 2007

Authoring Math in DAISY

  • First extension to DAISY/NISO
  • Extension needed to be valid DAISY/NISO
  • Needed to decide upon & fallback behavior
  • Ultimately decided on two levels: Advanced & Basic

Math and DAISY Players

Players that directly read the MathML convert it for audio and/or display
Players that rely on supplied audio, alternative text, and/or image for the math
 <sent id="cn0004" smilref="nativemathml.smil#tcp0005">
   Following this dtbook paragraph is a mathml island.</sent>
 <sent id="cn0005" smilref="nativemathml.smil#tcp0006">
   Presentational markup is used.
<m:math xmlns:dtbook=""
  id="math0001" dtbook:smilref="nativemathml.smil#math0001"
  altimg="nativemathml0001.png" alttext="cube root of x">
<seq id="math0001" class="mathExt" end="DTBuserEscape;math-par.end">
  <par id="math-par">
    <text src="nativemathml.xml#math0001"
    <audio src="nativemathml0001.mp3"

Now forget you ever saw this...

  • Allow synchronization
  • Hook up IDs between DTBook and SMIL files
  • Generate all the other files
  • Producers/Converts
    • APH — Book Wizard Producer, Studio Recorder
    • Dolphin — Publisher, EaseProducer (Word)
    • Phoneticom — Phoneticom DAISY Generator
    • Plextalk — Portable Recorder, Recording Studio Pro
    • DAISY Pipeline

An updated list of production software can be found at

  • Authoring documents with accessible math using Word/MathType
    • Think about the math, not the MathML
    • No special work required to make the math accessible
  • XHTML is similar to DTBook file
  • MathType--most widely used math editor for Microsoft Word
  • WebEQ--Java-based MathML editor
  • Scientific Notebook--WYSWYG doc editor with Math support
  • Open Office--an open source office suite
  • MathFlow for ArborText--a MathML editor and converter for ArborText's XML editor
  • TtM, TeX4ht, LaTeX2HTML--conversion from TeX/LaTeX to HTML/MathML
  • Mathematica, Maple, MathCAD, TI-89/92+--mathematical computation systems

An updated list of MathML software can be found at

Actually a variety of players, but we can simplify to two species with the following characteristics:

  • Audio Only - aka "hardware player"
    • Typically highly mobile system
    • Most common type
    • Recorded audio
    • More limited navigation
    • SMIL file centric
  • Text Capable - aka "software player"
    • Typically desktop system
    • Text-to-speech capability
    • Fine-grain, word-level navigation
    • Extendable to "intelligent reading system"
    • DTBook file centric

From the viewpoint of MathML support, we now have three types of players

  • MathML-unaware - Of course, all current players are MathML-unaware.
    • Audio Only
      • All Current DAISY/NISO 2005 players will play MathML-extended DTBs
      • SMIL file is essentially unchanged
      • Math rendered via recorded audio
    • Text capable
      • Current players WILL NOT render MathML properly
      • MathML-extended DTBs contain new tags in DTBook file
      • Current players must be updated to recognize MathML-extended DTBs
  • Basic MathML Player
  • Advanced MathML Player

All MathML-aware players must recognize the math tag in the DTBook file. However, player support for MathML can vary greatly. We recognize two major categories.

  • Basic MathML player
    • Does not incorporated native understanding of MathML structure and semantics
    • Relies on fallbacks to provide an alternate rendering to the user
    • Math displayed as static image
    • Math read as static text
  • Advanced MathML player
    • Native understanding of MathML structures and semantics
    • Able to render and navigate within the MathML content intelligently
    • Math image created dynamically
    • Reader able to adjust how math is read
  • Easy to implement for player manufacturers
  • Simple for player system
    • Doesn't require fast computer
    • Doesn't require much memory
  • Math image and text produced when book is authored
  • Similar in presentation to current players
  • Math image is static and cannot be changed by Reader
    • Jaggy when zoomed
    • Doesn't change colors
  • Reader cannot navigate to individual parts of math, since it is one unified image
  • Math text is static and cannot be adapted to Reader's preferences
  • Many of the same disadvantages we have now
  • Math image produced when book is played
    • Image zooms smoothly
    • Image colors properly
  • Math text produced when book is played, can be customized to Reader's preferences such as wording and language
  • Preserves individual parts of math, permiting fine-grain navigation
  • Highly adaptable to Reader's preferences, supports "dynamic overview"
  • More difficult for player manufacturer to implement
  • More processing required by player system
    • More processor resources - speed and memory
    • Additional software to recognize MathML
  • May be more difficult to use for beginning math students

The gh PLAYER is a full-featured software DAISY player. Here is a demonstration of the upcoming version 2.2, which incorporates MathML recognition. Note that this is a pre-beta version.

  • Basic MathML mode - completely implemented
  • Advanced MathML mode - partial implementation

The MathML Extension supports a wide range of player behaviors. This provides a choice of price/performance to the Reader.

  • As newer players expanded their capabilities, the same MathML-extended DTB provide a richer Reader experience.
  • MathML-extended DTBs will retain their value to publishers
  • MathML-extended DTBs will retain their value to Readers

MathML for everybody is better, but it is essential for persons with print disabilities. What can you do to bring this about?

  • Demand that all legislation require MathML markup in the files used for accessibility.
  • Demand that the DSS office makes MathML content available in your books.
  • Demand from organizations that provide accessible books to use MathML in their DAISY books.
  • Demand support for MathML in authoring tools that you purchase.
  • Demand intelligent reading of MathML in the software you purchase.

Build the darn book with true MathML!

This page was last edited by DAISY1 on Tuesday, October 12, 2010 10:24
Text is available under the terms of the DAISY Consortium Intellectual Property Policy, Licensing, and Working Group Process.


This content is an older presentation. Another format is the article (Word & DAISY format) linked from the MathML project overview ( that could perhaps be moved to DAISYpedia. He (quote) says its copyrighted under Creative Commons "share alike" ... ? Introduction to MathML in DAISY in 10 Small Chapters by Michael Zacherle

Yes, the MathML in DAISY in 10 Small Chapters by Michael Zacherle should be moved to DAISYpedia, its 10 chapters can form different articles. MathML page can then link to DAISYpedia instead of providing a download link. I guess if it can be provided from the MathML area, there is no license issue in publishing it on DAISYpedia which is just another part of the DAISY website.

Title changed from "DAISY: Adding Math to Digital Talking Books" to "Presentation: Adding Math to Digital Talking Books". I think this makes it clear that the content was a presentation and could be adapted for further use as updated presentation. Date of 2007 added to Original Author(s) field.