Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology

Accessible STEM Resources

math and science tools and symbols with assistive technology tools and disability symbols


Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics courses (STEM) have unique barriers for instructors to address when it comes to designing accessible and inclusive learning experiences for students with disabilities. Students often encounter barriers when navigating STEM materials, activities, and assessments, whether in person or online. The resources below provide information on how to create more accessible and inclusive STEM experiences for students with disabilities. As a result, all students will benefit; as a key concept of accessibility and Universal Design for Learning states, What is essential for some is almost always good for all. (Meyer, Rose and Gordon, 2014, p. 51)

If you have questions or suggestions about the content of this page, please contact Pam Dougherty at padoughe@calpoly.edu, or John Lee at jlee245@calpoly.edu.

Students in STEM

Students with Disabilities in STEM

Students with disabilities face unique challenges when accessing and interacting with STEM content. Understanding these challenges as an instructor is essential in order to create accessible content from the start. Learn more:

The two videos below demonstrate how students who are blind or low vision use screen readers to access math content in PowerPoint. The first video is inaccessible, the second is accessible. 

  1. Inaccessible PowerPoint with NVDA and MathPlayer 
  2. Accessible PowerPoint with NVDA and MathPlayer

Instructional Barriers

The resources you choose for your students to engage with during the semester could be a barrier. If you have used the same scanned documents for years, this could be the time for an update! Here are some barriers to consider.


  • Students with vision impairments or reading disabilities like dyslexia commonly use text-to-speech technologies (TTS). But publisher digital versions often use images for math and science notation, which are typically not read by TTS applications. This is especially true for PDF textbooks.
  • Common Optial Character Recognition (OCR) applications used to scan print textbooks ignore math and science notation.

Study Sheets

  • Study sheets have similar issues to textbooks. Most digital versions of content that include math expressions are created as PDFs, making the equations inaccessible. Sometimes these are handwritten.

Websites and LMS

  • Math and science notations on the web often use images instead of accessible expressions.
  • Online science simulations most often are not designed with accessibility in mind. These simulations often require sight, hearing, and eye-hand coordination to activate the simulation and change conditions. Unless they are purposefully created to be accessible, screen reading software will be unable to voice data points that are displayed on the screen as part of the simulation. 

Classroom Lectures and Videos

  • Accurately recording formulas and diagrams written on the board during a lecture, and then getting these notes to the student in an accessible manner, is a challenge.
  • Instructor verbalization of math and science notation is not standardized. Few instructors are well-versed in math speech rules such as MathSpeak. Without using such rules during class, the instructor’s verbalization will be ambiguous to the student who cannot see. 
  • The same will be true for supplemental instructional videos such as those made available on Khan Academy, or that are sometimes provided through online textbook companion websites.

Assessment Barriers

Online assessments need to ensure that math equations in students' responses are accessible to assistive technology (AT) software applications. Students who rely on assistive technology might need to submit assessments in alternate formats. 

Tests and Quizzes

  • When a test or quiz is created in an online environment, it is important that all elements are labeled and the directions are clear.
  • Checkboxes and radio buttons in the response area need to indicate when a selection is checked or not checked.
  • When open answer fields are provided in online tests, the response area should ensure that screen readers can access what students are entering as they compose their answers, as well as the ability to read back to them the completed entry. When the entry field allows math expressions to be entered, then an accessible math entry technique should be available. The math entry process should allow at least two accessible entry techniques, which may include an accessible navigable math entry palette, the use of easily discoverable keyboard shortcuts, direct braille entry via a refreshable braille display, and/or commonly used qwerty code entry conventions, such as AsciiMath or LaTeX input.   
  • In the case of traditional “paper and pencil” tests, students with handwriting issues (e.g., dysgraphia, CP, upper mobility impairment) may not be able to legibly write math equations on paper. In such cases, human scribes may need to be provided. Alternatively, the student might need to complete the test using an accessible computer entry method, which may include an onscreen math palette that works with standard or adapted mice (e.g., track ball, head mouse, eye gaze), or speech input enabled math editors like MathTalk or EquatIO.  

Papers and Lab Reports

  • While mathematics classes rarely have the equivalent of research papers, some proofs may require extensive literary elaboration along with mathematical formulas. On the other hand, research papers in the sciences are very common and may require the student to create hundreds of math expressions as well as various types of graphs.
  • Lab reports for physics labs and chemistry are another case where the student will need to create a large number of math expressions. Chemical equations are very similar in the way that linear math expressions are laid out and also require the student to use an editing tool to create chemical formulas.


  • There is an inherent communication problem that arises around the ability of sighted teachers and blind students to use the same formats.
  • Blind students may be used to doing math on a braille notetaker, but that doesn’t provide the teacher with a format that results in displayed math notation.

Teaching Students to Create Accessible STEM

Teach Access: Bridging the Gap Between Accessibility and Education

From the website: We believe that technology is integral to our culture, our society and our workplace and should be usable by everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. One of the greatest challenges to making accessible technology more ubiquitous is a lack of awareness and understanding of basic accessibility issues, concepts and best practices. We propose to begin building this foundation of knowledge in higher education, with enhanced training and collaborations with people with disabilities. Students in fields such as design, computer sciences and human computer interaction must be better prepared to enter the workforce and create future technologies that are truly inclusive. Only then will technology reach its true potential for connecting and enabling everyone in the world.

Teach Access: Faculty Grants

From the website: To accelerate the creation and delivery of accessibility-infused college curricula, Teach Access will be providing direct awards to full-time, part-time, adjunct faculty, or instructional staff at US-based institutions of higher education (community colleges, two-year colleges/universities, and four-year universities). Awards of $2,500-$5,000 each will be given to faculty to develop modules, presentations, exercises or curriculum enhancements or changes that introduce the fundamental concepts and skills of accessible design and development into their existing courses.

Teach Access: Teaching Accessibility Fundamental Concepts and Skills [PDF]

Teach Access: Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I create or author accessible math content?

Depending on how you plan to share the content with your students, consider using using Office Math or MathType to create mathematical expressions that can be read aloud with a screen reader. Canvas also has built-in math authoring tools that will generate accessible math. Best options for delivery are HTML (web page), Word document, or EPUB. See the STEM Software section below for more information.

How do I make math content in a scanned image PDF accessible?

MathPix and EquatIO are two user-friendly tools that allow one to perform OCR (optical character recognition) on selected content to convert it to an accessible format that can be read by a screen reader. See the STEM Software section below for more information.

How do I convert from one math format to another when trying to make math content accessible?

GrindEQ is one software option that can convert one math format to another such as LaText to Word (Office Word) or vice versa. See the STEM Software section below for more information.

STEM in Canvas

The Canvas Rich Content Editor (RCE) allows instructors to create course content directly within Canvas. The RCE includes an integrated math and science editor for creating STEM content. The RCE is available for Announcements, Assignments, Discussions, Pages, Quizzes, and Syllabus.

Math in Canvas Pages

The Canvas editor allows you to create math and science formulas based on LaTeX, the industry standard for academic publication. The LaTeX Math Editor is built into the Rich Content Editor. Canvas also includes the option to create equations and expressions with its graphical point-and-click editor.

The Math Editor can be used for basic mathematical formatting for introductory math courses or for more advanced mathematical text for higher-level math courses. Both students and instructors have access to the editor. 

Learn more:

Chemistry in Canvas Pages

You can use the advanced view in the equation editor to write chemical formulas, equations, and scientific notation. 

Learn more:

Canvas Resources

The links below provide detailed information and tutorials to help you use Canvas tools strategically and efficiently to create your course content, activities and assessments.

  1. Cal Poly Canvas Support
  2. Canvas Instructor Guide
  3. Canvas Student Guide
  4. Canvas Video Guide
  5. Canvas Mobile Guides

STEM in Word, PowerPoint, and PDF

Miscrost Word and PowerPoint include features that allow for accessible STEM content creation; however, there are also limitations. This is true for PDF as well.

Microsoft Word

Creating accessible math in a Word document will provide the foundation to create other alternate formats. Word documents that use MathML to input expressions provide students with disabilities a better navigation and learning experience.

Learn more:


PowerPoint supports a widespread standard for linking and embedding objects called OLE (Object Linking and Embedding). Since MathType equations are natively OLE objects, this means that MathType and PowerPoint work well together.

Learn more:

The two videos below demonstrate how students who are blind or low vision use screen readers to access math content in PowerPoint. The first video is inaccessible, the second is accessible. 

  1. Inaccessible PowerPoint with NVDA and MathPlayer 
  2. Accessible PowerPoint with NVDA and MathPlayer


It is advised not to create math in PDF format. It is possible to create accessible math in PDF, but it's highly complex and is limited to specific assistive technology.  It is much easier to convert the PDF to a Word document and reinsert any of the STEM content as MathML. Learn more: STEM in PDF - Canvas module created by California Community Colleges Accessibility Center

Scanned PDFs

Scanned PDFs are not accessible to assistive technologies and can pose as a barrier for students with disabilities. Sometimes faculty may have older documents that have been scanned and saved as PDFs, provide handwritten notes or solutions.  It is relatively quick to convert PDFs into a Word document and add the math via MathML. 

Consider a workflow to convert a PDF with math to MS Word. Additionally, this workflow could be applied for converting documents with handwritten notes. 

Programs that can help the process

  • EquatIO is a screenshot reader that allows users to screenshot math equations or expressions, and paste it into other editors. MathML and LaTeX are supported. At this time, the program can only do one equation at a time. 
  • Software Needed / Recommended has additional resources that can help speed the process along.
  • MathPix is a tool that can screenshot any math and have it rendered to a variety of formats. Export images and PDFs to LaTex, DOCX, Overleaf, Markdown, Excel, ChemDraw and more, with our AI powered document conversion technology.

Sample Workflow

  1. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) the document to get a baseline file of all the text surrounding the math.
  2. Create a word document and copy the text into it.
  3. Recreate the math problems and insert them into the appropriate places use a program like MathType. 

Document Practice

  1. Download the Practice Document.
  2. Extract the text using an OCR Program.
  3. Enter the text into an MS Word document.
  4. Enter the equations using MathType or another program so that the math is encoded with MathML into the proper locations.

Also see WebAIM: PDF Accessibility

STEM Physical Access

The following tools can assist students in fully engaging with STEM content.

3D Models

3D models are three-dimensional objects produced in a digitally controlled process, and serve as tactile teaching aids. 3D models can assist students with visual impairments in the STEM classroom or lab. Students can explore 3D models with their hands, making it easier to perceive details about an object’s surface, shape, parts, and dimensions. The following resources can assist faculty in creating and accessing 3D physical and virtual models.

NC State University: STEM BUILD: This website was developed to facilitate a collaborative community where individuals with different backgrounds and areas of expertise can share tactile teaching tools and associated lessons. STEM BUILD provides a place where you can find a model for a lesson or download a classroom-ready package.

Journal of Science Education: See3D: 3D Printing for People Who Are Blind: This journal article provides background for the development of the See 3D website (see below).

See3D: This non-profit organization manages the printing and distribution of 3D printed models for people who are blind. 

Educause: Tactile Teachables: Expanding Accessibility with 3D Printing: This project overview provides information about practical applications for 3D printing, including different hardware and software tools. 

The Concord Consortium: Interactive STEM activities, free for your classroom: This web resource provides scientifically accurate models and activities developed by curriculum experts and funded by the National Science Foundation and other private and federal granting agencies.

Guide for increased accessibility through 3D models: This webpage developed by the Swedish National Heritage Board provides helpful information about tactile accessibility, including the opportunities and limitations of 3D models.

Accessible Measuring Tools

DO-IT: Accessible Science Equipment:  Planning ahead when selecting products for a science lab can help students with disabilities fully participate in science activities. This webpage provides examples of products that can make science activities accessible to all students with a wide range of disabilities and learning preferences. Examples include:

  • Accessible measuring devices 
  • Talking equipment 
  • Stirring and filling devices 
  • Magnifying devices 
  • Safe cylinders and beakers 

Accessible Science Equipment [PDF] 

Independence Science: This website offers innovative access technology solutions for blind and low vision students to improve hands-on science laboratory learning experiences that enable blind students to perform tasks independently. 

Physical Access 

DO-IT: Making Science Labs Accessible to Students with Disabilities: This webpage lists accommodations and lab equipment that can benefit students with disabilities. Examples are organized by disability type. Making-Science-Labs-Accessible-Students-Disabilities.pdf 

Selecting Accessible Science Equipment [PDF]: This guide developed by Ontario’s Universities Accessible Campus describes the features of accessible equipment that meets universal design principles. Use this guide to help you determine what types of equipment may be suitable for a student with a disability in your lab. For ease of use, this guide is divided according to disability type. 

STEM Software

There are many tools and software applications that can help with creating accessible STEM content. 

The list below was retrieved from Recommended Software for STEM - Canvas module created by California Community Colleges Accessibility Center, with some additions.

Accessible Math Guide [PDF]: Mathematics faculty from the North Carolina Community College System Virtual Learning Community developed this guide for higher education instructors. The guide covers detailed use of the tools and software applications listed below.

  • MathType is a software designed to help type and hand-write mathematical notation to include quality math equations in documents and digital content easily. MathType is available for desktop, web (Google Docs), and Microsoft Word on iPad.
  • MathPix is a tool that can screenshot any math and have it rendered to a variety of formats. Export images and PDFs to LaTex, DOCX, Overleaf, Markdown, Excel, ChemDraw and more, with our AI powered document conversion technology.
  • MathPlayer: When creating math expressions in MathType with Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, MathPlayer will allow you to immediately hear how a math expression will be read without having to use a screen reader. This is especially useful when someone is just beginning to use MathType, because there may be more than one way of authoring a math expression which may look right visually, but not necessarily convey the same semantics and thus produce different speech. MathPlayer is also needed if you are going to try to read the Word or PowerPoint document later with the NVDA screen reader. MathPlayer also provides for speech output when MathType has been used to export an HTML document containing MathML expressions. One thing to note is that although MathPlayer runs in either the 64-bit or 32-bit Windows Operating System, it does not support the 64-bit version of Word.
  • EquatIO allows instructors and students to create equations, formulas, and more, digitally. Learn more: Video: Getting Students Started with EquatIO
  • MathSpeak is a popular system for communicating math orally, and is used by many screen reader users (students who are blind and low vision) to read mathematical expressions, such as those written in MathML.
  • Desmos is an advanced graphing calculator implemented as a web application and a mobile application written in JavaScript. Graphs can be created ahead of time and embedded directly into Canvas. Video: Accessibility Features in Desmos
  • Accessible Chemical Diagrams is a tool in development that can assist with creating accessible chemical diagrams. This tool is not free and has had limited testing. Chemistry created in this tool will provide an accessible annotated SVG file embeddable into HTML. 
  • Pandoc: While not needed to author STEM materials in their native formats, Pandoc is a useful application in circumstances where one desires to write content in one format and then export to another end product format. Pandoc is a free-to-use line-command tool that supports accessible math input and output formats including LaTeX, MathML, and MathJax. The strength of Pandoc is that it is very versatile and can be built into a very precise automated conversion process. On the other hand, it has a steep learning curve and will require a significant time investment to perfect the conversion process. It may, however, be a time-saving solution in the long run in some instances - for example, when math faculty create an extensive amount of content using LaTeX.
  • InftyReader is an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) application that recognizes and translates scientific documents (including math symbols) into LaTeX, MathML and XHTML.
  • WordToEPUB: Using Microsoft Word and WordToEPUB, you can convert documents to the latest EPUB 3 format. EPUB is a wonderful format for reading publications on laptops, tablets, and smartphones, and it includes features such as rich navigation and great accessibility. The EPUB files created with this tool can be used in a wide variety of reading apps on any platform, with the ability to personalize visual features such as colors, font, text size, and layout. Many reading apps have other useful features such as read aloud, the ability to add comments and bookmarks, and support for electronic braille.
  • GrindEQ converts MathType to OML or LaTex to Word (Word equation editor). This program is ideal for converting equations from MathML to OML equations. This program is best suited for creating EPUB files using WordToEPUB.
  • Thorium is an accessible EPUB reader that can interact with math content that has been created from OML objects using the WordToEPUB toolbar.

STEM Resources

The following resources provide more detailed information about creating accessible STEM content.

General STEM Resources

The websites below provide more detailed information and links to further resources to support your development of dynamic and accessible STEM content for your classes.

  1. STEM Resources from DO-IT
  2. Accessibility at Penn State: Math and STEM Content
  3. WebAIM: Web Accessibility Resources

Charts and Graphs

Charts, graphs, and maps use visuals to convey complex images to users. But since they are images, these media provide serious accessibility issues to colorblind users and users of screen readers. See the examples in the links below from the Penn State Accessibility website for details on how to make charts more accessible:

Color and Contrast

An important aspect of color for both low vision and colorblind users is sufficient contrast between the background and foreground (text or graphics) colors. Color schemes can be changed in most documents, but it is most commonly a factor in PowerPoint and HTML Web pages. Learn more:

The following tools can help you create and/or check color contrast for students who have low vision or color blindness. 

  • If you use R for statistics, you might find this tool useful: R colorblind-friendly palettes.
  • TPGi Color Contrast Analyzer: Free desktop download. You can quickly and easily check color contrast on webpages, documents, images, and presentations, and fix issues immediately. If you are using an external monitor, make sure you allow the app to "record screen," in your computer's privacy settings, or the checker will not work. Video demo: TPGi Color Contrast Checker
  • WebAIM Color Contrast Checker: Online tool to help you identify color contrast issues; you will need a hex color code to enter.  See the W3C Color Converter below.
  • WCAG Contrast Checker: Online tool to help you identify color contrast issues. With this tool you can drag an image into the tool to check foreground and background. Available as a browser extension.
  • W3C Color Converter: Converts hex, rgb, hsl, hwb, cmyk, and ncol color codes.

Image Descriptions and Alt Text

Images convey meaning in context with information on a page, and therefore require alternative text for students using screen readers to identify the image. Alternative text should be brief, no more than 140 characters. However; some image are complex and may require long descriptions on the page itself.

Benetech Diagram Center

The Diagram Center provides a comprehensive set of Image Description Guidelines with examples for drawings, diagrams, cartoons, flowcharts, graphs, maps, mathematical equations, and more. After accessing the link, scroll down to see the full list of image types with links to more details.

Penn State Accessibility Website

The links from Penn State below provide descriptions and explanations for creating Alt Text for complex images and technical diagrams:

Additional Resources

Accessible Video

Also see: Video Creation and Captioning and Captioning for Live and Recorded Lectures

Lecture Videos

Accessible video lectures that include STEM content will need:

  • Oral/spoken descriptions of the content being displayed.
  • Accurate closed captioning.
  • A Canvas Page or Word document containing the video lecture equations created with MathML.

Programs that can help the process

  • EquatIO is a screenshot reader that allows users to screenshot math equations or expressions and paste it into other editors. MathML and LaTeX are supported. At this time, the program can only do one equation at a time. 
  • MathPix is a tool that can screenshot any math and have it rendered to a variety of formats. 
  • See the STEM Software section below for additional resources that can help speed the process along.

Sample Workflow

  1. As you create the video, describe the visuals on your screen with as much detail as possible for those who are blind or low vision. Make sure you are using adequate color contrast and avoid combinations of red/green and blue/yellow for those with colorblindness. 
  2. Caption the video.
  3. Provide a Canvas page to embed the video. Include the equations used during the video with time stamps on the Canvas page. Alternatively, create a Word document with time stamps and enter all the video equations into the Word Document as MathML
  4. Provide the captioned video, and the Word document with equations entered as MathML.

Accessible Textbooks

The information below was retrieved from Accessible STEM Textbooks -  Canvas page created by California Community Colleges Accessibility Center

Commercial (paid for)

Many textbook publishers are making their current titles available electronically on VitalSource. VitalSource includes a large library of commercial textbooks in digital formats. Newer titles are provided in the accessible EPUB format, which will be usable by many students with disabilities, depending upon the type of assistive technology they need to use.

The VitalSource ePub reader Includes an embedded text-to-speech reader and other accessibility tools, which are very useful for many students with non-visual print disabilities like dyslexia. 

VitalSource math or science textbooks which include MathML will be readable with screen readers and refreshable braille displays in such a way as the math will be properly voiced according to standard math speech rules and can be displayed in braille math code to the extent that the user’s screen reader supports braille math.   

Accessible Open Source Textbooks

There are a large number of open-source textbooks available on websites or online repositories. While many may be only available in PDF (which will not have accessible math equations), others may be found as ePub or as common HTML, both of which can support accessible mathematics content using MathML.

Since raw MathML is currently supported only in Mozilla-based browsers (e.g., Firefox) or in the Safari browser on Mac/iOS platforms, a common practice is to use MathJax to serve the math expressions in the browser or ePub reader. MathJax is a javascript display engine that allows MathML, LaTeX, or AsciiMath code to be written into HTML or ePub content and then displayed.

Using MathJax allows for support in all modern browsers. It provides important accessibility linkages that enable math equations to be spoken by text-to-speech software and, in some cases, accessed by a refreshable braille display.

Some examples of open source math textbooks using MathJax can be found at…

Note: Some sources provide PDF and online (HTML) versions, which must be read in a browser. The online browser-based versions almost always use MathJax, but if in doubt, hover on a math expression and press the mouse right-click key. If MathJax is being used, then a menu will appear, including “About MathJax” as an option.

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