A Little Step by the NIMAS Advisory Council is Big News for MathML
Right before ATIA (one of the biggest conferences related to Assistive Technology), the NIMAS Implementation Advisory Council met and considered a host of issues. One of them was an issue that has been simmering for the last year: making MathML the required way to add math to a NIMAS document.
But first a little background. NIMAS is a standard format that publishers of K-12 material in the United States are required to produce and contribute to a national repository called NIMAC. NIMAS adopted the DAISY book standard as the format, but because publishers felt it was too expensive to convert their materials to use all of the tagging in DAISY, some of the DAISY tags are optional in NIMAS. In NIMAS, publishers can use MathML to markup the math, but they can also use images.
If you look at a math book, you might easily find a hundred or more little expressions on a single page, which means there might be a hundred or more little images. In NIMAS, adding alt text to an image is optional... and expensive for publishers, so they usually don't do it. It is not hard to see that such minimally tagged books are expensive to turn into something remotely useful for people with visual disabilities. The states, local schools, etc., end up footing the large bill to do the conversion so that they are accessible via speech or braille. If the publishers use MathML instead of images, the books are useful to many more people at a much lower cost.
Back to the meeting... The NIMAS Implementation Advisory Council finally took the first little step to make MathML a required element. A motion was approved and seconded to vote on this requirement. That vote will take place in the next couple of months, and from what I've heard, it should pass with little opposition. If that happens, then the recommendation will go to OSEP (a federal agency) to draft a change to NIMAS. The process to draft the regulatory change, have hearings on it, etc., is slow and will likely take between 1.5 years and 3 years. That's not exactly warp speed, but that's progress.
Several publishers have already done pilot projects producing NIMAS content with MathML. Perhaps seeing that they will have to do this for all their texts in the not too distant future will give them an extra push to move MathML production into their regular workflow. We may not have to wait 3 years to see a lot more MathML being used in textbooks. This little step may soon be making big news.