Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Mathscribe- Assistive technology for print disabled users?

Price: free! (no ads- $1.29)
iTunes link

Today i downloaded and assessed Mathscribe for the needs of low vision and print disabled users as a math notation program.

Mathscribe is a very sophisticated unicode math annotator for the ipad. It contains greek and hindu-arabic symbols as well as algebraic and trigonometric characters.  You can export the results into a rich text format- that means you can paste it into emails, word documents- anything you like which makes it a promising app for users who find notation with pen and paper difficult or want an easy to way to export math across digital sources that is cohesive and understood on multiple other systems and devices and of course- printers!

Math is not my forte but it looks like every character i can imagine is available in the keyboards various submenus.

Accessibility Limitations 

In regards to accessibility however, this application falls over in a few areas at this stage.

* You CAN adjust the font of the script to a ridiculously large size (N100)- but not the character buttons- and the font on the calculator is necessarily small due to all the functions made available. So it's not really great if you can't get a good look at N18 and this is not the sort of app you'll want to use the built in zoom for.

Like any keyboards though, if you love it you'll memorise it and then at least your working area can be enlarged so you don't have to use the zoom. But this makes for a steep learning curve- one thing that helps in this regard as that Algebraic and Trigonemetric keypads change the colour of their borders when selected- but not the keys- a missed opportunity there i feel.

Speech to Text
The math notation you create is unicode and can be voiced through speech or voiceover- but it won't voice things such as super or subscripts and only voices the unicode as it appears without making any inferences- so the math in my screenshot here reads as "Seventy Four therefore Fourty Seven"and pythagoras' theoreum is voiced as "a two equals b two plus c two".

This is the common failing point of text-to-speech engines reading math.

Voiceover compatibility
On ios 8.1 with voiceover on- this thing crashes all the time. When it doesn't crash there are serious navigation issues on the keyboard- the keyboard and dynamic keypad are the SAME element- so voiceover reads across the entire top row including the keypad in its scan. These really need to be navigated as separate elements to be accessible or useable.

This large keyboard is read by voiceover horizontally across the keyboard and keypad which makes it difficult to navigate.

Digital Braille

Sadly i don't at this stage have access to a digital braille display to test how this works in UEB but i suspect the issues with speech and voiceover carry over to digital braille.

Speech to text
No Speech-to-text or Siri compatibility is a missed opportunity in my opinion, but this is more an issue that Apple hasn't made Siri compatible with math notation then the fault of this noble free app.


There are some strong points as well for mathscribe in it's notation abilities for students with print disabilities that aren't vision related. It notates the math you type without solving it for you, which could be a selling point over soulver for high level notation and pedagogical purposes for teachers.  The contrasting colours of the keypad help to separate the functions on the keyboard visually. But all in all this clever app needs a bit of work before it can be effective assistive technology for users with print disabilities and i prefer the UI of Soulver personally.