Introduction to the Microsoft Equation Editor

When it comes to mathematics, many accessibility issues arise simply due to the nature of the subject itself; math combines characters and symbols from other languages in formats that aren’t seen in other subjects. As a result, great care needs to be taken when adding math equations to a document. The steps on this page demonstrate how to insert equations into Microsoft Word documents that can be read by screen readers using the Microsoft Office Equation Editor.

Step by Step Instructions for adding equations with the Microsoft Office Equation Editor

Guidelines for Accessible Math Documents:

  1. Use the equation editor to write all equations in Microsoft Word.
  2. Be sure all your equations are presented as ‘professional’ (This should be the default option.)
  3. Be sure to distribute the whole document as you will not be able to properly cut and paste the equations.
  4. Be sure to check that special characters are being read properly by screen reader.

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Inserting Preset Equations:

Microsoft has several standard equations that you can insert and edit to fit your needs.

  1. Select Insert; Equation will be at the far right of the screen.
  2. Select the arrow directly below Equation; this will open a drop-down menu.
  3. Choose a preset equation; a box with your equation will appear on the screen.
  4. Select the box to open the editor.
  5. Select elements in the equation to edit/replace them.

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Creating Unique Equations:

If Microsoft does not have the equation you need, you can create your own.

  1. Select Insert; Equation will be at the far right of the screen, or use the keyboard shortcut Alt+= (Alt key and equals key).
  2. Select Equation; this will add a blank equation box.
  3. Select the box.
    1. Use the tools at the top of your screen to create your equation
      1. Open the context menu of the equation box (along the right side of the box)
      2. Select Save as New Equation to save this equation for further use.
        1. Note: If you have an equation you use frequently, write it with variables and save it to use as a template
    2. The equation editor can also interpret a lot, but not all, LaTeX syntax. Frequently, the use of curly brackets are replaced with parentheses in the MS Word Equation Editor. For example, to write a capital Sigma with subscript “n=1” to superscript infinity, the MS Word Equation Editor syntax would be: \Sigma_(n=1)^\infty

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Checking for Accessibility:

When you are finished adding your equations, you can check your equations’ accessibility.

  1. Select View
  2. Select Learning Tools
  3. Highlight the equation you would like to check.
  4. Select Read Aloud and listen to the equation.

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Alternatives when Screen Readers read equations incorrectly

Sometimes the screen readers simply cannot interpret the equations correctly, For example, binomial coefficients are frequently misread.

    • Word Read Aloud reads ‘n atop k’ instead of ‘n choose k’
    • JAWS reads ‘left paren n over k right paren.’
    • NVDA needs additional plug-ins to read math (such as MathCat), and even then it does not always seem to work with Microsoft Word.

For situations like these, you will need to either provide students with how their screen reader reads the equation and how they should interpret it, or you must provide an alternative format such as HTML.

Another way to distribute documents with math is to put the Word document through the Central Access Reader (CAR) program to create an HTML output. CAR can read math in different ways depending on your discipline; open “Speech Settings” and select the discipline from the drop-down menu.

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Connect with the Instructional Accessibility Group

Improve your instructional accessibility through the IAG live trainings, access checks for individual materials, or course reviews.

Have more questions or need additional assistance? Email the Instructional Accessibility Group