Screen Reader Configuration for STEM Content

Screen readers usually need to be configured differently to read science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) content than for other types of content.

Recommended Settings

Announce capital letters
Capital and lowercase letters are not interchangeable in STEM content.
Announce numbers written with a slash as fractions rather than dates
For example, 1/2 should be read as one over two, not January second.
Announce superscripts and subscripts
This notation is common and important for STEM content.
Announce all plus and minus signs
Often, screen readers are configured not to announce minus signs or hyphens. Notation like -x or −x should be announced as minus x.
Announce UTF-8/special characters
Often, screen readers are configured not to announce characters like nabla (), plus or minus (±), greater than or equal to (), less than or equal to (), union (), or intersection () that are used extensively in STEM content. The names of these characters should be announced.
For JAWS®, see JAWS Symbols File.
Announce alt text for images
Accessible content in WebAssign uses the alt attribute for images.
  • If the title attribute is used, its text is the same as the alt attribute.
  • The longdesc attribute is not used.
Announce all images
Small images are sometimes used to display symbols in WebAssign content; these images have alt text provided and should be announced.
Note: JAWS cannot be configured to announce all images; instead, configure JAWS image settings to the smallest allowable values.

Optional Settings

Update dictionary settings to correctly pronounce STEM terms
This is something you might want to do on a case-by-case basis when the screen reader first mispronounces a STEM term. Commonly mispronounced terms include:
  • short forms of trigonometric functions like sin, cos, and tan
  • the mathematical function lim (announce as "limit on")
  • -> or --> (announce as "right arrow")
  • != (announce as "not equals")
Announce a series of underscore characters
A series of underscore characters — typically five or more — is sometimes used in a fill-in-the-blank phrase. You can announce this with a special word, voice, or sound.
Voice synthesizer settings
Choose voice synthesizer settings that are easiest for you to understand questions with STEM content. WebAssign recommends:
  • Use SAPI instead of Eloquence
  • Choose a clear voice with precise enunciation like Emily or Anna
  • Use proofing mode
  • Set the speed a little slower than normal
  • Set the pitch a little lower than normal

JAWS Symbols File

To enable JAWS to announce additional characters, you can edit the symbols file associated with the speech engine you are using. A sample symbols file for the SAPI engine is linked from this topic.

To use this symbols file, save it to the path used by your installation of JAWS. This is typically something like the following:
  • C:\Documents and Settings\User\Application Data\Freedom Scientific\JAWS\version\
  • C:\Users\All Users\Freedom Scientific\Jaws\version\Settings\enu\


Contact Customer Support for help with technical issues with WebAssign. Customer Support cannot provide help with specific assistive technologies used to access WebAssign.