R markdown: Lifesaver or death trap?
The popularity of R markdown is unquestionable, but will it prove as useful to the blind community as it is for our sighted peers? The short answer is "yes" but the more realistic answer is that it depends on so many other aspects some of which will remain outside the skill sets of many authors. Source R markdown files are plain text files, and are therefore totally accessible for a blind user. The documents generated from these source files for end-users differ in their accessibility; HTML is great and a pdf generated using LaTeX is very limited. International standards exist for ensuring most document formats are accessible, but the TeX ncommunity has not yet developed a tool for generating an accessible pdf document from any form of LaTeX source. There is little hope for any pdf containing mathematical expressions or graphical content. In contrast, the HTML documents created from R markdown can contain many aspects of accessibility with little or no additional work required from a document's author. A substantial problem facing any blind author wishing to create an HTML document from their R markdown files is that there is no simple editor available that is accessible; RStudio is not an option that can be used by blind people; until such time as an alternative tool becomes available, blind people will either have to use cumbersome work-arounds or rely on a small application we have built specifically for editing and processing R markdown documents.