Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Sylvia Hunter, Nicola Poser, Kasia Repeta, and Damita Snow. Sylvia is Manager, Product Marketing, Community & Content, at Wiley Partner Solutions. Nicola is the Director of Marketing and Sales for the American Mathematical Society. Kasia is Analyst for Global Outreach and Publishing Systems at Duke University Press. Damita is Senior Manager of Publishing Technologies and Publications Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Specialist at the American Society of Civil Engineers.
“The “Advancing Accessibility in Scholarly Publishing” blog series consists of three parts:
- Part 1: Fostering Empathy
- Part 2: Building Support
- Part 3: Recommendations for Digital Accessibility Best Practices
Accessibility as a Principle in a Digital Age
We are living in what is sometimes called a digital era, a time of rapid technological change led by digital technologies. Additionally, for a majority of U.S. CEOs, the pandemic has meant accelerating digital transformation. And while the topic of digital accessibility has often been misunderstood as a niche topic, it is now a principle. If our organizations stay behind and do not make accessibility a business priority, they will be responsible for allowing inequality and digital injustice to persist.
Legal Requirements (aka “doing the bare minimum”)
Your organization has a legal responsibility to maintain an accessible website and digital resources, promote awareness and clarity about compliance, and work towards compliance. By making sure that teams within your organization study, understand, and follow international and local laws, you can at least do the bare minimum.
Different countries have various accessibility rules and regulations in place that protect the rights of people with disabilities, and failure to comply may put your organization in legal jeopardy.
In the United States, the following federal regulations govern accessibility:
- Website-specific accessibility regulations fall under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which states that all areas of public accommodation must provide equal access to information and services for everyone.
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C § 794 d) requires federal agencies in the United States to ensure that their electronic and information technology – including websites, web applications, software, and digital documents – is accessible to everyone, whether employees or members of the public. Although Section 508 applies only to federal agencies and federally funded programs in the United States, many global companies and organizations aim to be Section 508 compliant, too.
- The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a document which evaluates how accessible a particular product is according to the Section 508 Standards. It is a self-disclosing document that discloses how accessible your organization’s product or services are for people with disabilities. Universities/colleges in the U.S. must comply with ADA by way of the VPAT. Read about challenges related to VPAT.
- The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) is intended to ensure that “accessibility laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s are brought up to date with 21st-century technologies.”
- The Chafee Amendment of 1996 established a limitation on the exclusive rights of copyrighted works, allowing authorized entities to “to reproduce or to distribute copies or phonorecords of a previously published, nondramatic literary work if such copies or phonorecords are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.”
In the European Union, the European Accessibility Act (2019), which enters into force on June 28, 2025, will require publishers who plan to offer digital products in the European Union to adjust their workflows. Read more about how the European Accessibility Act pertains to the publishing industry.
While many nations have different accessibility requirements for government agencies and private entities, many other international web accessibility laws are currently based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The WCAG is the consensus standard for digital accessibility. Many countries require conformance with a recent version of WCAG.
As a result of these regulations, new initiatives are taking place. For example, Crossref is working on updates for DOI links by aligning their guidelines with the new W3C recommendations and the European Accessibility Act, explaining that “beginning in 2025, the changes will be required for landing pages of newly registered content (and strongly recommended for existing registered content).”
For publishers, it is also important to be up to date with the following:
- PDF/UA (PDF/Universal Accessibility), formally known as ISO 14289-1:2014 (Document management applications — Electronic document file format enhancement for accessibility), is an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard for accessible PDF technology. PDF/UA complements WCAG 2.0 and should be used to make PDF files that also conform with WCAG 2.0.
- EPUB Accessibility 1.0 Specifications: The EPUB Accessibility 1.0 EPUB Accessibility 1.1: Conformance and Discoverability Requirements for EPUB publications specification specifies content conformance requirements for verifying the accessibility of EPUB publications, as well as accessibility metadata requirements for the discoverability of EPUB publications.
- The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (MVT). “The treaty allows for copyright exceptions to facilitate the creation of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works for visually impaired persons. It sets a norm for countries ratifying the treaty to have a domestic copyright exception covering these activities and allowing for the import and export of such materials.”
Furthermore, the 17 goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development contain explicit references to persons with disabilities (Sustainable Development Goal 4, SDG 8, SDG 10, SDG 11, and SDG 17), which will bring additional focus to the topic of accessibility.
Recurring Accessibility Audit
There are a couple of routes your organization can take to advance digital accessibility:
- Hire a service that can do the work for you
- Use internal resources
- A hybrid version of 1 and 2.
Whatever option you choose, an essential prerequisite to success in improving accessibility is to first assess the current status of your organization.
Sarah Hiderley’s “Accessible Publishing Best Practice Guidelines for Publishers”, published as part of the Enabling Technologies Framework project funded by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), presents guidelines for how to conduct an Accessibility Audit. Here are some of the recommended actions:
- “Conduct an in-house survey to assess company awareness about accessibility issues and how much your publishing staff understand what it means to create ‘accessible products’.”
- “Conduct an assessment of your products overall – make sure you have a full understanding of your product type and the various formats that you offer as a company, both yourselves and through others”. In the document, Hiderley lists questions you may want to include in the survey.
- “Assess your production workflows in and out of the house.”
In the initial survey, we would also recommend asking:
- What would drive adoption of accessible publishing practices (those motivations may vary across the teams, e.g., legal changes, funding condition, customer requirements, ease of implementation, etc.)?
- What are the challenges behind implementing digital accessibility (e.g., getting buy-in, staff resources, straggle/lack-of internal technical support/expertise, lack of financial resources, complexity of the scholarly content production)?
- Which technical measures are proving the biggest challenges to implement? PDF content is difficult to modify retroactively, updated and evolving standards, etc.
- Are there people of different abilities and needs at your organization; how would they benefit from this work?
- Do you have accessibility allies in your organization that would like to be involved?
- Who is already doing the work related to accessibility (from designing accessible documents to answering customer queries related to the topic), and who perhaps should be involved and is currently not?
- Is your organization capturing data on disability? As noted in the article “Why disability data capture is key to improving inclusion outcomes in scholarly publishing,” collecting large-scale data on disability can benefit individuals, managers, organizations, and our industry as a whole. The authors explain that “disability data capture drives actionable insights from an organizational perspective … It allows organizations to gauge the size of the disabled population, and in particular which groups make up the largest proportions of this population. This insight informs the appropriate prioritization of resources, programmes and policies.”
Hiderley’s guidelines also recommend that we:
“find ways in which you can measure the effectiveness of your [organization’s] current approach to accessibility in a systematic and reproducible way, so that the audit can regularly be revisited giving you the opportunity to observe progress, to set targets for improvement in future years and to design the specific actions necessary to achieve these improvements.”
In addition, we recommend revisiting the Scholarly Kitchen post “Shifting Away from Yearly Accessibility Audits: How Can a Better System be Implemented?” which presents accessibility advancement as an ongoing audit/process and continuous systems check.
Listen, Reflect, Respond, Adapt
In her recent Scholarly Kitchen post “Know Better, Do Better: Learned Publishing Reflects on DEIA in Scholarly Communications,” promoting the 2023 issue of Learned Publishing dedicated to building a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible (DEIA) community, Lettie Y. Conrad reminds us of three important actions “anyone can take up to achieve a kinder, more equitable workplace for everyone.” In short, these are:
- Listen: “Talk less, listen more. Don’t assume you know someone else’s experience.”
- Reflect: “Stop and think. It’s important to routinely pause, check our own biases and do the work in progress.”
- Impact (or respond and adapt): “Make it count. Do the work and walk the walk. Do more than talking about the need for DEIA changes.”
In the adapting phase, your organization should pull together everything it has learned so far and put it in motion. This means changing processes, modifying messaging and instructions documents, and educating teams on how to get the most out of these changes. Implement an accessibility roadmap within your organization. Budget it! Access to training and resources are important, as accessibility can get quite technical. The journey can be long and complex, but ultimately, the goal is to incorporate accessibility from conception to reduce or eliminate both costly retrofitting and bad user experiences. Consider creating and publishing accessibility purpose statements for your organization. A purpose statement can clarify focus and communicate goals to all members of your organization and to the outside community.
Once you’ve implemented your strategies for digital accessibility, don’t forget to close the loop by listening again and asking for updated feedback and insights to determine success, lessons learned, and goals for further work.
In this blog post series we’ve provided links to many valuable resources, which we suggest going back to review as needed. Here are some more:
- org (resources on publishing accessible content in various formats–such as braille, audio, e-text, large print)
- DAISY Accessible Publishing Knowledge Base
- DAISY Free Webinar Series on Accessible Publishing and Reading
- Electronic Resources and Libraries (ER&L): Virtual Presentation Accessibility Guidelines
- org (source for the latest news and resources for accessible digital publishing, guidelines, best practices, and tools)
- International Association of Accessibility Professionals (iaap.org) (individuals can become certified through this organization and there are many resources available free to the public)Microsoft: Microsoft Accessibility – PowerPoint
- LinkedIn Learning Resources on Website Accessibility (learning courses on website accessibility, accessibility in a hybrid workplace, accessibility testing, and designing with the WCAG guidelines)
- National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning (source for technical assistance, coaching, and resources to increase the availability and use of accessible educational materials and technologies for learners with disabilities across the lifespan)
- Recite Me: Accessible Fonts
- Routledge: Guide to Writing Alt Text
- UK Publishing Accessibility Action Group (PAAG): Accessibility Survey 2022 (docx
- WebAIM (resources, and tools to meet its accessibility goals)
In this webinar, put together by the Publishing Professional Network, several accessibility experts give an excellent overview of ways publishers can make their content more accessible and introduce important tools to help improve the accessibility of content.
- AMS texml
AMS texml combines a powerful implementation of TeX’s programming facilities with a flexible and robust way of generating XML based on the popular Journal Article Tag Suite (JATS). The American Mathematical Society has made AMS texml freely available under an open license on GitHub.
- DAISY Ace Smart Accessibility checker for EPUB
Ace by DAISY is a free, open-source EPUB accessibility checking tool created to assist in the evaluation of conformance to the EPUB Accessibility Specification.
- EPUB Accessibility 1.1 Conformance and Discoverability Requirements for EPUB publications
This specification specifies content conformance requirements for verifying the accessibility of EPUB publications. It also specifies accessibility metadata requirements for the discoverability of EPUB publications.
- Image Description Guidelines
These Image description guidelines were developed by the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH (NCAM) in conjunction with the DIAGRAM (Digital Image And Graphic Resources for Accessible Materials) Center at Benetech.
PreTeXt tagline is “Write Once, Read Anywhere,” offers an authoring and publishing system for authors of textbooks, research articles, and monographs, especially in STEM disciplines, combining “the best of DocBook, LaTeX, and HTML” to create well-structured documents that can become a variety of outputs including print, PDF, web, EPUB, Jupyter Notebooks, and braille.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- European Accessibility Act (EAA)
- Chafee Amendment
- Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C § 794 d)
- Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
5 Thoughts on "Guest Post — Advancing Accessibility in Scholarly Publishing: Recommendations for Digital Accessibility Best Practices"
Thank you for this great series of posts. As a complement to the DIAGRAM guidelines – more oriented to texts and STEM publications – I’d like to draw attention to this resource for publishers in the arts and humanities, developed in collaboration with the Samuel H. Kress Foundation: https://describingvisualresources.org/
This is an extremely important post as it brings together several great resources and makes what can sometimes be a complex topic…accessible (pardon the pun!). Thank you for taking the time to put together all 3 of these posts – together they make a great starting point for anybody wanting a primer on this important topic.
What a great post series, with loads of rich resources – thank you so much! I know that many people in our industry want to remove barriers to entry for others, but don’t always know where to start. Thank you for pulling together such a thorough toolkit.
Thanks so much for these comprehensive, authoritative, and extremely bookmarkable posts! I will be sharing them widely!
Wonderful to see all of the great information in this series. My thanks to the authors for developing all of this information!
I have one additional recommendation: it would be great if organizations can have an IT specialist dedicated to accessibility issues. Often people with disabilities have unique challenges with specific IT problems, and having those issues handled by regular IT staff rather than an IT specialist who understands accessibility issues can be much more challenging. This concept is somewhat in parallel with the provision of specific support phone numbers from both Microsoft and Apple that people with disabilities can call for help with accessibility issues in their products and software.