Editors’ note: Today’s post aims to put the spotlight on the European Accessibility Act (EAA) directive and the upcoming law and to better understand how different organizations are getting ready to make their publications and services EAA compliant. Members of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Accessibility Subcommittee and/or their colleagues provided feedback on the topic. We’re going to hear from:
- Maxine Aldred, Director, Books and Journals Production, American Society of Civil Engineers at (United States)
- Allison Belan, Director for Strategic Innovation and Services at Duke University Press (United States)
- John Chen, Director of Development, Science Tech Press (China)
- Simon Holt, Senior Product Manager, Content Accessibility, Elsevier (Global, with the headquarters in the Netherlands)
- Miguel Ramos, Digital Library Project Manager at SPIE (United States)
- Damita Snow, Director, Accessibility & Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategy, Publications & Standards at the American Society of Civil Engineers at (United States)
The European Accessibility Act (EAA) is a European Union directive (2019/882) that aims to standardize accessibility requirements for products and services in the European Union. The main objectives are to:
- resolve discrepancies in accessibility requirements among European Union members;
- ensure accessible products and services are affordable to those who need them;
- improve the trade in accessible products and services;
- create more jobs available to people with disabilities, especially where accessibility expertise is needed.
While the EU Web Accessibility Directive of 2016 required EU member states to maintain a standardized set of accessibility standards for website and mobile applications for their public sectors, the EAA extends the focus to the private sector and to a broader range of digital products including ebooks and dedicated software, e-readers, websites, and e-commerce services. The implementation date for the EAA is June 2025 for frontlist titles, with a 5-year exemption until June 2030 for backlist titles.
The EAA considers the ebook supply chain from production to consumption, but it does not specify how to make ebooks accessible. However, in their EPUB Accessibility – EU Accessibility Act Mapping document, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) demonstrates that “the European Accessibility Act related to ebooks are met by the EPUB® standard” from a format perspective, though this does not address other provisions included in the Act. The EN 301 549 V3.2.1 standard provides some elements for a framework for assessing website accessibility.
Why Should Your Organization Care?
The EAA directive applies to products and services that are sold or used within the EU and, after July 2025, your business may be prohibited from offering certain digital products and publishing services in the European Union market if they are not compliant, regardless of where your organization is based. As well as benefiting people with disabilities, the elderly, and other groups with accessibility challenges, your business will benefit from easier cross-border trading and more market opportunities.
Although the EEA doesn’t come into effect until 2025 for frontlist titles, with a 5-year extension granted for backlist titles, publishing and wider scholarly communication organizations should review and adjust their digital publications and publication services now to ensure their compliance. The directive requires organizations to make their content available through accessible devices and services, so the supply and distribution chain also needs to be involved in the review and remediation. The EAA relates to books, rather than journals, but journal publishers should still care to make the changes.
On the Scope of Work
The EAA mandates that publishers make ebooks, e-commerce processes, and websites accessible to users with print disabilities. This involves adding alt text descriptions to every image associated with a book, captioning video content, providing transcripts with audio content, and publishing books in an accessible format (EPUB being the most accessible). Metadata must also be available for products sold, so that a print-disabled person knows what accessibility features are provided before they buy. Other pieces of legislation also include accessibility requirements, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the OSTP Memo, focused on research publishing; and other countries like Canada have or are in the process of passing content-accessibility related legislation that mirrors much of the EAA. At Elsevier, therefore, we are taking an enterprise-level approach to accessibility, looking at the content we publish and the platforms on which it is published.
Damita Snow and Maxine Aldred
At ASCE, our primary focus is to ensure that practitioners and academicians, early career engineers, students, non-native English speakers, and others can easily access our products and platforms. We publish over 35 journals, 400+ books, two magazines, 800+ proceedings, our recently launched Amplify platform, for our 150+ standards, and a conference video platform. Accessibility forms a significant part of our work, extending beyond the realm of web accessibility with screen readers to the development of alt text for our content. ASCE Publications is committed to making material accessible to all, working strategically with our contributing authors, staff, and vendors to ensure that what we produce is in line with our Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), and is compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Our recent redesign of ASCE Library enables us to provide further accessible content via XML — beyond our current focus on screen readers for low vision and adaptive color contrasts for color blindness. ASCE Publications staff continuously review mandates and guidelines to be as compliant as possible across all categories of accessibility. We’ve been working with one of our vendors for the last 18 months to stay abreast of the EAA; they have been paying critical attention to legislation in the EU and are advising us on how to move forward.
Duke University Press (DUP) publishes 150 books a year and 60+ journals in the humanities, social sciences, and mathematics. Most DUP publications are already available in accessible formats (EPUB3, XML, HTML5), so we have lighter lift in that arena. We will be converting the handful of journals and books not yet in reflowable formats, or incorporating accessible features into PDFs in cases where meaning and presentation are inseparable (e.g., concrete poetry). Most of our efforts are focused on incorporating good alt text, language tagging, and legible color contrast ratios into in-progress publications. We are aiming for full compliance with all new publications by the end of 2024.
DUP’s Equity and Inclusion Task Force includes an active Disability and Accessibility Working Group, which provides education and resources on accessible practices and facilitates information sharing and learning in the community. Through their efforts, our entire organization has come to understand the critical importance of making the scholarship we publish accessible to all who wish to engage with it. There’s tremendous commitment from all corners of the Press to this undertaking.
SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, has been continuously refining the accessibility of our publications and platform. Recent improvements include keyboard navigation (all links navigable to by tab or arrow keys with visible focus status so users can see which link they are on), improvements to luminosity/readability (ensuring a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for regular text on all pages), and alt text for most images on journal pages. Work specific to the EAA involves implementing the EPUB format for all SPIE ebooks – the SPIE Digital Library is set up well for this transition, as we have previously used EPUB so our systems are already configured for it. Other upcoming improvements include further refining keyboard navigation so that tabbing through an article is sensible to a reader, mobile accessibility improvements, and developing a system to collect author-supplied alt text during the submission process.
Tech Science Press (TSP) efforts will focus on:
- Article content: Providing academic articles in accessible formats (HTML, PDF, EPUB, etc) to ensure compatibility with assistive technologies; adding alt text to figures within scholarly articles; ensuring proper heading structures and semantic markup for easy navigation; and offering alternative formats such as large print, Braille, or electronic formats compatible with assistive technologies.
- Supplementary materials: Ensuring that supplementary materials, such as appendices, datasets, or additional files, are accessible.
- Website and submission: The website and submission system will follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
TSP will also be implementing accessible design principles for journal information on our website: considering accessibility in the presentation of Altmetrics data; providing accessible guidelines to authors on journal information including editorial policies, ethics, and author guidelines; offering accessibility training for in-house editors, editorial editors, and peer reviewers.
On Tools and Vendors Involved
We are working with vendor partners to support accessibility improvements to make us compliant with the EAA, and we make good use of the DAISY suite of EPUB validation tools, including ACE and SMART. We have also received the Benetech accessible publishing certification for our books, which helped guide our accessibility efforts by helping us understand what best practice looks like. Given the volume of titles we publish each year, both tools and partners are vital to being able to systematize accessibility throughout our publishing program and ensure all readers can use our content effectively.
Damita Snow and Maxine Aldred
Some tools that we use are Color Oracle, Site Improve, University of Cambridge Impairment simulator software, Dragon, and Job Access with Speech (JAWS) screen reader. We use simulators to help identify accessibility issues on our site. They are not intended to replace anyone’s lived experience, but are a place to start. Please share your thoughts; any tools that you may use in the comments. Our go-to sites include the International Association of Accessibility Professionals, World Wide Web Consortium, and Deque.
In the near term, DUP is relying heavily on our vendors to help us reach compliance. In-process books and journal articles do not have author-provided alt text and weren’t tagged for language in copyediting. Our composition vendors will generate suggested alt text and attend to color contrast and language, our editors and authors will review that, and it will be incorporated in the late stages of production. We will continue this approach until updated guidelines can be distributed to authors and copy editors for future manuscripts.
We expect vendors to employ technology, tools, and processes to produce accessible formats, backed by quality assurance routines and periodic audits. In addition to publishing our books in EPUB3, we have our own content platform, hosted with Silverchair, where all journals and ebooks are presented in some combination of HTML5 and PDF, with a WCAG 2.2 AA conformance target. As a university press, we benefit from services from Duke University’s accessibility office and experts, which we will use to continually guide us on standards and best practices.
SPIE works with Lumina Datamatics to produce and process the format for our ebooks. Accessibility evaluation tools used include the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool, a WCAG contrast checker, the NVDA screen reader, as-needed selections from the Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools List, Colorblindly, and free accessibility audits from Ace, Web Accessibility (https://www.webaccessibility.com/), and Accessi.org.
We will ensure that our IT team has expertise in web accessibility standards, such as WCAG, and we will develop the functions by integrating the accessibility guidelines and best practices into the development process.
On Benefits and Challenges
There are multiple benefits to publishing accessible content. Approximately 40 million people in the world are registered blind according to the UN, and accessibility also improves access to our content for those with other kinds of disability, including hearing-impaired and dyslexic people. That’s a lot of people, so ensuring everyone can access our content is therefore important from a commercial as well as a mission perspective. It is, of course, important to comply with relevant legislation, including the EAA, but ensuring our content is accessible to the widest possible audience speaks more to Elsevier’s mission to help researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and improve health outcomes for the benefit of society.
The challenge, of course, is the ‘how’. We are a large publisher of many different types of book content, publishing on a variety of platforms – both Elsevier-owned and third-party platforms. Making sure that all of our workflows include all the right steps is a significant undertaking, which is why we are preparing well in advance for the EAA. In addition, in such a fast-moving field, solutions are ever-changing – the best way to provide alt text descriptions for math content is an example where there are several alternatives. Similarly, AI technology is as relevant to accessibility as it is to other areas of our industry. Finally, as we prepare to publish their work, it is vital that, during the application and verification of alt text, we give our authors the opportunity for oversight whilst not adding unreasonably to their workload.
Damita Snow and Maxine Aldred
We have several platform vendors who understand that accessible content is of the utmost importance. We have recently updated the accessibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion page on our ASCE library site, and we are scheduled to do the same for our other platforms. Voluntary product accessibility templates will soon be found on all our platforms, and we have myriad other initiatives related to accessibility in place. In a world that rightly requires accessibility as quickly as possible, the challenge is to stay ahead of the curve and decide on where to focus our immediate attention to meet the greatest needs.
One immediate challenge relates to alt text for our many figures: who will write it and who is the best placed to review it for accuracy — the author or staff with author involvement? We’ve heard that some publishers rely on AI and would be interested in hearing about other publishers’ processes.
Meeting EAA targets offers tremendous benefits for our organization. Librarians routinely inquire about DUP content and platform accessibility for collection decisions; achieving compliance with EAA will enable us to respond consistently and confidently about specific accessibility practices. DUP continually strives to be a more inclusive, more just, more equitable place to work and to publish, and meeting EAA requirements is an opportunity to live our values. We owe our authors the broadest possible platform and audience, and we owe the world every opportunity to engage the critical knowledge we disseminate.
In addition to changing our workflows and practices, some challenges are specific to DUP:
- The EAA makes no exceptions for already-published material. Our archive, dating back to the early 20th century, has about 115,000 journal articles and 3,500 ebooks, all of which lack alt text and other accessibility measures, which will require extensive labor and expense.
- Our list is rich in cultural studies, media studies, and art and visual culture. We publish 1000s of images annually. Their complex and nuanced relationship to the text may hinder AI tools or third-party services in backlist remediation. Guiding contributors to create alt text will remain challenging until accessibility is ingrained in scholarly writing practices.
- DUP publishes several mathematics journals, where the standard digital format is PDF, by way of LaTeX. Converting our workflows from PDF to HTML and supporting our math editors and contributors through the transition will be a heavy lift.
Compliance with the EAA is not only the right thing to do, it will also allow continued sales and cooperation with our European partners. Our accessibility work in general will also contribute to making scholarly publishing accessible for all users. SPIE has the usual challenges of balancing staff time and development resources, prioritizing accessibility improvement work with business endeavors, and managing the timing and costs of EPUB conversion and other accessibility work.
By making content accessible, organizations can reach more readers, including individuals with disabilities. Many regions have regulations that require organizations to ensure accessibility, such as EAA, and complying with these standards can protect against legal challenges and demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity. The primary challenges to ensuring accessibility lie in the areas of investment and human resources. Adapting content and publishing processes to meet accessibility standards may necessitate an initial investment in technology development, implementation, and training.
We hope that these contributions will open space for more discussion about how publishers are working toward EAA compliance. Accessibility is the principle of providing equal access and there is no better time than now to put accessibility on your strategic roadmap. We recommend allocating resources for accessibility work, staying educated, and involving your community – both for compliance and beyond.
Blog post sponsored by the SSP Accessibility Subcommittee:
- Lia Grabowski West, Wiley
- Simon Holt, Elsevier B.V.
- Nicola Poser, American Mathematical Society
- Kasia Repeta, Duke University Press
- Amanda Rogers, BioOne
- Damita Snow, American Society of Civil Engineers
- Ruochen Xian, Tech Science Press