Accessibility in Publishing
October 27, 2021
A recent webinar hosted by the Society for Scholarly Publishing on accessibility issues gave attendees reasons to push forward on the accessibility front, a toolkit for how to communicate with colleagues about the issue, and practical, hands-on tips to start the journey.
Violaine Iglesias, CEO and co-founder of Cadmore Media, noted that her journey to becoming an accessibility evangelist began at an STM pre-meeting seminar where George Kerscher shared his experience of only starting to read the newspaper when he was 28 years old, due to the limitations in print publishing at the time.
She provided a list of 12 lessons she’s learned from her journey and noted that she has recently moved “it’s the right thing to do” to the top of the top of the list, because making content accessible is a moral imperative.
Iglesias gave additional tips:
Alan Maloney, Executive User Experience Manager at SAGE Publications, agreed with Iglesias’ reasoning and added his own suggestions, including the fact that thinking through accessibility leads to an overall better user experience for everyone through close examination of needs. Other reasons that often carry significant weight with leadership is the business argument: we want more customers or users (11% of students in the UK report a disability) and the legal obligation: no one wants they or their customers to be sued. Maloney also noted that disability is part of being human: while you might not have a disability right this moment, that can change at any time – and with age, it most likely will.
Maloney humorously introduced the term SUX, or “some users experience” to reflect the reality of what happens when not everyone is considered. He also explained the “persona spectrum,” which places disabilities in several categories: Permanent (e.g., blind or deaf); Temporary (e.g., injury, cataract, infection); and Situational (e.g., new parent, distracted driver, heavy accent, noisy room). Everyone will experience at least a few of these in their lifetime.
Some of Maloney’s tips for getting buy-in for expanding accessibility efforts include making sure you pitch at the right level: be specific, use plain English, and adapt the message to the audience. Don’t say: “This doesn’t conform to WCAG 2.1 1.1.1.” Do say: “This image needs to be described for visually impaired users.” It’s also good practice to link accessibility goals to a wider company mission. A lot of organizational mission statements imply “everyone,” and are an internal rallying statement as well as the language senior management is familiar with.
Finally, Maloney urged would-be advocates to “Never shut up about it – use your voice and perspective and when you spot a barrier, mention it!” No matter your role, you can share news and resources, have some mantras, work accessibility into policies and processes you manage, and when you have hiring influence, hire people who are already passionate about accessibility.
Nina Amato, Senior User Experience Designer at the American Chemical Society (ACS), echoed the previous presenter’s sentiments about asking users directly what they need and want. ACS marketing does a yearly survey and the response to a question about screen readers indicated that 5% of ACS readers use one on their computer and mobile devices. Web analytics won’t tell you this, so the value of talking directly to users is clear.
Amato reminded viewers that there are varieties of disability; for example, just considering vision, disabilities could range from complete blindness to limited vision to color blindness to the inability to see color contrast well. So if your goal is to make your website more accessible for those with visual impairments, have you taken all of those into consideration? Color contrast on websites is often very poor and impacts a large range of people. While 42 million worldwide are blind, 295 million people have moderate to severe vision impairment, and an additional 258 million experience a mild vision impairment. The use of screen readers is also quite helpful to those with dyslexia, which many people experience.
Amato has been working on accessibility since the late 90s and offered some practical tips to get started:
You can view the entire webinar via the SSP On Demand library.