Accessibility for Publishers: Practical Tips That Demonstrate it's Well Within Your Reach

a free report from Riverwinds Consulting and Cenveo Publisher Services

Accessibility is an approach to publishing and design that makes content available to all, including those with disabilities who use assistive technologies on the computer. The aim of accessible publishing is to make reading easier for users who have difficulties or disabilities including the blind, partially sighted, and people with learning disabilities. Making content accessible enables readers to experience content in the most efficient format and allows them to absorb the information in a better way. The term “accessibility” is used to address issues of content structure, format, and presentation.

The question of “why make the effort to have content accessible to readers with disabilities” still lingers. Of course, accessibility comes with a cost. However, publishing indeed benefits from embracing this essential initiative. When accessibility is well executed, it can expand readership and provide a higher-quality user experience for everyone. 

Let's look at an example comparing accessible alt text with alt text captured from a figure legend. Visual items such as images that are important to the content should include alternate-text descriptions (alt text), which allows users to understand visual information. Alt text descriptions should capture information that is not included in the caption or surrounding text, and convey meaningful information to the user from the visual item. Descriptive alt text is critical to understand the full meaning of an image for the visually impaired reader. The following image illustrates an example of accessible alt text that provides a more useful description for a visually impaired reader compared with alt text that simply repeats a figure legend.

In our latest report "Accessibility for Publishers: Practical Tips That Demonstrate it's Well Within Your Reach," we provide business cases that can be brought to leadership and stakeholders in a publishing organization. Download this free report and understand

  • how you can build the business case for accessibility in your publishing organization

  • emerging and compelling reasons for making content accessible

  • the key principles of accessibility

 

Accessibility FAQs

The topic of accessibility is a priority for all types of publishers in 2018 and we project it's the year the majority will invest in making content accessible for all readers.

Cenveo Publisher Services recently hosted a webinar on accessibility: "Digital Equality - The Importance of Accessibility in Your Publishing Strategy." If you did not catch the live webinar, you can stream it here. We received so many great questions during the webinar. However, we ran out of time before we could answer every one!

Following is a list of FAQs about content accessibility:

For decorative images, can you use alt text that reads something like “decorative image, yellow tulips.” Or is the null tag better?

A: Individuals who use read-aloud software or screen reader software frequently experience what’s called ‘audio fatigue.’ To prevent that, you want to limit what information they have to listen to. So if an image is purely decorative, it should be skipped completely.

If you are using HTML or PDF, use “” for null text.

In MS Word, you typically should leave the description field blank instead of using “”, only because Word will read it out loud as “begin quote, end quote,” and the reader will have to listen to it. The meaning will be understood but it's unnecessary and distracting.

Should alt text be limited to 130 characters?

A: Best practice is to use 4 to 10 words for short alt text and not exceed 100 characters in total. However, the long description should be detailed and describe the image in a meaningful way.

Who should write the alt text? Author, copyeditor, production editor? Our eproduction team is unsure whether we can just write alt text (especially when other people are reluctant to do so).

A: Writing alt-text needs understanding of alt-text writing parameters (accessibility) AND subject matter knowledge, especially for complex images. The best practice is to work with a service provider fluent in the process and then have the author review.

As a a beginner in this field, I'm interested in the basic technical details of what "semantic structure" means and which "metadata" should be accessible.

A: Semantic structuring provides meaningful tag names for key elements in the content (to facilitate search and discovery).  Metadata information comprises details about the book such as the title, author, ISBN, subject, etc. and the accessible qualities the product possesses. Appropriate semantic structuring and metadata depends on how the content is published and the formats produced. There are specific guidelines for web content, eBook (EPUB3), PDF, digital products (multimedia), etc.

If you would like more instruction and help, please click the Learn More link at the top of this page and we're happy to help.

Videos with audio should have captions, a transcript, and a video description. Is this a best practice recommendation or are all three required by law?

A: All three are part of the Section 508 requirements and WCAG 2.0. And so, yes, all three are required to make your video fully accessible to deaf, blind, and deaf-blind students.

What is the best way to make chemistry content accessible - in some cases thousands of molecular images? Considering ChemML is not broadly used or browser compatible, is it best to add alt text for each molecule?

A: Yes capturing the alt text for each molecule is the best approach considering lack of support by assistive technologies or screen readers.  A library of the molecules with alt text can be created for reusability of the molecules. 

Is there a standard for accuracy of closed captioned transcription of recorded educational/technical content?

A: The FCC closed captioning quality standards went into effect April 2014. This is of course for televised programming in support of the hearing impaired, but a lot of the standards apply to educational videos as well. More information can be found here.

How do I find out more about building accessibility in Adobe InDesign that transfers to Adobe Acrobat PDF files?

A: Here is a good resource from Adobe: Creating accessible PDF documents with InDesign CS6. We can help create validated accessible files or test ones you've created. Click the Learn More button at the top of this page for more information.

On a math test, if we describe an image of graph in alt text, we have technically answered the question. How would you make the image accessible to blind students without giving away the answer?

A: In that case, you would describe the visual appearance of the chart or the graph without interpreting the results. And you can find good examples of this at the Diagram Center website.

If you’re using a chart or a graph on a web page, you may want to provide an interpretation of the data so students will learn how to interpret. But if it’s on a quiz or a homework assignment, you only want to describe the visual appearance of the chart or the graph so that the student can draw inference themselves.

Can tables be accessible? Can you group a table and just give a summary? Or do you need to tag the table with header rows and table cells, etc.?

A: Tables can be made accessible. The tables should be tagged as per the accessibility guidelines, complex or large tables should be accompanied with a summary.

Depending on the technology you use or the software you use to create the table, tables are best for displaying data accessibly. MS Word does not allow you to provide column headers, so you should only use  simple tables.

You can create accessible tables using HTML. If you use a learning management system, it should have an HTML editor. In general, you should not have nested tables. You should break them up into several smaller, individual tables.

Do you know if publishers have a department devoted to making their products accessible?

A: The degree to which publishers are producing accessible products varies greatly. However, as regulatory deadlines kick in, more educational publishers are discovering that they risk losing substantial market share if they cannot provide content in an accessible format.

What is the breakdown of different disabilities among students that constitutes one-third to one-half of students with disabilities?

A: Please refer to this report, though this report was published in 2014 the information contained is useful: The State of Learning Disabilities.

Can you make a separate page for something that can’t be made accessible (say, using a Flash element)?

A: Absolutely. As long as you make the equivalent content readily available.

Does WCAG 2.0 cover dyslexic-friendly fonts?

A: No, it does not. The one success criterion that mentions typeface design is Level AAA, and even it only recommends sans serif typefaces and not even as a compliance issue.

What about dynamic Content Management Systems, like WordPress? Or eLearning authoring applications? Any recipes for Articulate, Camtasia, Lectora, or Adobe eLearning Suite?

A: WordPress can be made 100% WCAG 2.0 compliant. So can many other CMSs. We have a course and learning guide that goes through all of WCAG 2.0, including recipes for special platforms such as Articulate.

I’ve seen the Section 508 checklist. However, is there a checklist of things we can/should check for in the documents that you spoke about?

A: Yes. Essentially you need to walk through all the applicable WCAG 2.0 success criteria through the lens of a document. A simple checklist can be found at the following websites:

What if my website contains content that cannot be made accessible?

A: Some content, by its very nature, may not be made accessible. In such cases, the information provided must be made available to individuals with a disability in an equally effective manner. The Technical Guidelines provide suggestions for how to provide accessible descriptive content by which a person using accommodating technologies could understand what the inaccessible content is about. Note that using more established or more widely used technologies may be equally effective for all students, and allow for full accessibility.

Can I just cut and paste an image caption into an alt text field?

A: No. Alternative text should not be redundant with adjacent or body text.

We make content accessible only when required; typically after publication. Would it be more expensive to integrate accessibility for all titles at the onset of production?

A: Integrating accessibility at the onset of production is the recommended approach, it not only helps control the cost but also ensures the multiple products generated at the end of the production cycle will inherit the accessible qualities with no additional spending required to retrofit the product for accessibility. It is more expensive in the long-run to build accessibility into your workflow post publication.

What content requires a text equivalent?

A: Anything that is not text must have a text equivalent: pictures, image maps, video, sound, form controls, scripts, and colors.

Do all images need a text equivalent?

A: Any image that conveys information should have a text alternative. However, images that do not convey any information (decoration) should have an empty equivalent (in HTML, simply alt=""), so that people and assistive technologies know that they can be ignored.

How is Cenveo Publisher Services working with higher education publishers to move them towards accessibility?

A: Accessibility is integrated in our workflows to produce products that are born accessible. We endeavor to ensure all products are accessible and educate customers on the importance and benefits of accessibility as well as the legal compliance mandates. We have always recommended a born accessible product rather than retrofitting content for accessibility, which typically involves additional costs.

How can I get started making my content accessible?

A: Easy! Just grab a copy of our accessibility RFQ form, fill out, and return to info.psg@cenveo.com and we will get you started.

 

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Mike Groth

Michael Groth is Director of Marketing at Cenveo Publisher Services, where he oversees all aspects of marketing strategy and implementation across digital, social, conference, advertising and PR channels. Mike has spent over 20 years in marketing for scholarly publishing, previously at Emerald, Ingenta, Publishers Communication Group, the New England Journal of Medicine and Wolters Kluwer. He has made the rounds at information industry events, organized conference sessions, presented at SSP, ALA, ER&L and Charleston, and blogged on topics ranging from market trends, library budgets and research impact, to emerging markets and online communities.. Twitter Handle: @mikegroth72