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 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

Accessibility for Journal Publishers

The terms “access” and “scholarly journals” are often linked to Open Access publishing. Less often discussed—but still very important—are issues and challenges of making journal content accessible to the visually, cognitively, or otherwise impaired.

Guest blog by John Parsons

content accessibility for journal publishers

Peer-reviewed, scholarly journals are a specialized slice of the publishing universe. Worldwide, it is a $25 billion market. Unlike consumer and trade magazines, journals are not supported by advertising revenue, but rely on subscriptions, institutional funding, and/or open access funding mechanisms. Readership varies widely in size and scope, and includes students, journalists and government employees as well as researchers themselves. They are also delivered by a wide array of specialized digital platforms and websites.

What they do share with other publications is the assumption that their audience can read words and images on a page or screen. For the majority of journal readers, this poses few problems. However, for readers with visual or other impairments, content accessibility is a major concern.

Justifying Journal Content Accessibility

Some might argue, without foundation, that scholars qualified to consume peer-reviewed content are less likely to be impaired in the first place, making the number of affected users too low to justify the added costs. (If cost were the only issue, one Stephen Hawking in a journal’s potential audience would more than justify the cost of making scholarly exchange possible for disabled readers. Also, as was mentioned, scholars and researchers are not the only readers in the equation.)

In other words, one justification for accessibility is a moral argument. It’s simply the right thing to do. However, for most journals, this argument is moot. Government-funded research typically carries minimum accessibility requirements, such as those spelled out in U.S. Code Section 508.

Building content accessibility into a journal workflow need not even be a daunting financial question at all. Well-structured XML content and metadata has many benefits, of which accessibility is only one. (This will be the subject of another blog.)

Regardless of the reason, most journal publishers understand the why aspect of content accessibility. So, let’s focus on how best to do it.

Identifying the Pieces---WCAG 2.0, Section 508, and VPAT

To understand the scope of journal article accessibility, we need to know that it has two basic versions—a document (PDF or EPUB) and a webpage. These are similar in many ways, especially to a sighted person, but they have different accessibility requirements.

What each of these formats have in common are

  • accessibility metadata
  • meaningful alt text for images (including math formulas and charts)
  • a logical reading order
  • audible screen reading
  • alternative access to media content

Only two (EPUB and webpages) have potentially resizable text and a clear separation of presentation and content. (PDF’s fixed page and text size often can be problematic. But in areas where PDF is a commonly used format, notably healthcare, service providers can provide workflow mechanisms to remediate PDFs for Section 508 compliance.)

Webpages have the added requirements of color contrast, keyboard access, options to stop, pause, or hide moving content, and alternatives to audio, video, and interactive content. Most of these are covered in detail in the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 guidelines, many of which are federally mandated. Service provider solutions in this area include a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) for journal content. This template applies to all “Electronic and Information Technology” products and services. It helps government contracting officials and other buyers to evaluate how accessible a particular product is, according to Section 508 or WCAG 2.0 standards.

There are several “degrees of difficulty” when it comes to making journal articles accessible. Research that is predominantly text is the easiest, but still requires careful thought and planning. With proper tagging of text elements, clearly denoting reading order and the placement of section headings and other cues, a text article can be accessibility-enhanced by several methods, including large print and audio.

More difficult by far are the complex tables, charts, math formulas, and photographic images that are prevalent in STM journals. Here, extra attention must be paid to type size and logical element order (for tables). In the case of charts, formulas, and pictures, the answer is alternative or “alt” text descriptions.

Think of it as explaining a visual scene to someone who is blindfolded. Rudimentary alt text, like “child, doll, hammer,” would probably not convey the full meaning of a photograph depicting Bandura’s famous Bobo Doll experiment. Rather, the best alt text would be a more nuanced text explanation of what the images depict—preferably by a subject matter expert.

Automation in Workflow is Key

When Braille or even large print were the only solutions, journal content accessibility was not an option for most. All that changed, for the better, with the advent of well-structured digital content. Again, publishing service providers have done much to advance this process, and in many cases, automate it.

Not every issue can be automated, however. Making content accessible may involve redesign. For example, footnotes may need to be placed at the end of an article—similar to a reference list—to ensure continuity of reading. Other steps support the logical flow of content and reading order, semantic structuring for discoverability, inclusion of alt text descriptions for images, simplifying presentation and tagging of complex tabular data, and the rendering of math equations as MathML.

Journal publishers can facilitate this in part by selecting formats that are more accessible by nature. Articles published online or available as EPUB are accessible by default, although they need to be enhanced to meet all the requirements of WCAG 2.0. The gap is small and can be easily bridged by focusing on the shortcomings and addressing it in design, content structuring, and web hosting.

Many of the basic, structural issues of making journal content accessible can be resolved, more or less automatically, if the publishing system or platform enforces standardized metadata rules. Titles, subheads, body copy, and other text elements will have a logical order, and can easily be presented in accessible ways. For elements where knowledgeable human input is required (as with alt text), a good system will facilitate such input.

Accessibility is not just the right thing to do, for the sake of science. It is also an obtainable goal—with the right service provider.


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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