Accessibility Standards, Compliance Reporting and Digital Platforms
As a platform for the provision of digital scholarly content, such as books and documents, in Open Access, the Open Research Library makes efforts to demonstrate its compliance with established accessibility standards.
Similar to other digital resources, such as JSTOR, the Open Research Library (ORL) hosts academic books, conference posters and scholarly articles, among other document types, in Open Access, which removes paywall-based barriers to content access. However, BiblioBoard, the digital platform underpinning the website of the ORL, has also been making efforts to comply with digital material accessibility requirements that have come into force in recent years, such as in the United States.
Historically, these requirements have been based on the Section 508 of the United States Government Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In recent decades, institutions seeking to establish their compliance with this act have been producing the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) report on a periodic basis, as specified by the Section 508. Despite being internal, these audits both indicate areas of compliance improvement. Thus, these can allay the concerns of product purchasing organizations, e.g., libraries, as regards the quality of online resources.
Moreover, in addition to VPAT reports, which have come into largely prevalent use since the 1990s, from 2008 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), have increasingly attained the status of de facto accessibility and usability standards adopted by governmental and non-governmental agencies internationally. Thus, for individual online digital platforms, not only VPAT auditing, but also WCAG 2.0 compliance at the medium level (AA) have become prerequisites for avoiding accessibility-related legal liabilities.
Additionally, platform users with disabilities, such as those with visual impairments, can be encountering user experience issues related to platform components or contents, which are likely to require continuous accessibility adjustments and feature development that depend on the allocation of financial resources. In other words, accessibility audits and remediation are, in most cases, continuous processes involving platform design and problem resolution, as part of quality assurance measures. Likewise, given that each digital platform has a unique constellation of design elements, such as navigation and search interfaces, their continuous evolution also follows different roadmaps of accessibility standard implementation, such as in response to emergent technologies and features.
In this respect, continuous feedback from platform-using institutions, such as university libraries, can contribute to maintaining the up-to-date accessibility profiles that specific content repository solutions have via either their metadata or websites. These issues are common to content delivery platforms in the academic domain, such as JSTOR, ProQuest and Elsevier, that can implement various approaches to implementing accessibility requirement compliance, e.g., via user-centered platform design (Trimble, 2018).
Consequently, that BiblioBoard, the platform on which the ORL website is based, has recently published a VPAT report attesting to its compliance with the WCAG 2.0 requirements at the AA level both follows the existing best-practice standards, which other platform vendors uphold as well, and represents a milestone in a larger-scale, continuous process of ensuring accessibility compliance.
By Pablo Markin
Trimble, Lauren. "Accessibility at JSTOR: From box‐checking to a more inclusive and sustainable future." Learned Publishing, 31, no. 1, 21-24, (2018).
Featured Image Credits: Outspoken Library at Menlo Park Veterans Home, The New Jersey State Library Talking Book & Braille Center, NJ, USA, August 12, 2007 | © Courtesy of New Jersey State Library/Flickr.