Table of Contents

Topic: Accessibility


Providing equitable access to physical and electronic publications to enable full participation can seem a daunting task. Library publishers have varying levels of infrastructure and institutional support for undertaking major accessibility initiatives, making industry standards difficult to adhere to. However, by actively understanding the needs of diverse communities, identifying and removing barriers, and staying at the forefront of best practices, library publishers can take advantage of electronic and multimedia technologies that can encourage and enable use by authors and readers with disabilities.

The original ADA legislation of 1990 focused almost exclusively on issues related to housing, employment, and education discrimination; it was not until the ADA was amended in 1998 to include Section 508, which defined for the first time detailed standards in regard to electronic access, that libraries have had to grapple seriously with ADA compliance regarding barriers to information and information technology.

In 2017 the LPC membership took part in a survey (sent to all members of the Library Publishing Coalition to better understand member perspectives about library publishing ethics) in which several members identified accessibility as an ethical principle guiding publishing efforts. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Standards and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were cited as helpful resources, and improving user experience (UX) and remediating PDF documents were listed as current and ongoing efforts. However, producing accessible content may not always be the highest priority for library publishing operations.

In 2015, Harvard and MIT were sued by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act by not including captions on materials for the public. In 2016, UC Berkeley deleted its publicly available online content because the Department of Justice asserted that they were in violation of ADA by not making their material fully accessible to individuals with disabilities. While these two cases were high profile, there are several examples of open access/education providers failing to make their material accessible (Carlson, 2018).

Addressing accessibility is not simply a way to avoid litigation, but a fundamental aspect of a equitable access. In the higher education environment, open access advocates and library publishers have fallen short in making materials accessible at a time when technology offers opportunities to reach people with disabilities in unprecedented ways.

Definitions of Disability

The definitions of disability span law and medicine, depending on context. Internationally, medical and legal definitions of disability vary widely. The World Health Organization considers disability to be an umbrella term that includes different types of impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. The WHO defines an impairment as “a problem in body function or structure;” an activity limitation as “a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action;” and a participation restriction as “a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.” The WHO’s definition highlights the complexity of disability as “an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives” rather than a simple lack of bodily ability or a health problem (WHO, n.d.).

The American Social Security Office defines disability as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months” (SSA, n.d.).

Legally, a person with a disability is defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability” (ADANN, n.d.). It is unlawful to discriminate both against a person with a disability and against someone associated with a person with a disability under the ADA.

According to the 2017 Disability Statistics Annual Report, 12.8% of the U.S. population were estimated to live with a disability. According to the World Report on Disability, it was estimated that 15%, more than a billion people, are estimated to live with some form of disability worldwide.


Accessibility may refer to varying legal and technical definitions of being readily accessible to people with disabilities, as laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Accessibility may also include a general sense of equitable access and making research and resources available to the widest possible audience. The accessibility group worked  to contextualize the spectrum of accessibility concerns in library publishing and provide methods of addressing accessibility up front as design constraint.

Universal design offers one ideal for accessibility work; the National Disability Authority of Ireland defines universal design as “the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age, size or disability” (NDACEUD, 2014). Inclusive design is another, newer term that suggests a warmer, less burdensome or intimidating value for designers that recognizes differences rather than imagining sameness.


This section introduces relevant resources on the topic, and provides context and guidance that will help library publishers to use them effectively.

Jump to: Best Practices for Publishers | Web AccessibilityE-Pub and PDF AccessibilityImages/Visual ResourcesCaptioning for the DeafVideo/MultimediaTextbooksTechnology

Best Practices for Publishers

Following the best practices laid out below can help library publishers ensure adherence to accessibility standards.

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) guide serves as a model for best practices in creating accessible digital content for those who live with disabilities, in compliance with international standards, while illustrating why this is a good business practice that will positively impact publishers’ and their partners’ bottom line. It is written in non-technical language, and can be downloaded for free through the BISG shopping cart.

We so frequently use tools such as Google docs that allow for collaborative content creation. This checklist is a simple, very doable tool for making shared documents within your organization accessible.

This document was compiled by the Accessible Books Consortium and was originally published in April 2011, as part of The Enabling Technologies Framework project funded by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It spells out what an accessible product is in terms of file formats, structure, content, appearance, etc. It is updated regularly.

Many organizations do not have complete control of the online systems used to provide information and services to their users. Off-the-shelf vendor tools make up a large amount of the digital tools many libraries offer users, so often organizations leave it to vendors to make the needed improvements. However, as this article shows, there are things staff likely can do within the constraints of vendor tools and systems to make their content more accessible, as well as communicating more effectively with vendors about accessibility issues.

  • Schwartz, M. (2014). Web accessibility toolkit: Making digital resources usable & accessible in research libraries. Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries. Retrieved from     

This toolkit is the result of the ARL’s accessibility initiative in order to promote the principles of accessibility, universal design, and digital inclusion; help research libraries achieve digital accessibility; and connect research libraries with the tools, people, and examples they need to provide accessible digital content.

  • U.S. General Services Administration Office of Government-wide Policy. (2018). Voluntary product accessibility template (VPAT). Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Services Administration. Retrieved from    

A self-disclosing document to evaluate vendor products according to Section 508 Standards. This template is recommended for us when library publishers are evaluating software products for publishing; it is recommended that library publishers not only consider the accessibility of their own publications and websites, but that they also do so for third-party platforms and tools.

Web Accessibility

Because many library publications are delivered online, Web accessibility standards are likely to be broadly applicable in a library publishing setting. They offer guidelines and techniques for creating accessible resources, planning and implementation guides, evaluation tools, as well as tutorials and presentations.

This article by Cynthia Ng and Michael Schofield in Code{4}lib Journal discusses articles discuss web accessibility and the relation to  library web services. This article is meant to fill in this vacuum and will provide practical best practices and code.

  • World Wide Web Consortium. (n.d.). Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Retrieved from    

This is a great resource for those unfamiliar and well-versed in Web Accessibility standards. It offers an introduction to the diversity of web users and the challenges they face, guidelines and techniques to creating accessible resources, planning and implementation guides, evaluation tools, as well as tutorials and presentations.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is developed through the W3C process in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world, with a goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally. WCAG is a technical standard, not an introduction to accessibility and is written primarily for web developers. However, it outlines a wide range of recommendations and provides a useful glossary of terms. Particularly important to note are compliance levels for these standards.

E-Pub and PDF Accessibility

The guides below provide information on creating accessible PDFs and EPUB versions of e-books.

“Adobe® Acrobat® Reader® DC is free software you can use to read and access the information contained within PDF files. Adobe Acrobat Reader DC contains many capabilities specifically designed to make it easier for people with disabilities to read PDF files, regardless of whether the files have been optimized for accessibility.”

Many library publishers use PDF to publish books and journals online. This guide outlines the underlying document structure that makes it possible for a screen reader to properly read a PDF out loud, make it possible to correctly reflow and display the document on a small screen.

EPUB 3 is often cited as the best format for ensuring accessibility in e-books. With reflowable text rather than screen images, it makes it possible to resize the text (for readers with low vision) and read aloud (for readers using screen access software). The Accessibility Techniques is technical in nature; the Accessibility Guidelines offer a more user-friendly read.

Images/Visual Resources

The description of visual resources is a crucial component of accessible digital publications, as it affords access to the information contained in images for the many people with disabilities that affect reading, and all people who listen to content read aloud on electronic devices. This toolkit outlines guidelines designed to guide authors and editors creating description of visual resources for accessibility in arts and humanities publications.

  • Rosen, S. (n.d.). Describing visual resources toolkit: Describing visual resources for accessibility in arts & humanities publications. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Retrieved from

“The description of visual resources is a crucial component of accessible digital publications, as it affords access to the information contained in images for the many people with disabilities that affect reading, and all people who listen to content read aloud on electronic devices. This toolkit outlines guidelines designed to guide authors and editors creating description of visual resources for accessibility in arts and humanities publications.”

These resources include trainings, description techniques, and examples. (The Diagram Center produces a wide variety of accessibility resources that are worth perusing.)

Captioning for the Deaf

An extensive list of vendors prepared by Described and Captioned Media Program. (This list is also linked from the WC3 Multimedia Accessibility FAQ.)


What do I need to do to make audio and video accessible? How do I get a transcript made? How do I do captions? This FAQ also contains lists of recommended vendors.

  • The Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media (n.d.). CADET: Caption And Description Editing Tool. Retrieved from     

This is a free, downloadable caption-authoring software that enables anyone to product high-quality caption files that are compatible with any media player that supports the display of captions. CADET can also be used to generate audio-description scripts.


Library publishers are increasingly helping to develop open textbooks. Creating accessible textbooks is important to help all students utilize the materials in their courses.

The Accessibility Toolkit is a collaboration between BCcampus and CAPER-BC. The goal of the Accessibility Toolkit is to provide the resources needed so that each content creator, instructional designer, educational technologist, librarian, administrator, teaching assistant, etc. has the opportunity to create a truly open and accessible textbook. This guide includes a comprehensive overview of best practices and a useful accessibility checklist.

Portland Community College instructions on how to make a Word document accessible.


Accessible files should be portable across devices, and consideration should be made for the physicality of various devices (size, weight) and their support for accessibility features (braille, text-to-speech).

The Accessible Technology Initiative (ATI) of the California State University is an effort to examine purchases to make sure there is technology access for anyone with a disability. This site includes checklists for content creation as well as procurement, and is a helpful guide to anyone evaluating vendors and tools.

  • Student Disability Services

Many library publishers are located within institutions with student disability services. Library publishers can partner with these services for planning, testing, and improvement with accessibility tools.

New Resources Needed: From Access To Opportunity

This section highlights gaps in the landscape of ethical publishing resources, and suggests areas where development of new resources could have a significant impact.

To address the challenges people with disabilities have in getting published within a discipline, consistent ethical practice suggests:

  • An investigation into intersectional accessibility practices and issues
  • An investigation into disability studies and publishing across the disciplines, both in terms of challenges that people with disabilities have in getting published within a discipline, as well as journals and other publishing platforms devoted to disability studies (as well as those that publish work from a more critical, disability studies framework) across disciplines and fields.


The recommendations in this section draw on the resources above to provide guidance to library publishers looking for concrete, actionable steps they can take in this area. They are by no means the only place to start, and they may not be feasible or appropriate in all situations, but they may provide a good a starting point for many libraries.

  • All stages of the publishing process should follow best practices for accessibility, to ensure that publishing workflows and outputs are accessible to users, authors, and publishing professionals. This includes ensuring that documentation about the publishing program is accessible (such as forms, author guidelines, agreements, etc.).
  • Accessibility testing should be built into publication workflows (see the resources under the section Best Practices for Publishers).
  • A greater effort to encourage and include disability scholars/advocates/partners as authors, peer reviewers, and members of editorial boards.  

Further Reading

This section lists additional resources on this topic that may be of interest to library publishers.


Carlson, L. (2018). Higher Ed Accessibility Lawsuits, Complaints, and Settlements. Retrieved from

Kraus, L., Lauer, E., Coleman, R., and Houtenville, A. (2018). 2017 Disability Statistics Annual Report. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire. Retrieved from

National Disability Authority Centre for Excellence in Universal Design. (2014). What is universal design? Dublin, Ireland: National Disability Authority. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. (n.d.). Information and technical assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act: Introduction to the ADA. Retrieved from

U.S. General Services Administration Office of Government-wide Policy. (n.d.). Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Services Administration. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2011). World report on disability 2011. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization. Retrieved from

World Wide Web Consortium. (2018). How WAI develops accessibility standards through the W3C process: Milestones and opportunities to contribute. Retrieved from

World Wide Web Consortium. (n.d.). Standards. Retrieved from

Disability Studies

Society for Disability Studies. (n.d.). What is disability studies? Eureka, CA: Society for Disability Studies. Retrieved from

Society for Disability Studies. (n.d.). Publishing accessible books Eureka, CA: Society for Disability Studies. Retrieved from

A model letter from the Society of Disability Studies created for scholars especially as authors negotiating with publishers.

Definitions and Types of Disabilities

Americans with Disabilities Act National Network. (n.d.). What is the definition of disability under the ADA? Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Disability overview. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

Homewood Student Affairs Student Disability Services. (n.d.). Types of disabilities. Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved from

Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Disability evaluation under Social Security. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (n.d.). Health topics: Disabilities. Retrieved from

Accessibility in Library Publishing

Anderson-Wilk, M., & Kunda, S. (2012). Publisher-library partnership for accessibility: A case study of scholarly publishing for public audiences. Journal of Electronic Publishing, 15(1). DOI:

Pereyaslavska, K. (2012). Publishing accessibly—open access and your library as a “publisher”. Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries. Retrieved from

This is an overview produced by ARL based on conversations during the 2015 Library Publishing Forum.

Smart, P., Conrad, L. Y., &, Kasdorf, B. (Eds.). (2018). Making accessibility more accessible to publishers [Special issue]. Learned Publishing, 31(1). Retrieved from

Accessibility in Commercial Publishing

Inclusive publishing. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Inclusive Publishing offers an accessibility checker ( and other tools ( and resources ( for publishers.

DAISY Consortium. (n.d.). Accessible standards for publishing. Zurich, Switzerland: DAISY Consortium. Retrieved from

Publication Examples

Kourbetis, V., & Boukouras, K. (2014). Accessible open educational resources for students with disabilities in Greece: They are open to the deaf. In: C. Stephanidis, & M. Antona (Eds.). Universal access in human-computer interaction. Universal access to information and knowledge. UAHCI 2014. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 8514. DOI

An example of OA publishing that provides accessibility to the deaf

Supalla, T., Limousin, F., & Malzkuhn, M., with McDonald, B. M. (2014). Tracking our sign language heritage. Deaf Studies Digital Journal, 1(4). DOI:

An example of a bilingual ASL/English open access journal designed for deaf and non-deaf users alike.


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