Part 11: Advocating for Accessibility
As a scholarly communication librarian or practitioner, you might have the best accessibility intentions in mind but you will at some point be dependent on a company, provider, or organization that may not prioritize this work as highly as you do. Even organizations with good intentions may not be up to speed with good accessibility measures or with the needs of people with disabilities.
Advocacy may begin when your institution decides to use a particular platform or tool. Before making any decisions, see if the company or organization has issued a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT). These documents indicate level of compliance with Section 508 and they can help you judge an organization’s level of engagement with accessibility. If one isn’t available, ask if the organization can provide an accessibility roadmap, or pose some of the questions suggested by the Orbis Cascade Alliance Discovery & User Experience Team in their Accessibility Toolkit:
- Is the organization’s product accessible by keyboard alone?
- Has the product been tested using assistive technologies? If so, which technologies, what were the methods used, and what were the results?
- Does the product support captions for media?
- What are common accessibility issues that have been reported or discovered when using the product?
- What are the organization’s plans for improving accessibility and what is their timeline?
In many cases, you might not have a choice about the tools, platforms, or products that you use. In these instances, consider how you might advocate for accessibility improvements. Strategies for doing this work include:
- Connect your request to the organization’s stated goals: For instance, a company like Elsevier has both a company-wide accessibility statement and an IR-specific accessibility statement. When possible, build from existing commitments when asking for more.
- Cite your institution’s specific needs: For instance, if you manage ETDs and receive documents via a company like ProQuest, make specific requests that could improve accessibility. You might ask for accessibility metadata, accessibility-centered search facets, and accessibility-forward communications with students—and work with your graduate school to help make this happen.
- Be persistent, reiterate the message: Get faculty members and students to help make your case. Repeat your message often and invite others in your institution to do likewise.
- Work with the organization, offer to form an accessibility interest group: An interest or working group can help communicate clearly to developers about your specific needs and advance accessibility education efforts for users of a particular product.
Advocacy can look many different ways depending on your context. This chapter presents a few examples of what others have done to advocate for accessibility in libraries and higher education.