Josie Gray, Manager for Production & Publishing at BCcampus, provided the following reflection about how open access can be leveraged to create more accessible tools for authors. Gray discusses accessibility concerns for open educational resources and encourages librarians and OA publishers to advocate for accessibility as part of the future of open access.
Applying Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines to Open Publishing Tools (contribution by Josie Gray)
Creating accessible open educational resources is important. However, the actual accessibility of OER being created varies, and many inaccessible OER are still being produced (Navarrete & Luján-Mora, 2015). One possible reason for this gap is that the process of creating OER is a lot of work, and many instructors who take this on do not have much (if any) support or experience with this process. They will likely be learning new technology and about open licenses, copyright, publishing, digital accessibility, and more. In addition, they may be unfamiliar with the pedagogical elements that go into an effective learning resource. It is a huge learning curve, and in the long list of things to keep in mind, accessibility often gets forgotten or de-prioritized.
One possibility to address this issue is to look into how we can reduce the time and cognitive load that goes into creating an accessible OER, specifically though the design of OER publishing tools. Instead of requiring that each new OER creator learn everything there is to know about accessibility, we can create and use publishing tools that identify accessibility errors, provide information on best practices, walk authors through the process, and automate tasks that can be automated.
The idea that authoring and publishing tools can support or inhibit the creation of accessible content is not new. In 2000, the W3C published the first iteration of the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG). These guidelines are for developers of authoring tools, and they provide information both on how to make sure the tool is accessible to disabled people and how to design the tool so that those who use it are supported in creating accessible web content (W3C, 2015). These two things are important because they would both ensure that people with disabilities can create and publish their own perspectives, stories, and resources; and help make the web a more accessible place by default (Harrison, Richard, & Treviranus, n.d.).
It’s been over twenty years, and we can see that the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines have not been implemented in most authoring tools. For example, in Google Docs, you have to dig around in menus to find where to add alternative text to images. And although Microsoft Word provides an accessibility checker, someone unfamiliar with accessibility is still more likely to just change the size of text rather than using the Heading Styles. These word processors are still used by many to create OER. But let’s turn our attention specifically to open publishing tools.
For example, imagine a tool that guided authors in how to create accessible content or how to check for accessibility. The tool could make it easy to create accessible tables or provide long descriptions for complex images. To complicate this further, OER are becoming increasingly multimodal and interactive through the integration of video, audio, and interactive activities. This change is making OER more engaging and accessible to some, but it poses new challenges for those who require offline or print access. How can we ensure we are not leaving those people behind in the rush for interactivity? What are ways a publishing tool could support authors in providing printable alternatives that don’t require creating and maintaining two versions of the same content?
Ultimately, we need to advocate for publishing tools that support authors in considering and designing for the diverse needs of students. This means design that is flexible, interactive, customizable, and multimodal. For these needs to be addressed in a meaningful way, future design work must actively include OER publishers, authors, and students of various abilities and contexts as design participants early on and often.