From open access to openly accessible

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Patrick Hargitt explains why 2022 became the year that accessibility got serious.

For an increasing number of publishers and societies, how to thrive in an open access world has become a critical strategy discussion in recent years. Change is now inevitable, and the benefits are more widely understood, with the pandemic making clear the real-world impact that rapid and open dissemination of research can make.

Part of the solution to this changing world for Wiley was to introduce Wiley Partner Solutions at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year. A manifestation of what we see in industry trends, it enables the publishers and scholarly societies we work with to grow connections between researchers and the organisations that serve them, and ensures that all research findings are widely available and reusable. 

Yet thriving in an open access world goes beyond making research available to as many people as possible or making sure to address FAIR data principles. It is imperative that we now also consider how to ensure that research is as accessible as possible.

Shifting towards accessibility

Atypon (a Wiley Partner Solutions brand) works with over 200 of the world’s publishers and scholarly societies, enabling our partners to deliver their content to academics and practitioners across every field of study. Our technology roadmap and development cycle are driven both by industry trends and feedback from our community. We regularly solicit feedback from the community through online user groups, bi-annual community meetings, surveys and 1-2-1 dialogue. At the recent Atypon Community meeting in Washington DC, accessibility was a topic on many customers’ minds. 

This is a real shift: five years ago, very few publishers or societies were talking about accessibility. In the past, publishers’ accessibility requirements were typically driven by requests from institutions and libraries with accessibility written into their missions and their service requirements. Conversations with Atypon would often come when a publisher or society had received a voluntary product accessibility template (VPAT) and needed to know whether they were compliant. Now, with a growing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), combined with new incoming legislation and policy requirements, publishers and societies are starting to realise they need to get serious about accessibility. New requirements all content providers will need to take note of include:

  1. The EU Directive 2019/882 (the European Accessibility Act). Coming into in effect July 2025, the Directive promotes “full and effective equal participation by improving access to mainstream products and services that, through their initial design or subsequent adaptation, address the particular needs of persons with disabilities.” Our expectation is this type of legislation will be quickly followed in the US. 

  1. The OSTP Nelson Memo (‘Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research’). Although primarily about delivering greater availability of US government-funded research through open access, the memorandum indicates that agency plans must outline “online access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications in formats that allow for machine-readability and enabling broad accessibility through assistive devices.” It therefore places a focus not only on the availability of resources, but the ability for all to access and benefit from these.

Both of these drivers for change align with a cultural shift towards more focus on DEI at a business strategy level. The impact of this focus will be felt by technology departments: making content inclusive for all means removing barriers to access that may cause adverse socioeconomic outcomes for those with a disability.

The drivers also align with change in how researchers want to read and work. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the issue of allowing all researchers to work remotely and access resources from anywhere. All users should be able to access content, without leaving anyone out. 

Inevitably, taking time to make content and platforms more accessible benefits more than just those with a registered disability. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1 billion people have some degree of hearing loss or sight impairment, or symptoms of dyslexia. The WHO reports that this number continues to grow, because of population ageing and increases in chronic health conditions. This creates challenges for many, who will struggle with reading and comprehension, or accessing and processing web pages.

How to move forward in 2023

We have been increasingly discussing accessibility with clients over the past two years to ensure the coming changes ahead were on their radar. So the question is: how should publishers and societies take a strategy forward to deliver more accessible content in 2023? Customers have typically come to us with a general desire to improve accessibility, but without knowing how they want to go about it. 

Essentially, accessibility is about providing all the information that a user needs. A website that is not accessible relies on visual interaction with a webpage. An accessible website includes a lot of information in the metadata or in the back-end, so that users who do not have visual ability can still interact with the page. Atypon can advise publishers and societies on how best to provide information in an accessible way.

  1. Accessible websites

There are two components to consider. Firstly, the actual delivery of content and the visual display. Accessibility should be a priority when designing features for websites. For any updates or new functionality, these should support accessibility, considering semantic tagging, keyboard navigation, and screen reader support. New page designs and user experience (UX) should also take screen readers and other accessibility technology into consideration. The bulk of responsibility here lies with the platform. For Atypon, we are putting accessibility at the heart of our developments. We have developed new UX3.0 Page Builder widgets to provide a framework for accessible sites. We have developed AXEL, a new Literatum module that creates accessible and discoverable “scholarly HTML” from XML and is able to generate EPUBs from publisher XMLs. Our UX3.0 website themes were also designed to be compliant with accessibility standards. In addition, we have upgraded our eReader to facilitate the move from PDFs to EPUB, to comply to accessibility standard guidelines (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines [WCAG] 2.1 AA) and deliver a better overall reading experience.

  1. Accessible content

The second component is about the content itself. Most of what is displayed on a publisher website is publisher-generated content, and making that content accessible is an enormous task. For example, every individual article will be accompanied by at least one and in some cases up to 10–15 figures; each of these require Alt Text. In fact, every element of the site – from logos and cover images to adverts – needs Alt Text supplied in XML if the descriptions are to be useful for non-visual readers. 

Conversations historically have been made more complex by a lack of shared understanding across the industry of what ‘accessibility’ actually means. But this has become easier over time with the introduction of shared standards such as the WC3’s WCAG and the EPUB standard file format that also uses the WCAG standard with additional book-specific requirements. Utilising these standards enables us to set parameters for what makes an accessible website for our clients. 

The first stage for any publisher or society considering accessibility should therefore be an accessibility audit, which can be done directly by their platform team or by a third-party provider. Atypon recently introduced automated weekly accessibility reports to give clients a baseline understanding of how accessible their sites are and where there are opportunities to make improvements. We can also generate a VPAT report which customers can use to identify improvements. In other cases, clients will bring audits conducted by third parties – including their customers – to us, and we’ll work through these with them.

An accessibility audit can flag a number of potential areas for recommendations. This could be about colour readability, the display of URLs, the actual structure of pages, or about missing contextual information such as Alt Text for images and figures. It is helpful for publishers to know what their goals are, so that we can agree how best to meet those goals. For example, to determine which improvements to prioritise, it is important to consider which are the most-used features of the site where having some accessibility improvement would make the greatest impact to users. A key example is a publisher’s registration page: if you do not have an accessible registration page then users who rely on accessibility features cannot register to the site, so they cannot take advantage of the rest of the information or functionality offered. These pages are not generally the ones with the highest traffic, yet it is a critical page in terms of broader business goals to consider.

Upstream of the content platform, publishers need to consider the production of their content. They need to talk to their typesetter, and address what needs to be added to XML to make it more accessible. They also need to work with their editors and authors on how to ensure the right content items and descriptions are added during the publishing workflow. 

Accessibility will be an ongoing process

On the whole, clients who have initiated a conversation using an audit have embraced the recommendations that these make. However, it is not always an easy or quick fix. In each case, their specific needs will be different. For Atypon, since development of products are shared among 200+ publishers and societies, any platform updates made – for example, UX3.0 widgets and themes, eReader, and AXEL – benefit all our customers and their users. We will also continue to work on tailored roadmaps to prioritise accessibility developments needed for individual clients. 

For success, accessibility needs to be a collaborative effort, and an ongoing conversation, since the journey will evolve as guidelines change, policies are introduced, or people make manual changes to their sites. Publishers that have developed quality assurance policies and processes have an opportunity to make sure that their platform is accessible in the long term. 

It is good to have an understanding of accessibility on both sides of the collaboration, ideally. In some cases, clients have dedicated teams for accessibility but in many other cases, we play a critical role in education. Our role is to communicate the things that we are working on and the technical aspects of accessibility, and to provide ongoing guidance as we learn more and as guidelines or policies change. We work closely with our community experts to ensure that the journey we’re on stays relevant and benefits all.

It is also important to have some flexibility because accessibility is not an exact science, and standards only go so far. Even different screen readers will differently interpret the standards, so flexibility enables platforms and publishers to work out a solution that provides the best value. 

If I can leave readers with one final consideration, it is that accessibility cannot come as an afterthought. It requires proper integration at every stage of the production and publishing workflow, and needs upfront effort. The entirety of the brands in Wiley Partner Solutions have embraced the accessibility journey and will help publishers from submission to publication with modern, accessible publication workflows.

It is clear that taking the time and making the investment for accessibility will be worthwhile. For publishers leading the way, like Taylor & Francis who were awarded the 2021 ABC International Excellence Award for Accessible Publishing, it has been a multi-year journey addressing multifaceted issues, but the fruit of our collaborative efforts is now evident in the feedback from their customers and the quality of their accessibility audits. Their achievements may encourage others to get involved, to be curious, and consider the needs of all who wish to navigate scholarly content. For Atypon, we continue to focus on delivering accessible designs, on delivering technology solutions for increased accessibility, and supporting our clients in thinking through their accessibility journeys. It really is going to be a conversation that continues.

Patrick Hargitt is Senior Director of Product Management, Atypon (a Wiley Partner Solutions brand).

Journey to better UX will continue

Remote access to resources remains a strategic priority for organisations, says Jon Bentley, commercial director of OpenAthens – though the pace of change is starting to settle

In retrospect it was perhaps inevitable. After the rapid pace of digital transformation since 2020 – when pandemic lockdowns drove home the idea that remote access was not a ‘nice to have’, but a necessity – 2022 saw things start to settle down, as the research and education world tried to figure out what hybrid digital learning would look like.

Research organisations have absorbed the lessons from the lockdown years, and they see remote access as a strategic priority. But instead of trying to implement solutions as fast as they can, they’ve become more considered in their approach.

That’s why, in 2023, I expect to see more focus on some of those longer term issues that still surround access to resources: user experience (UX), access controls, and analytics.

The key to all three is identity management.

When it comes to UX, it’s vital to remove barriers that prevent researchers and learners from signing in to content you’ve paid for. Seamless access controls are, of course, part of this, because you want the right users accessing the right content.

At the same time, high-level analytics can help you to understand which content offers the best value for money – and you want to do this in a way that protects the privacy of users.

The federated access model can support this vision. Of course, more publishers need to get behind the model too, so there’s work to do before the ecosystem becomes mature; the needle has shifted, but there’s further to go.

At the trend level, learning providers are still on a journey toward digital transformation, and at OpenAthens we’re a catalyst for that. 

The goal is not “online learning” or “physical learning” – it’s learning suited to the circumstances of the learner or the researcher. So the drive toward better UX will continue.

Visit our Community Hub to discover more about UX, access controls and analytics.

Jon Bentley is the Commercial Director at OpenAthens