Accessibility in Academic Research: Alternative Text for Images and Non-text Items

This series focuses on a few main problems with accessibility in academic research, but by no means are they they only ones. My last post covered problems concerning graphs and how we can improve them to be more accessible to color blind individuals. If you’re curious about other accessibility considerations, take a look at Anne Gibson’s Alphabet of Accessibility on the Pastry Box Project; it’s fantastic.

Images, graphs and other non-text items in research

As I mentioned in my previous post, lots of scholarly research relies of graphs and charts to represent data and results. Additionally, researchers use images and other non-text items (such as equations) in research. However, without proper alternative text, these visual representations are meaningless to users with certain visual impairments.

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What does Reading Level have to do with Racism and Equity?

As the Web Services Librarian, I play an important role in determining the standards for content on the Boston Public Library website. The blogs are some of the most important content I oversee. They’re important because they let library workers talk about things they and their patrons care about. I think that connection to the public is special and needs to be protected.

As a part of the annual training bloggers go through, I remind them to keep their posts to a 10th grade reading level or below (ideally 8th grade). The few exceptions are on a case-by-case basis. However, staff members come back to me and say that the requirement is too restrictive, and what’s the big deal anyway?

When you don’t consider the reading level of your content, you are shutting out people who don’t read at the same level as you. Those people will most likely include, but are not limited to:

  • People of color
  • People who are poor
  • People with learning disabilities
  • People who don’t speak English as their first language

TL;DR: The reading level of your content is a racism and equity issue. If you’re not thinking about the reading levels of your content, you are preventing large groups of disadvantaged people from reading it. About half of adults in the U.S. do not read above an eighth grade reading level, and you are excluding them. Use hemingwayapp.com to help you reduce the reading level of your content.

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A bell curve graph that has a color legend on the top right, and uses color to differentiate five sections of the bell curve. This graph's colors will pass the color blindness filter tests.

Accessibility in Academic Research: Using Color

So my fiancé is a PhD student. That fact is only relevant in that it’s my main source of information about processes at various academic institutions. While he is a student and works for only one university, he is on projects with other universities, and regularly reviews papers for journals.

There are times he shows me or tells me about websites, surveys, graphs, or practices that clearly violate current accessibility standards. At times he has mentioned this to the people in charge of these items and he frequently gets the response along the lines of “I don’t think people with visual impairments will use this.”

As someone who strives to ensure accessibility practices are followed, this response makes me frustrated. But, rather than having this be a series with me venting about these transgressions, I’d like to take this time to give a brief overview on how academic faculty and staff (or other researchers) can build accessibility practices into their workflow and why they should.

This series is going to focus on a few main problems with accessibility in academic research, but by no means are they they only ones. If you’re curious about other accessibility considerations, take a look at Anne Gibson’s Alphabet of Accessibility on the Pastry Box Project; it’s fantastic.

Continue reading “Accessibility in Academic Research: Using Color”

Usability Testing With Citizens Ages 55+

As I referenced in my earlier post, I’ve been interested in working on usability testing with seniors on the Boston Public Library website.

Last summer I developed a questionnaire for seniors that asked them about their internet habits. We sent a link to this survey out though Age Strong in Boston, an organization dedicated to improving the life of Boston’s citizens 55 years or older. We used our social media accounts and a local church e-newsletter to promote the survey as well. We also included paper surveys at various library programs that were frequented by seniors, so that we could get respondents who may not feel comfortable taking a survey online.

In the survey we asked if people would be willing to participate in an in-person usability test session at our Central Library in Copley Square. Those who participated would get a $20 gift card. We got over 90 overall survey responses, and approximately 40 said they were interested in participating in the in-person session. Of those 40, we invited 16 to come in person.

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Update: January 2020

So it’s been quite a while since I last posted, and all I can say about that is that 2019 was an unexpectedly busy year. I presented at a conference, BiblioCon 2019, and I’ve uploaded that presentation to this site. This presentation is called ” Low-Cost Usability Testing.” The presentation basically covers how you can improvise usability testing for your website without spending any additional money, and still get meaningful results.

You can check it out, and other presentations I’ve worked on here.

I also blog for my job, but on very different topics. To be honest, a lot of my energy is going into that nowadays. If you’re ever curious about what those posts look like, you can see them all here

That’s it for now, but I’m hoping to write up more about the presentation, and some research I’m working on this year.