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.

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What I’m Working On/Reading: July 2019

It’s been a while since I posted, but this is the first time I’ve had some free time to sit down and think about things I want to say or share.

When I did usability testing for the redesign of the Boston Public Library website last year, we found that seniors had the most difficulty using the new website. At the time, we didn’t have time to explore much into it. We made the edits we needed based on their feedback, but I wanted to revisit this. Seniors tend to be the demographic group with the most difficulty with technology, and changes. However, they’re also a significant part of the population. I want to make sure as we look forward, we aren’t leaving them behind. Now, we finally have the time to work on this project, so here are a few things I’m reading as I think about how I want to approach this.

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photo of a public library website within a city library's website

What Not to Do on Your Library Website, or the Library Websites’ Hall of Shame: Not Having Your Own Website

This is a continuation of my Hall of Shame series. One of the many things I work on as a librarian is websites, more specifically, the usability, accessibility, and navigation of a website. In this series I will show examples of website sins libraries commit, and explain why they’re not good ideas. In all of my examples, the names of the libraries, and any other identifying information, will be blacked out to protect those guilty of these sins.

Before I go into this month’s post, I want to say this disclaimer: The issues I’m pointing out are very relevant, and should be rectified if there is a chance to do so. I don’t claim to know the budgets of these libraries or the reasoning behind their decisions, so I can only go off what I see on their websites.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s begin. This post is about libraries that don’t have their own website. Their website is folded into the university or city’s own websites. Below, are three big reasons why that is problematic, with screenshots of library websites to back up the evidence.

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