What are journal publishers looking for? What are they thinking about? It is their need to ensure that publications can be accessed and read by everyone, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities. What ails the industry is that there is lack of accessibility to their content. Accessible publishing is better for everyone, especially where it results in the “navigable, feature-rich” content. This extends to every piece of technology that STM publishers use to distribute their content. Whether it is eBooks or the World Wide Web, the readers should have all the advantages to access these materials. As scholarly publishing becomes more complex, so does the accessibility question.
Before we burrow down this rabbit hole, it is important to lay a framework that we can work off. Essentially, what makes for an accessible publication? There are multiple standards such as ARIA, WCAG, EPUB standards as well as the ONIX metadata standard. The important thing is that any document needs to be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Since content is widespread throughout the web, it probably makes sense to focus on this area for scientific journal publishing. On top of the structural foundation and semantic layer is EPUB3. It defines all the components of a publication (content documents, navigation between them, images, metadata, and other resources) all packaged up in a .zip container called an EPUB. In terms of accessibility, it is a big boon in several ways.
Other forms of accessibility are ensuring that content is made available at any given time. Take disabled students in Higher Education Institutions. What works for other students may not work for them. Depending on the student’s impediments, the assistive technology will be customized as needed. PDFs may have image descriptions, which for scholarly and technical content may involve consultation with faculty to properly explain each figure and image.
Other forms such as alt-text and closed captioning have created significant impact in the industry. Alt-text has provided impressive options to publishers everywhere. Alt-text provides readers with contextual descriptions of images, enhancing comprehension and providing a richer reading experience. Recently, Wiley incorporated alt-text into their content to make accessible worldwide. In relation to this, scholarly publishing service providers have provided closed captioning services to publishers worldwide to provide accessibility where one thought none was possible. Why closed captioning? Research on closed captioning shows that marginalized groups can have access to same kind of education that regular people would take for granted. Some reports have shown that US colleges have 10-20% disabled student enrollment. With that in mind, it gives more thought to the theory that there is a realm for accessibility in all shapes and forms.
The whole point of accessibility is to make it open to everyone in every possible way. The future is not far off when versions of books, journals, articles and other form of content are available to every individual. The road may be long but the progress that is being made will be useful to all STM/scholarly publishers all across the publishing spectrum.