Accessibility features are critical to ensure that the digital world is available to all. Today, when it is estimated that over 1 billion people are living with a disability, it is imperative for the digital community to make the web accessible for all. When it comes to our scholarly publishing community, prioritizing digital inclusion via web accessibility there is still work to be done. In recent years, publishers have increased efforts to improve web accessibility due to mounting pressure from the global community- including from institutions and libraries- and government and funders.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed a comprehensive list of globally accepted Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and these have been widely adopted by countries to frame a specific set of guidelines as national standards. The United States has done this via Section 508 together with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as has Canada with The Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81), and the UK with the Equality Act 2010.
Accessibility is baked in to HighWire hosting platforms
In 2007, HighWire initiated a company-wide accessibility initiative in compliance with relevant legislation. Since then, we have been working to develop a sustainable model for web accessibility for all hosting clients. While meeting or exceeding relevant standards, we are aiming to have a baseline functionality to support hosting accessible content that complies with requirements in the WCAG 2.1 Level AA standard, which will soon be validated by testing.
At the same time, our team is most interested in actual user experiences, in addition to scores from automated tools’ guidelines check. Thus, the team deploys a mix of both automated tools and manual testing as the best practice assess accessibility per site.
HighWire is presently working with multiple publishers to assess their websites for globally accepted accessibility. Apart from checking in for assistive technologies such as screen reader, magnification, voice command, the closed caption on videos, color contrasts, extensions, and plugin support some customers have opted for customized services to make their website accessible for all.
HighWire’s Custom Accessibility Services
In our standard hosting services, all HighWire websites undergo accessibility testing against WCAG 2.1 AA prior to launch. This initial phase does not include any additional content that is generated by the publisher and third-party services. For the websites which are instances of either of our hosting platforms, JCore and Scolaris, HighWire delivers a standard Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) that explains how the specific platform meets each of the criteria of WCAG 2.1 AA.
HighWire also offers a site-specific audit service that publishers can opt in to in order to assess how their own deployment complies with web accessibility standards. These services can be customized according to client requirements and are comprised of:
- Running accessibility tests against a specific instance(s) of a platform product.
- Reviewing the results of those tests and agreeing on which issues should be addressed.
- Carrying out the development work needed to address the agreed issues.
- Delivering a site-specific VPAT document.
Refined Approach to Accessibility
- Accessibility testing built into new site builds: We perform an in-depth comprehensive website accessibility study with the DYNO Mapper tool. This analysis provides us the details of the areas where there is a need to refine the website and help in making a strategy to implement the solutions.
- Designs tested at an early stage: After analyzing the issues, we move into the design part. All the designs are checked and tested before implementing on the website. Most of these tasks are performed manually to minimize errors.
- Regular accessibility testing of all hosting platforms: We offer publishers regular checks and testing of all the hosting platforms to comply with accessibility guidelines always.
- Accessibility developments built into hosting product roadmaps: HighWire hosting products are approaching full compatibility with the accessibility norms and will comply with WCAG 2.1 Level AA guidelines.
- Site-specific audit and VPAT service: We also perform the site-specific audit and deliver VPAT documents for the publishers. Our services include conducting the scans, reviewing the results, and delivering the VPAT document based on the audit.
The Path Forward
When it comes to web accessibility, the task never finishes. One such important aspect of complying with the global standards is to have a positive intent and awareness. With new updates rolling out continually, there should be a plan in place to maintain compliance. HighWire offers a mix of automated and manual processes to assess gaps, and to help publishers scope and prioritize the enhancements they need to roll out as a group or stepwise.
Accessibility should be a part of an organization’s culture and the scholarly publishing community has committed to equitable access to knowledge, meaning that all websites need to be accessible to all.
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