From open access to openly accessible | Research Information

“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:

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. 

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….”

A framework for improving the accessibility of research papers on arXiv.org

Abstract:  The research content hosted by arXiv is not fully accessible to everyone due to disabilities and other barriers. This matters because a significant proportion of people have reading and visual disabilities, it is important to our community that arXiv is as open as possible, and if science is to advance, we need wide and diverse participation. In addition, we have mandates to become accessible, and accessible content benefits everyone. In this paper, we will describe the accessibility problems with research, review current mitigations (and explain why they aren’t sufficient), and share the results of our user research with scientists and accessibility experts. Finally, we will present arXiv’s proposed next step towards more open science: offering HTML alongside existing PDF and TeX formats. An accessible HTML version of this paper is also available at https://info.arxiv.org/about/accessibility_research_report.html 

Access is not the same as accessibility: A framework for making research papers truly open – arXiv.org blog

“arXiv has pioneered open access for more than 30 years by removing financial, institutional, and geographic barriers to research. No paywalls or fees, no login required for reading. This approach – which gives researchers maximum control over the release of their results and broad visibility – transformed the research process and launched the open access movement.

However, access is not the same as accessibility, which is the practice of ensuring access regardless of disability. The vast majority of research papers posted to any journal or platform do not meet basic accessibility standards.

In 2022, arXiv completed intensive user research with over 40 people to determine the extent of the problem, evaluate current mitigation efforts, and consider solutions. This work, informed by arXiv staff, accessibility experts, and arXiv readers and authors who use assistive technology, is posted on arXiv in PDF and HTML formats (arXivID: 2212.07286).

In extensive interviews, our research participants shared that finding research, reading it, preparing documents, and submitting work are all steps in the research process where people encounter barriers. In particular, interpreting math equations, figures, and charts is problematic.

Flexible content can help address these issues. Offering well-formatted HTML, alongside PDF and TeX source, will lead to critical accessibility gains. arXiv’s collaboration with ar5iv, which currently renders HTML for approximately 70% of arXiv papers, is a first step in this process. Next, we expect to reduce the error rate and add a link to HTML on arXiv abstract pages….”

The Benefits of Accessibility and Open Educational Resources – The Future is Open

“When creating and distributing open educational resources (OERs), it is important to consider accessibility to make sure that everyone can benefit from these resources, including those with disabilities. By designing and developing OERs with accessibility in mind, we can help make sure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from these resources.

The use of alternative formats is an important aspect of accessibility in OERs. This includes providing text in a format that can be read by assistive technology, such as a screen reader, as well as providing captions for videos and audio content. Additionally, images and other non-textual elements should include alternative text (alt text) descriptions so that users who are visually impaired can understand the content….”

What Does It Mean to Be Truly Open Access?

Abstract:  In 2016, when my colleagues and I founded Refract: An Open Access Visual Studies Journal, we spent several sessions making mind maps to generate and settle upon a name for the journal. “Refract” is where we landed, aptly reflecting our aim to break up and reallocate how we produce, present, and grapple with the dissemination of ideas. The element of the title that did not require extensive discussion was “open access.” We instinctively knew that we wanted the journal’s content, contributors, and readership to be as broad and inclusive as possible. Because of that, we prioritized publishing on a digital platform. Digital publishing is an inherent characteristic of open access. But what exactly is open access? How does it encourage innovative scholarship? How does it perpetuate or dissolve academic gatekeeping? 

Open Inaccessibility

“When a PDF is downloaded, who can read it?

At the start of the year I discussed the social model of disability and inaccessibility in relation to open scholarship, but since then I have not done much more in a practical sense. Here’s the best explanation of the social model of disability I have seen…

Content inaccessibility came back on my radar again when I read a recent study about content accessibility improvements for arXiv. This paper calls content accessibility “the next frontier of open science.” As we see a simultaneous increase in user-generated content platforms for publishing, where there is less control over what and how things get published, I would agree and argue that accessibility will become a bigger topic quickly.

Some of my main takeaways and juxtapositions from this paper include:

There is clear content inaccessibility: only 30% of people using assistive technologies rate all research as accessible (vs. 59% of people not using assistive technologies).
HTML is preferred for accessibility, but non-disabled people prefer PDFs.
Biggest improvement areas for accessibility are (1) PDF formatting, (2) images (alt texts), (3) math accessibility (e.g., MathML for screenreaders), (4) making data in figures parseable by screen readers.
People who don’t use assistive technologies don’t know what is required of them to make accessible documents
PDF is often preferred because it is easy/easier to save to reference managers….”

TRLN E-Resources Management Working Group Publishes TRLN Guide to Negotiating Accessibility in E-Resource Licenses – Triangle Research Libraries Network

“The E-Resources Management Working Group (ERMWG) of the Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN) is pleased to announce the publication of the TRLN Guide to Negotiating Accessibility in E-Resource Licenses. This guide was created to help TRLN member libraries engage in conversations with vendors around e-resource accessibility. Recognizing that licensing is key to codifying the shared understandings and priorities of vendors and libraries, the TRLN E-Resources Management Working Group sought to create “a reference tool for library staff involved in licensing and e-resources management as they advocate for strong accessibility assurances in their formal contracts with service and content providers.” …”

MetaArXiv Preprints | Open access journals lack image accessibility considerations in author guidelines

Abstract:  In recent decades, there has been a move to “open” research, that is, to increase the reach of research products to broader audiences. One component of open access is accessibility. Accessibility generally refers to data and other products being free and open to use by others, but accessibility also refers to considering and meeting the needs of people with disabilities for participation and inclusion. Ensuring that visual content is understandable is a major component of ensuring open access publications are accessible, and alt text is a common way to make inaccessible images and non-text content more accessible. Using image accessibility and alt text as a lens, our objective was to evaluate how open access journals incorporate disability accessibility as part of open access publishing. Using a random sample of 300 English language open access journals, we assessed author guidelines to understand image requirements for submissions and open access statements to understand how journals conceive of openness and accessibility. We found that most open access journals do not include disability accessibility elements in their guidelines to authors when submitting images as part of their scholarship. While over half the journals had required parameters for image submission, none of them required alt text. And while the majority of journals included the word ‘access’ or ‘accessibility’ in their open access statements, almost none included disability or inclusion related terms. Our results highlight the importance of guidelines. Our findings speak to the limits of some of the current frameworks of open access. Incorporating disability accessibility into open access has the potential to bridge existing information inequalities for people with disabilities – and to make sure that mandates for open research do not exacerbate those inequalities.

 

Incorporating Accessibility into Library OER Programs & Initiatives | Library Accessibility Alliance

“Open Educational Resources (OER) are meant to be as open and available as possible, but if they’re not accessible or on accessible platforms, how “open” are they really? In this webinar, staff from the Michigan State University (MSU) Libraries will share how they’ve integrated accessibility into their OER initiatives and OER grant program to improve the accessibility of OER created at MSU. In order to hopefully implement similar OER accessibility processes at their libraries, attendees can expect to learn about OER accessibility resources, MSU Libraries’ OER accessibility checklist & grant program accessibility requirements, MSU Libraries’ staff who work on OER accessibility, MSU Libraries’ OER accessibility evaluation workflow & procedures, specific OER accessibility challenges/issues and OER accessibility tips and lessons learned.”

Open access to research can close gaps for people with disabilities

In a long-overdue move, the federal Office of Science and Technology Policy has issued guidance on making federally supported research and publications available to all without delay or embargo. This remarkable announcement about open access has the potential to remove information barriers that have long held back social and scientific progress.

Even with immediate open access to research results, however, people with disabilities face unique barriers to information access. These issues must be considered as this policy takes shape.

As disabled researchers with vision impairments, we do not have equitable access to scientific information. This includes barriers to accessing data and peer-reviewed publications, which too often are not available in accessible formats. This gap in access is in opposition to federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, which support equal access to information.

But scientific information is not limited to downloading journals and databases. Accessing research data can mean using online software, interactive websites or maps, and attending webinars or conferences. When scientific results are not accessible, people with disabilities — researchers, policymakers, advocates, and others —are blocked from full access to information, limiting their research knowledge, participation, and inclusion.

 

Analyzing repositories of OER using web analytics and accessibility tools | SpringerLink

Abstract:  Open Educational Resources (OER) provide learning opportunities for all. Usually, OER and links to OER are curated in Repositories of OER (ROER) for open access and use by anyone, including people with disabilities, at any place at any time. This study analyzes the reputation/ authoritativeness, usage, and accessibility of thirteen popular ROER for teaching and learning using three Web Analytics and five Web Accessibility tools. A high difference among the ROER was observed in almost every metric. Millions of users visit some of these ROER every month and on average stay 2–26 min per visit and view 1.1–8.5 pages per visit. Although in many ROER most of their visitors come from the country where the ROER hosting institute operates, other ROER (such as DOER, MIT OCW, and OpenLearn) have managed to attract visitors from all over the world. In some ROER, their visitors come directly to their website while in a few other ROER visitors are coming after visiting a search engine. Although most ROER are accessible by users with disabilities, the Web Accessibility tools revealed several errors in few ROER. In most ROER, less than one third of the traffic is coming from mobile devices although almost everyone has a mobile phone nowadays. Finally, the study makes suggestions to ROER administrators such as interconnecting their ROER, collaborating, exchanging good practices (such as Commons and MIT OCW), improving their website accessibility and mobile-optimized design, as well as promoting their ROER to libraries, educational institutes, and organizations.

 

James Love: The Copyright Ratchet, International Treaties & Fighting for Access

“James ‘Jamie’ Love is Director of Knowledge Ecology International. His training is in economics and finance, and work focuses on the production, management and access to knowledge resources, as well as aspects of competition policy. The current focus is on the financing of research and development, intellectual property rights, prices for and access to new drugs, vaccines and other medical technologies, as well as related topics for other knowledge goods, including data, software, other information protected by copyright or related rights, and proposals to expand the production of knowledge as a public good. James advises UN agencies, national governments, international and regional intergovernmental organisations and public health NGOs, and is the author of a number of articles and monographs on innovation and intellectual property rights.

He talks about access to information being one of the emerging issues of his generation, and how he got wrapped-up in the idea of making access to information more equal and less expensive for everyone. James recalls the failed push for a database Treaty at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the EU’s stubbornness by adopting the Database Directive, and how this, and term extensions, are textbook examples of the ‘copyright ratchet.’ He highlights the dangers of things creeping into international trade agreements, which can tie up politicians’ hands to change course. James touches on the WTO debates on vaccines in relation to the pandemic. He shares first-hand insights on the WIPO Marrakesh Treaty on access to published works for blind and visually impaired persons, including the many attempts to push back against it. James warns of the continuous push for a WIPO Broadcasting Treaty, and the pressure exerted by rights holders on policymakers. Finally, he concludes by observing how the lengthy negotiations on a Broadcasting Treaty, now ongoing for 25 years, has worn out the opposition against it, as priorities shift to other things….”

Accessibility in Open Educational Resources: a series of 3 no-cost Academies designed to build capacity in educator teams

ISKME and CAST’s National AEM Center invite teams of educators to learn how to use accessible Open Educational Resources (OER) to make learning more equitable and bust the barriers to learning that millions of learners experience every day. This opportunity is free to educators and you can watch an explanation here.

Our joint Accessible OER Academy series is provided at no-cost to educators and will introduce district cohorts to how openly licensed resources can be key levers for both adapting existing resources to increase accessibility and using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework to design resources that are accessible for learners with disabilities from the start. The resources and engagement will occur on OER Commons and all resources will be organized into collections that can be posted to OER Commons’s partner Hubs and pushed to partner microsites.

We invite educators from the same district to form a cohort that will join experts in OER and accessibility. Throughout the six-week Academy series, district cohorts will receive access to a curated set of high quality resources to review and adapt for use in their own settings. District cohorts that complete all six sessions will be invited to present at a national summit alongside CAST and ISKME. Each individual participant of the Academy will receive a certificate of completion. Each team will submit one application.

We encourage multidisciplinary cohorts of 3-5 educators that represent a diversity of lived experiences, classroom expertise, and current educational roles. Consider representatives from general ed, special ed, ed tech, assistive technology, library media, and administration. Your team will produce resources that can be used with and to benefit all learners, so consider building a team that can collaborate for instructional purposes. These resources might include student-facing assignments, newsletters to families or other instructional materials.

As a result of participating in the Academy series, educators will be able to:

Understand the fundamentals of both accessibility and OER, and why synergy between the two matters for learners with disabilities.

Apply best practices to ensure OER are created with accessibility from the start. 

Evaluate the accessibility of curated OER based on the principles of accessible design.

The series will consist of six 90-minute webinars with activities between each. The series is split into three levels that have two sessions per level. Each of the six sessions will feature Accessibility and OER experts, resources and group breakout work time.

101 – Fundamentals of Accessibility and OER on Sept. 27th and October 4th  – 7:00pm ET/4:00pm PT 

201 – Adapting and Creating Accessible OER on Oct. 11th and October 18th  –  7:00pm ET/4:00pm PT

301 – Curating and Evaluating OER for Accessibility on Oct. 25th and Nov. 1st –  7:00pm ET/4:00pm PT 

Apply as a team by September 13th. If you have any questions, please contact Michelle Soriano (msoriano@cast.org) or Joanna Schimizzi (joanna@iskme.org).