The Digital Squeeze

Episode 6: ASPIRE

Jul 09, 2020

In this episode we discuss the topic of e-book accessibility with two guests from ASPIRE, an organization that helps publishers tell a story and present a transparent position on the accessibility of their content.

[Music]

Julie Twomey:

Hello, and thank you for listening to The Digital Squeeze Podcast. This is your host, Julie Twomey. In this episode, we are discussing the topic of eBook accessibility with two guests from ASPIRE, an organization that helps publishers tell a story and present a transparent position on the accessibility of their content. ASPIRE encourages publishers to be upfront about their position and discuss the strengths of their platforms, but also address the challenges and describe the steps they are taking to improve any limitations. ASPIRE is a free resource for librarians and provides a list that ranks publishing platforms based on the transparency of their accessibility statements.

I am also joined by two guests, and my colleagues, from EBSCO Information Services, representing our eBooks team. We have been recognized as a top-ranking platform from ASPIRE, and we are taking big strides to recognize publishers making positive changes to their content and improving accessibility for all library users. Our guests will discuss the value ASPIRE brings to publishers and the library community, the importance of EPUB, which is the preferred format for a broad range of types of publications, and the impact of new accessibility regulations.

I am excited to welcome four guests to the program. First, we are joined by Alistair McNaught, an independent consultant and associate from the organization, ASPIRE, in the United Kingdom. ASPIRE works with publishers and libraries to evaluate the quality of accessibility statements in the publishing industry. Thank you for joining us, Alistair.

Alistair McNaught:

You're very welcome. I'm delighted to be here.

Julie Twomey:

Next I am joined by Huw Alexander, who is also an associate from ASPIRE in the United Kingdom. Welcome to the program, Huw.

Huw Alexander:

Thanks so much for having me. It's great to be here.

Julie Twomey:

Our next two guests are colleagues of mine from EBSCO Information Services, representing our eBooks division. First, I'd like to introduce Kara Kroes Li, the Director of Product Management for eBooks. It's great to have you on the podcast, Kara.

Kara Kroes Li:

Thanks Julie.

Julie Twomey:

And finally, we have Rob Smith, one of the EBSCO's platform product managers, representing e-book accessibility. Thank you for joining the program, Rob.

Rob Smith:

Thanks. I'm excited to be here.

Julie Twomey:

In this episode, we are focusing on the role ASPIRE plays in the evaluation of accessibility statements in the publishing industry, and the services they provide to publishers and libraries. Recently, EBSCO has been recognized by ASPIRE for achieving the first ever 100% score in the ASPIRE Accessibility Statement Audit. So we are going to discuss what this designation means and why it's important to the library community. Let's get the conversation started. This goes to Alistair and Huw, can you describe ASPIRE and tell our audience how it got started?

Alistair McNaught:

ASPIRE started because we'd had a lot of concerns from librarians about the accessibility of e-books. So in 2016, we had taken a group of librarians and we looked at the accessibility of lots of different e-books on different platforms, and it was really time-consuming. Two years later, we realized that that information was all out-of-date and we needed to update it, but then we realized that we couldn't ask volunteers to go through the whole process again, where there was... it took at least 90 minutes to maybe two hours, three hours to evaluate a platform. And we felt that it's actually the platform provider and the publisher's responsibility to be doing that, so then we decided that instead, we would evaluate, not their product, but what they told us about the accessibility of their products. Because that then put the responsibility back on them and it got them owning the issues.

Julie Twomey:

So how do you help suppliers specifically?

Huw Alexander:

So I can take that one, Julie. It's basically about helping the supplier or the publisher tell their story. Publishers and platforms invest a huge amount of money and resources and time and effort into creating accessible content or an accessible platform. But when we did the initial audit, we found that so many of them weren't actually telling that story, they weren't including information in an accessibility statement. For instance, we found that only 22% of e-book vendors actually supplied any information about... or actually had an accessibility statement, and it was even worse with publishers.

So we just realized that it kind of... it painted a picture of the publishing industry not doing enough, when that really wasn't the case. It was just the case that publishers weren't telling the story about what they were doing. So it allows a publisher or platform to really talk about what they're doing and being socially responsible in a way. Especially in the publishing industry, you've never had a book that didn't have a blurb or a description on its cover, so why would you actually have a website without an accessibility statement? It just seems like the suppliers were missing a trick there.

So we help them by providing guidelines. We're completely transparent about the review process. We tell them exactly how we score them. We want them to actually get a great result. So hopefully, working together, we can help them reach those high marks. And as you said, with yourselves at EBSCO, you reached a hundred percent, and were the first ones to do that. And it's really gratifying to see that when the early results were not as high, should we say.

Julie Twomey:

Yes, yes. I agree. So when it comes to libraries, what should they be looking for, and how does this help them? How do your services help them?

Huw Alexander:

Well, for libraries, I think we've made a big difference. We've got a lot of positive feedback in terms of... What we've done is create ASPIRE lists, which we have a list for publishers and we have a list for platforms, so we rank all the publishers and platforms in a kind of league table basis. So it's very easy for librarians to log on. It's freely available, you can go in and see that information and see exactly what the scores are for a publisher or a platform. So it really helps with that kind of procurement processes, that kind of decision making.

Especially in the UK, universities are under a lot of pressure from the new legislation that's been brought into force, where the university's responsible for having accessible content, so they need to source accessible content, they need to know where to go, who to kind of work with. So it helps them kind of meet those challenges. And at the end of the day, we're just kind of a stepping stone, really. We're just providing information to the market, and hopefully working by sites, working with the publishers and platforms on one side and the universities on the other, and acting as a kind of go-between and providing kind of more transparency in the market.

Julie Twomey:

I see that being a really big benefit for libraries, if they can start to train themselves to go and look for these sorts of things. One thing I noticed when I was reviewing information on your website, you mentioned it's a crowdsourced project. What does that mean exactly?

Alistair McNaught:

Well, that's how it started. The issue is that we wanted to explore dozens and dozens of publishers and dozens and dozens of platform providers, and you couldn't do that just as a single person with no funding, and we had no funding. So instead, we got together groups of publishers, some platform providers, disability support staff, and accessibility specialists and librarians, and Springer, actually, in London, Springer and the Publishers Association hosted a kickoff meeting back in January 2018, where we got everybody together and actually had conversations about, what is it that a disabled student or a disabled reader needs to know?

And it was really illuminating for publishers to talk to the end users, for platform providers to be in the mix as well. Because quite often, nobody in the room had the full picture of the contributions of all the others. So we set up a steering group and we ended up recruiting, I think it was nine different staff from 49 different universities across the UK. And we did some online training, so they would know what to look for, we set up some very clear guidance as to what we meant by different things, we gave them a checklist, which Huw's mentioned now. It's baked into the ASPIRE process, and it was a checklist that was put together by library, staff, disability staff, and indeed the publishers and the vendors.

Because we had to say, "What is realistic to provide?" So we had to have the reality check with the suppliers. And as a result of that, we ended up... We put aside two weeks in July and August 2018, where all these folk were then encouraged, via mailing lists and all sorts of other methods, to crowdsource their data onto Google Forms, and that was then put together to form the final list.

Julie Twomey:

It really gives people a sense for how many folks are behind this and what it took to get it off the ground. And now, when it comes to an accessibility statement. What does that really mean for the libraries and users? The statement itself.

Alistair McNaught:

Okay. This is a really important element, because for years, accessibility statements have simply represented a way for suppliers to cover their back. And I don't mean that rudely, but it's the reality, most accessibility statements I've looked at over years, and it applies equally to university accessibility statements, would just say something like, "We endeavor to be compliant, with high accessibility standards." Maybe they may even mention the standards, but there's no indication as to whether they've actually reached any of those, or even if they did, what that means to the user experience.

So the accessibility statement model has been developed in the UK and with UK libraries as part of the European directive on web accessibility. That model takes things in a completely different way. Whereas something like a VPAT, the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, provides a really good way of you being able to look technically down a checklist and say what happens and what doesn't happen and which standards you've met, it's actually meaningless to the ordinary human being that's just logging into a platform and thinking, "I don't know whether or not I'll be able to use this with my assisted technology. Will I be able to get the magnification I need?" And so on.

So the whole point about ASPIRE and the whole point about the accessibility statements requirements that are now part of UK legislation is that they must be user-focused. They tell a user what they can benefit from, because very often they wouldn't know. Even if you said, "This is accessible," a lot of people wouldn't know what that actually means because they've not come across accessible content very much. So now you can tell them, train them, what's accessible, what's not accessible. And knowing what's not accessible is equally important, because it's not about you just saying, "Hey, this doesn't work, please sue us." It's not like that at all. It's saying, "Hey, we know this doesn't work. So rather than you waste time trying to get it to work, here's a contact that you can get in touch and get some support." And so the accessibility statement means making transparent how a user can benefit and what impacts our user might have from issues and what they can do about that.

Julie Twomey:

That really resonates, because I think we'll have some publishers and suppliers that may be listening to this and wondering how they can improve their statements. So what are some tips or steps you can give them that they can start taking?

Huw Alexander:

I think the best way to approach a statement... I think like Alistair was just saying, a lot of the statements that we were seeing were kind of aspirational, but they kind of lacked substance. And it's not really good enough to just really like the idea of it being accessible. The best approach to writing a good statement is just to be honest. The statement approach, it's very templated, and you have to be honest about the pros and cons on your statement, or about your content or about your website.

With ASPIRE, as I said before, we're not here to kind of name and shame, we're here to kind of almost handhold the publishing industry to get them to a point where they have great accessibility statements. So we provide huge amounts of guidelines, we're very transparent about the criteria and the questions that we're looking to answer when we're looking at their statements. We find consulting services to help publishers and platform providers to actually write that statement.

But it really does come down to that honesty. People want to know what they can and can't do, and those are two of the main areas of the statement, and what the actual publisher or the platform are doing about the things that aren't working on their site. So being very honest in saying, "Look, you can't do this at the moment, but we're working on it," that gets you points. You get points on the ASPIRE project if you're working on something. It's not, if it's right now, everything's perfect. We applaud anything that's coming along in the pipeline as well.

So it's a matter of working together and collaborating. We realize that everything can't be perfect, but we know that we can help each other get to a point where it's much better for the end user. And that's what everyone has to be leaning towards, is the end user experience at the end of the day. Publishers and platform providers, as I said, they're investing a huge amount of money in this, mainly because they want their end users, their readers, to have a great experience. So everyone's working towards the same goal, but, as I said, everyone just needs to be honest and transparent about the work they're doing, and we'll get there.

Julie Twomey:

Thank you for that explanation. Honesty and transparency are definitely what I'm getting from that. And as of August 2019, I noticed your website states that ASPIRE has moved to textBOX. What prompted that change? And does that affect your services?

Huw Alexander:

As we were talking about with the crowdsourcing effort, crowdsourcing is fantastic. And we have built up such a great bank of goodwill amongst the participants, the stakeholders from universities, from publishers and from platform providers. But we found that it was a big project. It took months and months and months to actually get it off the ground and finalized. We were initially planning on it being an annual process, and so we would have rerun it again in 2019. But what we found is that there was so much goodwill initially from publishers and platforms thinking, "That was a really great experience. I need to know more. What about if I update my statement, can I get reviewed?"

We found that the crowdsource model wasn't quite sustainable. So if we were doing it on an annual basis, it wasn't responsive enough to the needs of our clients, to publishers and some platform providers, or to the end user, at the end of the day. So if a publisher updates their statement in January and they had to wait until August or September for the next review, they felt ashamed. So in order to make it more kind of a responsive experience, I just started a new company, textBOX, which... we specialize in image description work, but also in the kind of accessibility in general.

So it felt like ASPIRE could fit as a service, and we could create a responsive service where publishers and platforms could come to us and say, "We need a review. Can you work with us?" And make it more scalable project and more sustainable, and actually have statements updated, basically, in real time. We have a five-day turnaround for the review process. So all this effort and resources and money that's been invested by publishers and platforms can be reflected in the ASPIRE project now very quickly, rather than it being an annual process.

So the move to textBOX was more about creating a scalable and sustainable option for publishers and platforms, and it seems to have been recognized as something that they really need. The demand was there and the response, since it's become a service, has been really, really great. So we're seeing a lot more higher scores, and librarians, end users are happy that they can see those scores and those reviews. And again, all the reviews are transparent, so you can see exactly what's happening with each vendor.

And it's probably interesting for vendors as well, because they can see what their competitors are doing. So there's a lot of interest, and it's... Since the ASPIRE project was moved to textBOX, it's become the most popular web pages on our website. So you can see the interest is there from vendors, from librarians, from publishers to see, "Where am I on that ASPIRE list, and how do I compare to my peers?"

Julie Twomey:

Can you let our listeners know where to go online to get that information?

Huw Alexander:

Sure. You can go to the textBOX websites, so that's textBOXdigital.com/ASPIRE-home, or you can just search on the keywords, textBOX and ASPIRE, and we're the first result in Google.

Julie Twomey:

Let's talk about this from a supplier standpoint. Rob, from EBSCO, what does ASPIRE-verified certification mean for companies like EBSCO as aggregators, and what does it mean for libraries?

Rob Smith:

Sure. So for EBSCO, I think getting the score and the effort that we've put into it over the past few years is something that we're pretty proud of. We've been putting a lot of effort into accessibility of EBSCO eBooks, and this is one way of telling us that we're on the right track. I think it has also caused us to focus our efforts on making sure that we're providing the accessibility statement information that customers and users need, and also keeping that information continually up to date.

Having been involved in this effort when we were getting started with ASPIRE, I can say that it definitely helped us sort of raise the bar on the documentation that we needed to provide, especially in regard to sort of addressing different user needs. And for libraries, hopefully, this makes their life easier. It can really be a daunting task to vet and understand accessibility of third party resources. Having an accessibility statement and a VPAT goes a long way to help get librarians what they need, but the VPAT, in particular, only covers the current state of accessibility. We also wanted to provide information about how students with various disabilities can optimally use the product, or areas where they may need a workaround. So those are the types of questions that may come to a librarian or to a disability services office. And so hopefully, we're making that process smoother for them.

Julie Twomey:

And Kara, what are some of the steps EBSCO is taking to recognize publishers actively making positive changes and help librarians identify accessible resources?

Kara Kroes Li:

So as we have increased our focus on accessibility, we've learned a lot about compliance, about user expectations, and about what obstacles we still have to overcome. And while we've made great progress making our platform and our eBooks compliant, we've learned that there's still a lot of opportunity to make the experience of the e-books themselves better for users with disabilities. We want them to have an experience of our books that is efficient and that is equitable. And that truly fully accessible experience is dependent on the publishers and how they create the files that they give to us.

So we decided that if we really wanted to move the needle, so to speak, we had to start focusing on publisher output. And I don't say that to lay blame, but actually just the opposite. Like textBOX and ASPIRE, we feel like we are in a position to help with touch points with so many publishers and partners. And also, any progress we make on the publisher side will benefit the industry as a whole and anywhere or any other platform that sells those titles. So to understand what we were receiving from our publishers, we, this year, created an in-house validation tool that assesses compliance; compliance with the EPUB 3 specification, and also the WICAG A and AA metrics. And so far, we've run almost a million EBSCO e-books through this tool, so we have a lot of information about our files, and that is useful in a number of ways.

So most immediately, we began creating what we call publisher progress reports, and these tell publishers how they're doing on various accessibility metrics. Are they even delivering EPUB? Are their EPUBs compliant? If they're not compliant, where are they falling short? And the idea is that the publishers can take these reports to bring specific, actionable feedback to their production houses and initiate improvements. The second thing we're doing is we're working with a company called Benetech, who is the first third party to actually verify the accessibility of eBooks and EPUBs. And so we are looking at ways to highlight and promote publishers that have been certified, so that libraries know that the e-books they're buying meet the highest standard for usability.

And then finally, we're looking at how we can use the metrics I talked about from our own validation tools at the point of purchase. So in GOBI and in ECM, where libraries are buying eBooks, we want to be able to tell them whether those titles actually meet all these compliance guidelines. We're thinking that if we give libraries the opportunity to choose fully accessible e-books or publishers, we can help create a market incentive for publishers to do better on this front, and hopefully allow them to kind of recoup the cost of their extra investment.

Rob Smith:

Yeah, I'm really excited about this, since it gives us a great tool, not only to just understand the total picture of accessibility across all of our publishers, but it gives us a great tool to collaborate with those publishers and to help publishers that may be behind the curve on accessibility, so that the end result is a better experience for users with disabilities. And I'm also really excited about the potential of giving this information at the point of sale, like Kara was saying, so that librarians can make informed decisions on purchases for accessibility.

Julie Twomey:

Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And as the marketing manager for eBooks, I'm really excited about these endeavors and about marketing them to our users. So more to come on that, and it's very exciting. So now let's talk about eBook formats. With the rising popularity of eBooks comes the need for an industry standard format for publishing accessibility. The EPUB format, like you mentioned, is the preferred format for a broad range of types of publications. So Rob, can you describe the benefits of EPUB over PDFs?

Rob Smith:

Yeah. So EPUB is an HTML-based format, so it offers a lot of the benefits of HTML that you would get on the web. So that includes a lot of things that are very useful for accessibility. So there's a lot of rich semantic tagging that can be used, which benefit screen reader users. Reflow is a really important feature of EPUB, and that benefits a broad range of users, from users with low vision who need to zoom the content, to users on phones. There's also flexible styling for EPUB, which is very helpful for a number of reasons. A lot of these features can be found in some PDFs, but it's a lot harder for the content creator to apply. It's really a more modern format that's a lot more flexible.

Julie Twomey:

What tools do users need to read an EPUB?

Rob Smith:

So EPUBs can be read in any browser, but there are also apps or browser extensions, like Readium, that give a lot more features for the reading experience, and users with disabilities can use the assistive technology that they're most comfortable with.

Julie Twomey:

Great, thank you for that. And how is EBSCO supporting the use of EPUB?

Kara Kroes Li:

We realized the benefits of EPUB a long time ago and made the choice to create an EPUB viewer online in addition to our PDF viewer. And still, today, even though many eBook platforms offer EPUB for download, most do not offer EPUB in the online experience. And we think that's really important for a few reasons. First, because if you're only offering PDF in your online platform, the content won't reflow. As Rob said, not all users that need accessibility accommodations are blind. They may depend on zoom and reflow.

So, secondly, for screen reader users, there won't be the semantic markup to provide that navigation and context, so it could take them extra time to navigate the file. And then finally, we hear that many users think that they have to download e-books in order to use them with assistive technology, but then they find out that they're DRM-protected, and that interferes with their assistive technology. And the reality is that many e-books are DRM-protected, they will be for the foreseeable future. But if you have a title in EPUB, online, and the platform is compliant, then the print-disabled users don't have to download anything to get a positive experience. So the way that we're really supporting the use of EPUB is by making sure that it's available online, and we continue to invest in, literally, two viewers; an EPUB viewer and a PDF viewer, and we allow the user the choice.

Julie Twomey:

And so why are some eBooks available in EPUB and some are not?

Kara Kroes Li:

Despite the fact that the EPUB standard has been around for more than a decade, some publishers have just not updated their workflows. It takes investment in time or money or both, and scholarly publishers sometimes just don't have that kind of time or money. But another problem is that the library community still doesn't actively demand EPUB from their vendors, either offline or online. Because students recognize PDF, they're comfortable with PDF, most of our librarian customers want to just give them what they want, and they're not necessarily thinking of the larger implications or the unintended consequences of that preference.

So that's one of the reasons we've been evangelizing EPUB over the years, and just trying to educate our customers and our community. Because again, mentioning like a market incentive, if customers really demand it, then publishers will have to rise to the occasion and try to meet that demand.

Julie Twomey:

And to Huw and Alastair, is the EPUB format widely use in the UK?

Huw Alexander:

Yes, definitely. It took a while to get going. My background is in publishing, academic publishing, here in the UK, and I was eBooks manager at that time. So convincing the publisher to get involved in EPUB initially took a while. As Kara just said, it's a big investment to change that kind of publishing and production workflow. But once you have made that change to that workflow, it's so much more flexible, you can output in PDF, you can output in EPUB. It makes the print workflow a lot easier. I know one publisher in particular who's just redesigned their whole production workflow, took them 18 months. That was over here in the UK.

And it's just made it so much easier for them to create content and produce content in the format they want much more effectively. So yes, EPUB is very much adopted in the UK. I think one of the potential issues is kind of educating the end user, to be honest. The PDF experience is familiar. PDFs have been around for a long time. A PDF is basically just a facsimile of the printed book. And EPUB can seem a little strange when people first see it, but the benefits of EPUB are immeasurable compared to the PDF. The EPUB is a kind of full digital experience. You have a lot of opportunity there to introduce things like assessment, interactivity, video content.

And so the EPUB 3 format, which was designed with accessibility in mind, kind of the original accessible daisy format was folded into the EPUB 3 format. So it's been designed by the publishing community for readers of every kind of level of access, basically. However people want to access their content, the EPUB format will address that. So the UK has adopted EPUB, and it's a worldwide thing now. EPUB is really taking off, and I can't think of any eBook platform suppliers who do not support it, because I think if they didn't, they would be out of business pretty quickly.

Julie Twomey:

That's interesting. And what I'm getting from this, it's up to the librarians as well to educate students and bring the value of EPUB forward. I'm certainly taking notes as a marketing manager on what we can do from EBSCO's end to help them with that. So that's great insight there. And I think it's a good segue to our next topic here, which is training. So Huw and Alistair, how can libraries strengthen their knowledge and accessibility and train their staff on agile digital reading skills?

Alistair McNaught:

Well, I think one of the really interesting points there is that it's not just libraries that need to be able to train staff on agile digital reading skills, it's also the study skills teams. I regularly audit university websites and courses as part of my consultancy, and very, very rarely do I come across any study skills guidance that mentions the flexibility of online formats, that mentions how to reflow a PDF, how to take an EPUB and change character spacing, line spacing, colors, et cetera. And the big problem is that if students don't get really helpful information that they feel is going to make them more productive, they would just revert to what they've always done, which is to download a PDF because they've heard of it.

So I think we need to make sure there's a join up between library staff, study skills staff and disability teams as well, because disability teams who are supporting, perhaps dyslexic students, very often, those disability teams won't have a clue what an EPUB would be able to do and so they cannot advise the students. So a critical part of accessible... I suppose you could call it accessibility maturity for any organization, is the recognition that accessibility belongs to everybody in the organization. Now, a really good starting point is for staff to have awareness of the accessibility profile of different types of format. So what can you do with a web format if you downloaded an HTM version?

Well, you can do some amazing things with a range of browser plugins, as well as what's built into the browser. But again, do you communicate that to the students at library level or study skill level? Equally, with EPUB, EPUB has a fantastic accessibility profile, but that does depend on whether you're reading it in Adobe Digital Editions, which has not a great accessibility profile, because it's got very limited functionality for an EPUB. But if you download that same document in... I'd look at it through Readium or Thorium, you can have a transformed experience.

And it was delightful to hear Kara talk about the work that you're doing on making sure that the EPUB read in your online default interface, is a great experience because unfortunately, the Adobe Digital Editions experience is not great. So there's certainly training, I think, that's needed. I think a lot of that really quality information to guide people on how you might get different accessibility benefits from different formats or different tools, I think a lot of that can come directly from the supplier. And I was really encouraged to hear Julie say that you're taking notes on that, but librarians also need to look out for training. They need to look for accessibility courses, webinars, et cetera. Huw and I would do one anytime. If somebody wants some training on that, we're up for it. Finally, it's also about training the students. So the students are unlikely to get the information they need unless the staff have an awareness themselves and can then help guide them.

Julie Twomey:

Thank you. That brings some real clarity, I think, on where some of the responsibility comes in. So Rob, how can libraries and users offer feedback and recommendations to EBSCO, our team, about accessibility?

Rob Smith:

So we definitely love to get feedback on accessibility. It's something that we're very passionate about. So we have an email channel, accessibility@EBSCO.com, and that's a channel that I monitor. So any feedback that comes there, we will respond to as soon as possible and take any feedback into consideration for our product development.

Kara Kroes Li:

I just want to underscore that community input is really important for our direction on the product team, so we encourage anybody listening or with an interest in accessibility or an opinion on our direction to definitely reach out and tell us, and accessibility@EBSCO.com is an easy address to remember.

Rob Smith:

We also got a fair amount of feedback from customers that went into the eBook statement and documentation that we have. So I mentioned earlier that the ASPIRE audit really sort of made us raise our game on the customer-facing and user-facing documentation, but we were fortunate also to have some customer feedback that helped us address that need more directly.

Julie Twomey:

And finally, let's discuss the future of accessibility and how some new regulations in the UK could be a sign of things to come. So Alistair and Huw, can you educate folks on the new regulations in the UK relating to accessibility?

Alistair McNaught:

Well, I think the game changer in the new regulations is a single phrase. Within the regulations, there's a phrase that, "A failure to meet the accessibility requirement will be regarded as a failure to make a reasonable adjustment." And that little phrase about not making a reasonable adjustment, that ties into a UK law that's been around since, well, 1995, the Disability and Discrimination Act in 2010, the Equality Act. And the problem is up until now, the phrase reasonable adjustment has been open to interpretation. And so a lot of people that were facing a barrier in accessing resources in the library, for example, they wouldn't know whether it was reasonable or not reasonable to ask for an alternative format. And it was an arguable case.

But now, the new legislation for the public sector website accessibility in the UK actually defines that a failure to meet the accessibility requirements is a failure to make reasonable adjustment. Because meeting the accessibility requirements is relating straight back to web content guidelines, they're totally objective, you can automate your checking of a product or a website, it means that in seconds, you can tell whether a particular supplier or your particular university has met those accessibility requirements and met your entitlement to a reasonable adjustment.

However, there is a recognition that real life is complicated, and sometimes you can't go in one leap to everything being a hundred percent accessible. So the legislation takes that into account, because as well as you having a duty to, in inverted comas, meet the accessibility requirements, you have a twin duty, which is to be completely transparent about how effectively you've met that requirement. In other words, you create an accessibility statement to a particular template. Now, the beauty about this is that it gives you that wriggle room that, "Okay, we have these products and they are kind of 90% accessible, but not a hundred percent." In your accessibility statement, you can explain that, talk about what you're doing about that, or maybe talk about what your supplier is doing about that.

The point is that any supplier that is actively working on improving their accessibility is helping you with part one of the legislation, meet the accessibility requirements, and any supplier that provides you with a quality, human-focused, plain English accessibility statement is helping you with your second requirement, which is to be honest, and to have an accessibility statement that describes any potential barriers that they might face. So if you want to sell more, make sure you've got both of those in place.

Julie Twomey:

Thank you for that. And so do you see these new regulations having an impact outside of the UK? Is it a sign of things to come?

Alistair McNaught:

Well, there are part of the European directive, so all the EU countries are certainly signed up to a very similar kind of regime in terms of accessibility in relation to public sector bodies, universities, and colleges. So certainly, it's not just the UK, it's Europe-wide as well. But I think more to the point, I think there is an evolution in this, in that I think things like VPATs, things like a very technical perspective on accessibility is shifting, and people are recognizing that accessibility is not about technical standards.

What I mean by that is that technical standards are really important for undergirding accessibility, but technical standards isn't primarily what you tell people about. What you need to communicate to people is user experience, what benefits they can get from your accessible content, what barriers they may still face as a result of accessibility complications and issues, and what workarounds there might be, who to contact, et cetera. And I think that much more human-focused user experience perspective on accessibility is definitely growing and is to be really welcomed.

Julie Twomey:

Well, that concludes our discussion. I want to thank our guests for sharing their insight today. If podcast listeners want to learn more about EBSCO or see our new COVID-19 resource centers go to www.EBSCO.com. I also recommend signing up for one of our newsletters to ensure that you stay in the know about new product announcements, industry news, and more. Thank you for listening to The Digital Squeeze.

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