Wiki: Open Access Directory (OAD)

The Open Access Directory (OAD) is a wiki-based directory hosted by the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College. The wiki is actually maintained, however, by an independent editorial board, with Nancy Pontika as editor (as of a March 24, 2016 announcement on the wiki’s home page).

Although it uses a wiki software, the OAD is (as its name suggests) first and foremost a directory, and most of its pages are lists related to OA in some way. These are useful to the reader looking to find additional resources like blogs, FAQs, and so on.

Some of the lists contain more commentary, such as the OA journal business models and OA book business models lists.

The directory does keep most of its pages updated, although the pages in the “lists under development” category on the home page are occasionally blank, and have been since their creation (occasionally as far back as 2014). Overall, though, the OAD is an excellent resource for people interested in OA.

Article: “Implementing recommendations from web accessibility guidelines: Would they also provide benefits to nondisabled users?”

Citation: Schmutz, S., Sonderegger, A., & Sauer, J. (2016). Implementing recommendations from web accessibility guidelines: Would they also provide benefits to nondisabled users? Human Factors 58(4): 611-629.

This article (published online earlier this month, before its print date in June) examines whether web sites which meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0are also more usable for non-disabled users. The authors provide a brief overview of WCAG and why accessibility is important, and suggest that whether or not accessible design has “adverse effects on nondisabled users” might play an important role in encouraging adoption (p. 612), pointing to a 2012 conference presentation which showed that empirical evidence was the most successful driver of accessible design.

To measure the effects of accessible design (as defined by WCAG) on users without disabilities, the authors modified an existing web site, creating one version which did not conform to WCAG standards, one which conformed to the WCAG’s A-level standards, and one which conformed its AA-level standards, and measuring the ability of sixty-one participants without any diagnosed disability to meet a number of tasks on the modified web sites (p. 614). The authors measured both task completion time and task completion rate (p. 618), ultimately determining that users were able to complete more tasks and to complete tasks more quickly when they were WCAG-conforming (p. 619)

In their discussion of the findings, the authors note that it was likely a “combination of changes” rather than a single WCAG criterion being met which improved overall usability, despite some of the criteria presumably having no effect on non-disabled users (p. 621-622). They point out that WCAG’s accessibility requirements in often cases are the same as good design principles in general, and that “beneficial effects of accessibility on nondisabled users” are perhaps unsurprising as a result (p. 622).

Ultimately, this article shows that accessible design on web sites can improve usability for nondisabled users. As the authors point out in their conclusion, AA conformance—the second-highest possible conformance to WCAG—was necessary for the biggest gains; however, meeting this level of conformance was “rather easy”, since it is not difficult to implement designs that meet the required criteria for AA conformance (p. 623).

It’s worth reiterating that the point of accessible design is not to make web sites easier to use for non-disabled users, but to enable the use of the web by users who are otherwise unable to access it.

However, given the persistent myth that accessible web sites are “ugly” and “expensive and difficult”, research which aims to empirically prove that accessible web sites are actually more usable than non-accessible ones—and easy to implement—is a welcome development.

Article: Applying a critical approach to investigate barriers to digital inclusion and online social networking among young people with disabilities

Citation: Newman, L., Browne-Yung, K., Raghavendra, P., Wood, D. & Grace, E. (2016). Applying a critical approach to investigate barriers to digital inclusion and online social networking among young people with disabilities. Information Systems Journal. (Note: page numbers given below refer to the PDF, as this article is as unpublished in print form, and lacks official pagination.)

Newman et al. explore digital inclusion through the lens of critical theory—specifically, the critical theory of French sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu. The authors begin with a brief, intersectional overview of research on Internet usage, calling on studies which show that percentages of Internet use differ along racial, income-based, and educational lines, as well as in individuals with a disability (p. 1). In their own study, the authors focus on Internet use amongst young people with disabilities (‘digital inclusion’), an area in which they note little research has been performed (p. 4).

The authors argue that Bourdieu’s critical theory, which “is concerned with understanding how inequalities in society are created and maintained” (p. 5) by the “Doxa or ‘natural order of things'” (p. 7), serves as a particularly useful tool for examining digital inclusion, as it allows for study of the “economic, social, and cultural capitals” which are distributed unequally on a societal level (p. 6).

Brief definitions of each level are provided, as follows:

  • Economic Capital – “wealth and assets”
  • Social Capital – “resources generated through group membership”
  • Cultural Capital – “the collective value of adaptive knowledge, skills, competencies, and the influence of family background and investment in education that may shape success”

(p. 6)

To study these capitals in the context of digital inclusion, the authors taught 18 young people with cerebral palsy or acquired brain injury basic Internet use in home-based interventions (p. 8), with roughly 11 visits each over a 7-month period, after which each participant in the study was interviewed (p. 9). After the interventions and interviews, the authors analyzed the capitals of each participant.

Economic capital: The authors note that, in addition to devices used to access the Internet, those with disabilities may also require specialised software for reading and writing support as well as often-expensive assistive technology (AT) (p. 12).

Social capital: The authors found that, in general, Internet use reinforced existing social groups (p. 13). One area of social capital more likely to be needed by those with disabilities is someone who is able to give computer help (p. 13), and the authors noted that the participants’ families’ knowledge of resources and the participants’ “limited conversation and communication skills” impacted their ability to access the Internet (p. 14).

Cultural capital: The authors found that a lack of family knowledge/ability when it comes to the Internet and technology can impact those with disabilities more than those without (p. 14). This is primarily due to those without disabilities being able to just get online, whereas those with disabilities require additional resources specific to their group, which parents are unlikely to be aware of (p. 15).

A list of types of capital which affect this group’s Internet access is provided on page 20:
A chart shows the economic, cultural, and social forms of capital offline, online, and specifically related to those with disabilities.

The authors provide several pages’ worth of discussion on these capitals, noting that many of the “digital” capitals required for Internet access (including hardware and software, the ability to actually use the hardware and software, conversational ability, and needing to know people who can provide IT assistance) are increased by those with disabilities, as they must also have access to, operate, and understand how to use AT.

The authors’ use of Bourdieu’s critical theory makes very clear what seems intuitive: Internet access is more difficult for those with disabilities. As well, it usefully pinpoints specific capitals that members of this population require for Internet access.

Web site: Web Accessibility for Online Course Content / Web Accessibility Handbook

Web Accessibility for Online Course Content is a web site and accompanying PDF handbook put together by Karen Sorensen for faculty members at Portland Community College.

The site is aimed at teaching faculty who use online resources as part of their instruction how to ensure they are accessible to those with disabilities. It is structured as a series of instructional pages targeted at specific accessibility-related tasks:

In addition to these tutorials, the site includes some studies done on accessibility in specific disciplines and a page discussing automated accessibility checkers.

The accompanying Web Accessibility Handbook is a short document which replicates each of the web site links on its own page, for easy printing and offline access.

Although it’s worth noting that those of us who are not PCC faculty will probably be unable to take advantage of the “Get Help with Your Content” section, the rest of the site (and the handbook) are great resources for instructors and others who want to ensure that their content is accessible but aren’t sure how to get started.

Book: Developing Open Access Journals

Citation: Solomon, D. (2008). Developing Open Access journals: A practical guide. Oxford, UK: Chandos Publishing.

Solomon’s Developing Open Access journals: A practical guide is just what it says on the cover: a book of practical advice and information for those interested in starting a journal. Despite its age, the vast majority of the book’s contents do not refer to specific technologies or systems, meaning that the bulk of it remains relevant eight years after its publication.

The book is split into three parts: an introduction detailing the history of scholarly journals; instructions on starting an OA journal; and instructions on maintaining an OA journal.

Although the title refers specifically to Open Access (OA) journals, almost all of the information it presents is generalized enough to be equally useful for non-OA journals—although those publishing in a for-profit environment will presumably have additional resources when it comes to things like hosting and income. Indeed, the book is essentially a primer on what a scholarly journal is and usually contains, and much of what it discusses might even be of interest to new scholars who are about to submit their research and anyone else who (for whatever reason) wants to know more about scholarly publishing in general.

Chapters 4, 6, and 7, which deal with finding web hosting, finding funding, and disseminating journal content, are probably the most useful from an OA-specific standpoint. Also of interest is the check-list Solomon includes on launching a journal in chapter 8, and

The final chapter of the book mentions an online annotated bibliography at Unfortunately, the site appears to have gone offline sometime in early March of 2016, and currently shows only a French announcement that there are “no articles for the moment.” Earlier versions of the site have been archived by the WayBack machine; the latest version of the bibliography I was able to access there was the version from February 2011, which contained 20-30 links to common online resources but nothing exhaustive. Readers interested in finding an annotated list of OA resources would probably be better off browsing the Open Access Directory at Simmons University, which is larger and still actively maintained.

webtext: Access/ibility: Access and Usability for Digital Publishing

Access/ibility: Access and Usability for Digital Publishing is a free-to-use webtext published in issue 20.2 of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy.

The webtext comes from a seminar of the same name at WVU, and includes a number of resources on the intersection of accessibility and digital publishing, such as short essays arguing for the importance of accessibility, a set of best practices for creators and editors of web content, and a bibliography for further reading.

In “The Case for Accessibility as in Usability,” makes a strong case for thinking of access to digitally published documents as meaning more than just “free information” (source), and gives librarians and other OA advocates tools and guidelines to get started doing so without delay.

Blog Series on Accessibility at The “Lib Pub” Blog

Since July of 2015, the “Lib Pub” blog has been publishing an occasional series of posts about accessibility in digital publishing. These posts came out of a seminar held at West Virginia University titled Access/ibility in Digital Publishing, and for the most part consist of discussions of that seminar or basic discussions of how to make things accessible on the web. However, the posts as a whole make some interesting points about the intersection of digital publishing and Open Access (OA) with accessibility.

In her post, “A library perspective”, Susan Ivey discusses the conflict between access and accessibility, and notes that librarians tend to concentrate on access in terms of standardized metadata, linked data, and other technical considerations, and can loose sight of accessibility in a broader sense.

In “A role for libraries”, Sarah Kennedy mentions two concepts in particular: lo-fi production technologies and perseverant design.

Lo-fi production technologies (as discussed by Karl Stolley in the Lo-Fi Manifesto) are just what they sound like—low-tech methods of creating and distributing content. These technologies are less likely to obsolesce, and are also more likely to be human-readable with little or no additional work. (Note that this does not necessarily mean they are accessible, though. The header in Stoller’s manifesto is made up of ASCII art—certainly not screen-reader friendly, and probably difficult to read in general for people not used to the font.)

Perseverant Design is a term used by Melanie Yergeau which refers to reappropriating “perseverant behaviors”—those “which are restrictive and repetitive and which do not necessarily follow appropriately with the social context”. Like Kennedy, I am intrigued by this idea, but am uncertain how it could be used in practice. Still, the idea of phrasing design in these terms is an interesting one.

Beyond these posts are several which focus on technical details of creating accessible content: a post by Melanie Schlosser on accessible publishing in HTML, a post by Sarah Kennedy which lays out accessibility testing workflows and tools, and a post (published today) by Kevin Hawkins which briefly discusses accessibility in journal publishing.

Book: Knowledge Unbound

Citation: Suber, P. (2016). Knowledge Unbound. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Knowledge Unbound contains a number of essays on Open Access by OA expert and advocate Peter Suber, whose 2012 book Open Access provides an excellent introduction to the topic for beginners.

All the essays in Knowledge Unbound were published between 2002 and 2011, so there isn’t actually anything new here, but this book still serves as an excellent resource for those who are exploring OA for the first time, and the book’s organization—which moves from the basics (“What is Open Access?”) through to specific topics like the OA policies of funding agencies and details on how to actually deliver OA content—makes it useful for readers who already have some knowledge but need to brush up on certain aspects of the movement.

One particularly nice thing about this (and Suber’s earlier book) is that MIT Press has also released Open Access versions of both. You can download Knowledge Unbound as an ePUB, Mobi, or PDF, as well as read it for free online, at the MIT Press website.

Other resource: Directory of Open Access Journals

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is an index of OA peer-reviewed journals maintained and updated by volunteer editors (of whom the author of this blog is one). At the time of this update, there were roughly 9,000 OA journals listed in the directory.

DOAJ has existed since 2003, initially as a project of Sweden’s Lund University and (currently) as its own non-profit entity, managed by Infrastructure Services for Open Access, a UK-based company which aims to “facilitate easy access to OA resources” (source).

The bulk of DOAJ‘s site consists of a searchable, browsable list of vetted OA journals. End-users can search the list or browse it by DOAJ-editor-selected subject area—although the search interface can be a little buggy sometimes.

Each journal page contains basic information about the journal’s aims and scope, the type of peer review used, and links to its instructions for authors and editorial board. Each journal page also includes information about whether or not that journal levies article processing charges (APCs) or submission charges at authors publishing in or submitting to it, as well as whether those fees can be waived in some situations. However, this information is not always available for journals which were added to the directory earlier in its history and which have not recently been reviewed. Some journals also provide article-level metadata to the directory; those that do will list published articles on their journal page as well as the above information.

Although the directory does have its quirks, its status as an index of quality OA journals makes it a must-use resource for anyone looking to publish their research in an OA environment.

Tool: How to Meet WCAG 2.0 from WAI website

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is the organization that manages—among other things—the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines designed to make websites more accessible.

As you might expect from the name, “How to Meet WCAG 2.0” is a free online tool put together by WAI which aims to help web developers ensure that their web sites meet the guidelines.

The tool is essentially a version of the full guidelines which also contains methods developers allows the user to filter by compliance level, technologies used (e.g. HTML strategies vs CSS strategies), and by type of design (developing; interaction design; content design; visual design). By selecting or deselecting one of these filters, the user is able to limit what shows on the list of guidelines and see specific strategies they might use to ensure that their site meets the WCAG 2.0 guidelines.

Screenshot of the "How to Meet WCAG 2.0" tool, showing filters and criteria
Some of the filter options available in the tool

Given that the guidelines have a reputation of being hard to understand, this tool should make designing accessible web sites—or updating inaccessible ones—easier for non-expert web developers.

How to Meet WCAG 2.0” is available for free on the WAI website, and knowledgeable users are also invited to contribute by reporting bugs, contributing to the tool on GitHub, or adding new WCAG techniques.