Article: Automatic web accessibility metrics: Where we are and where we can go

Citation: Vigo, M. & Brajnik, G. (2011). Automatic web accessibility metrics: Where we are and where we can go. Interacting with Computers 23: 137-155. Retrieved from

In this article, the authors study seven quantitative metrics for reviewing web accessibility to determine which are the most reliable for assessing web sites. As the authors note, despite conformance criteria like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and numerous automated conformance-checking tools, metrics can provide more detailed quality control when comparing multiple web sites or multiple iterations of the same web site (p. 137).

The authors explored different metrics using the following areas to determine which was of the highest quality:

  • Validity – “How well scores produced by a metric predict all and only the effects that real accessibility problems will have” and “how well scores mirror all and only the true violations” of conformance criteria like WCAG 2.0 (p. 138)
  • Reliability – Are the metrics consistent?
  • Sensitivity – Is the metric too sensitive to minor changes in accessibility level?
  • Adequacy – Does the metric report its findings in a consistent manner that can be adequately quantified?
  • Complexity – How many variables does the metric need to compute its scores, and/or do external tools exist to create the metric?

Out of a large number of metrics reviewed briefly, the authors analyzed the following automatic metrics:

Of the metrics analyzed, only WAQM, WAB, and PM fulfilled the validity criteria (p. 151), with the WAQM and WAB scoring slightly better than the PM metric in terms of adequacy (p. 154). The authors note that even these three metrics are less than idea, and suggest that researchers “focus more on quality aspects of accessibility metrics with the long-range goal” of improving them (p. 154).

Article: Gold or green: the debate on Open Access policies

Citation: Abadal, E. (2013). Gold or green: The debate on Open Access policies. International Microbiology 16: 199-203.

Abadal provides a brief discussion of green and gold OA prompted by the release of the 2012 Finch Report, a document produced for the British government in response to its request for a solution that could achieve OA publishing in the UK without harming the publishing industry (p. 200). That report recommended that Gold OA (in which journals make articles available free of cost for readers) be the “strategy for all science communications in the UK” (Abadal, p. 201).

Abadal makes excellent points about how gold OA can be problematic for authors in countries which lack established infrastructures for funding researcher (p. 202). Academic publishing fees are often in the thousands of dollars, an amount which is unreasonable even for some institutions, let alone individual authors.

However, as Peter Suber points out in an overview of OA publishing on his website, there are several different business models for gold OA, listed here by the Open Access Directory, not all of which rely on authors paying fees. Indeed, Finch report recommendation aside, “most OA journals (70%) charge no author-side fees at all.” (Source, which it’s worth noting is from 2006.)

It’s absolutely true that gold OA can be prohibitively expensive for authors who don’t have an institution to cover their costs, and it’s also absolutely true that green and other forms of OA serve a very useful function. While the Finch Report’s recommendation of implementing an author payment system is disappointing, it’s worth keeping in mind that gold OA isn’t always a pay to play scenario.

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.

Book chapter: Collection development, e-resources, and barrier-free access.

Citation: Schmetzke, A. (2015). Collection development, e-resources, and barrier-free access. in B. Wentz, P.T. Jaeger, & J.C. Bertot, (Eds.), Accessibility for persons with disabilities and the inclusive future of libraries. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group.

In this book chapter, Schmetzke examines e-resource accessibility with a specific eye to how librarians can keep accessibility issues in mind when acquiring (or when subscribing to) various e-resources like databases and online journals. The author includes a letter from a friend who was given the run-around by her local library and its consortium when she was unable to access a database with her screen reader to show that “clearly, librarians should consider accessibility when considering electronic information products” (p.113).

With this as his impetus, the author examined library schools, existing literature, and professional library organizations to get a sense of whether or not librarians were receiving guidance encouraging them to keep issues of accessibility in mind when doing so, or not.

The rest of the chapter is split into three parts, as summarized below:
Library Organizations

  • ALA – Schmetzke mentions that, despite a lack of communication between ALA’s various divisions and interest groups, ALA has at least discussed the accessibility of electronic resources a few times. The most important document to have come out of this, he says, is “Purchasing of Accessible Electronic Resources Resolution,” a 2009 resolution by the ALA council which argues strongly for the responsibility of libraries to ensure their electronic resources meet Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 to the best of their abilities. (p.115)

This section also mentions three web accessibility toolkits:

Library Schools

Schmetzke notes that, while data about how (or if) accessibility is taught in library schools is scarce, several surveys have shown a lack of focus on the topic in North American schools.

Literature Review

Schmetzke performed a content analysis on 55 books about collection development published between 2000 and 2014 to determine the coverage of accessibility in general and in relation to e-resources, concluding that very few books cover the topic.

Book chapter: Libraries and the future of equal access for people with disabilities

Citation: Jaeger, P.T., Wentz, B., & Bertot, J.C. (2015). Libraries and the future of equal access for people with disabilities: Legal frameworks, human rights, and social justice. in B. Wentz, P.T. Jaeger, & J.C. Bertot, (Eds.), Accessibility for persons with disabilities and the inclusive future of libraries. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group.

In this book chapter from a 2015 book focused on accessibility in libraries, the authors look at several legal structures intended to provide equal access to library services for those with disabilities. This chapter is in the “Digital Library Accessibility” section of the book, so deals largely with access to digital resources (an earlier section of the book contains chapters on physical accessibility issues).

The authors make the argument that “Information and the Internet can now be seen as being central to human rights,” (p.239), citing articles as early as 2000 which argue this, noting that the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly declares that people have the right to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media” without interference (p.240).

After discussing how library and information organizations like ALA, IFLA, and UNESCO act as proponents of libraries’ roles as agents of social justice in this sense, and providing a basic overview of laws in various countries intended to ensure equal Internet access for those with disabilities, the authors move into discussing how public libraries already provide access to many online resources for free, as well as providing education on digital and information literacy (p.246).

Although the authors note that these are “uniquely important to people with disabilities,” (p. 247), and briefly discuss several ways that libraries (in general and specifically) focus on those with disabilities (p. 248), little time is spent focusing on the details of how libraries can increase digital accessibility in any practical sense. To be fair, this is largely a “why” chapter, but the lack of specifics is still disappointing.

Article: The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009

Article citation: Laakso M, Welling P, Bukvova H, Nyman L, Björk B-C, Hedlund T (2011) The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009. PLoS ONE 6(6): e20961. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020961

In their 2012 article “The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009,” Laakso et al. measure the numbers of active journals and published articles in each year between 1993 and 2009. The article starts with a quick description of how the Internet has enabled OA publishing, and a definition of the two types of OA with which the authors are concerned: Green OA, where publishers allow authors to self-archive some form of their submitted articles; and Gold OA, where the journal itself is available free of access in some form.

Next, Laakso et al. lay out previous research, mentioning earlier surveys of OA publishing by Ware and Mabe (2009), Crawford (2002), Wells (1999), Morris (2006)—whose study the authors note as the most comprehensive prior to their own—, and Sotudeh and Horri (2007), among others.

For their own study, Laakso et al. gathered their data on the number of OA journals from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), a free online index. As the authors note, DOAJ was selected for this purpose because it is “an actively maintained and well-established index with clear inclusion criteria” (p.3). In 2009, DOAJ contained 4,767 OA journals (Laakso et al., p7). For the number of articles published in each year between 1993 and 2009, Laakso et al. manually collected data from that year’s active journals, since automated methods were deemed insufficient (p.3).

What makes the article (and others like it) most interesting, of course, is a comparison of the data Laakso et al. present with data for 2016. now indexes 8,948 journals—almost double the amount Laakso et al. report for 2009. Although the number of articles is harder to calculate, DOAJ currently indexes 2,024,744 articles—more than double the 893,574 OA articles Laakso et al. report having been published between 1993 and 2009 (p.7).

It is worth noting that, despite Laakso et al.’s use of DOAJ as the sole source for the number of OA journals in 2009, the index does not contain every single journal—at least, not in 2016. With the current rules for inclusion, journals must publish 5 articles per calendar year to stay in the index. Additionally, new journals must apply, a process which can sometimes take many months, as DOAJ is a volunteer-run index. (This blogger is a volunteer there, so is well acquainted with the process and its various delays.)

In any case, given that the number of articles index in DOAJ alone is so high, it is clear that OA publishing has continued to expand in the seven years since Laakso et al.’s study.