UCP News

Books, Journals, and IT Staff Endeavoring to Make Chicago’s Digital Content More Accessible for All Readers

Stock image of colorful alt text descriptions in code.

As part of our commitment to cultivating an accessible, diverse, and inclusive environment, staff across Books, Journals, and IT Services have been working on initiatives to increase the digital accessibility of our products and online platforms. The goal of these changes is to make our digital content more easily available to and understood by all readers.

Many of these changes are being made to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in consultation with the University’s Center for Digital Accessibility (CDA) and the  Siteimprove tool, which regularly scans websites to test for and report on accessibility-related issues.

Working with the University’s center and tools, Rossen Angelov and Scott Mitchell in IT Services are focusing on the digital accessibility for the Chicago Manual of Style; Scientific, Style, and Format; and the Press websites. Similarly, Michael Boudreau and his team in Journals publishing technology are working on improvements to Journals sites and pages. In the Books Division, a cross-departmental team is working on a pilot project to add alternative text (alt text) to e-books.

In addition, both the Books and Journals Divisions are partnering with Benetech’s Bookshare initiative to provide accessible books and journal issues for people with reading barriers. Using EPUB files provided by Chicago, Bookshare staff, and volunteers  add accessibility features to accommodate a variety of assistive technologies.

Each of these projects involves changes in workflow and a deliberate rethinking of how we approach certain kinds of content. They can also consume considerable time and resources when you consider the scale of the digital content that we produce from our publications to our websites and platforms.

But there are a lot of exciting initiatives afoot. Read on for more detail about what’s in progress for each.

Digital Accessibility of CMOS, SSF, and the Press Website

The regular scans and reporting by Siteimprove are one of the leading drivers of the changes to CMOS, SSF, and the Press websites. One key metric is the 100-point accessibility score provided by Siteimprove. The University and the CDA have a target of at least 85 or more for a website. Currently, thanks to changes Ross and Scott have already made, the SSF has a score of 87.1, CMOS is 83.6, and the Press website is 86.8.

Improvements to date include:

  • Ensuring every page has a language designated, which allows screen readers to know how to interpret the text.
  • Fixing the missing images and broken links.
  • Fixing insufficient color contrast for visibility.
  • Properly labeling images and other web content with alt text. (For more on alt text see the Books Division enhancements below.)
  • Formatting the web content so that it can be properly read by a screen reader, including identifying form fields and user entries that were not properly labeled
  • Ensuring our websites can be navigated using only a keyboard, which enables people who have mobility impairments and use alternate input devices to use the website effectively.

One challenge is all of the PDFs embedded on our website. Most PDF files were not produced to be digitally accessible, so they need to be rebuilt with proper tagging and structural hierarchy. Ross notes that “each file currently takes hours to be reviewed and rebuilt to follow the accessibility guidelines.”

Currently, the team is focused on the launch of the new edition of the CSE Manual (formerly SSF) and hopes to have the new site tested for compliance by the end of this year.

Scott says, “I hope that the press can be the provider of some of the most accessible web content the University has to offer. But it will likely take informed cooperation between the technical and creative departments to make that happen.”

Making Journals More Accessible

The redesign of the Journals site in 2019 and 2020 and the establishment of the CDA provided the ideal opportunity to focus on the accessibility of Journals online content. Like Ross and Scott, Michael receives regular reports from Siteimprove, which along with inquiries from journal offices and subscribers, help set the priorities for updates.

Some updates in progress include:

  • Tagging all of the math in MathML, which is a tag set that can be embedded in HTML and rendered by browsers to look like professionally typeset math. So instead of displaying formulas with low-resolution graphics, which are effectively invisible to screen readers, we display equations in sharp clear text that is legible, copyable, resizable, and machine-readable.
  • Improvements to table markup, so that people navigating through a table with a screen reader can hear the appropriate column or row label called out along with the content of each table cell.
  • Changes to workflow to add descriptive alt text to inline images used for content that can’t be displayed with a Unicode font (for example: Icon

Description automatically generated ).

Implementing changes on this scale requires coordination across several departments. As Michael describes, “We’re engaging journal offices to help us collect alt text for graphics; our copy editors are using custom tools we’ve developed to insert alt text or to verify that tables and math are properly tagged; the production staff makes sure that all the necessary parts are in place so that the files we upload to our publishing platform can be converted to accessible articles; and Pubtech staff manages all the tools to make this work. Our steady improvements are a testament to everyone’s rising to the challenge.”

Adding Alt text to E-Books

A pilot program in the Books Division is working across departments to establish workflows for adding alt text to e-books. The team for the pilot project includes Karen Darling from acquisitions, Denise Kennedy from production, Christine Schwab from manuscript editorial, and Krista Coulson from digital publications.

Alt text offers supplemental descriptions that fill in any missing information or provide additional context for readers who are not able to see an image, chart, or infographic in a book. For example, if someone is using a screen reader, the program will read the alt text when it arrives at the location of the image on the page.

As a result of the pilot, we have five e-books that have been published with alt text and about ten in production. These include:

The process of adding alt text involves coordination at many stages of a book’s production, and it’s something the team is still trying to develop an efficient workflow to accommodate. Currently, the steps start with acquisitions requesting alt text from authors or commissioning it, so that it can be transmitted with the rest of the manuscript. After which, it would ideally be proofread as part of the manuscript editing process, but a challenge has been that there is no clear step for doing so since it’s not part of the text of the printed book. The alt text is then sent to Design and Production with the rest of the manuscript, and ideally, the typesetter copies the image descriptions from our Word file into the appropriate spot in the InDesign or XML file. (Though, for the pilot, Denise has been doing this by hand while preparing the final epub.) 

As Krista notes, “Our goal is to have alt text for all images in our books, but with a wide of range of projects with different numbers and complexity means that some books are significantly harder to handle than others.”

Karen says that the authors that have so far been involved in the pilot have been happy to participate, and she adds, “I hope we will see our use of this technology as a way to further the Press’s core mission to disseminate knowledge. It allows the meaning of our books to be more fully conveyed to more readers.”

Making our content and the research of our scholars and authors available to all is at the heart of our mission as a scholarly publisher, and we are proud to have several teams across the Press working directly on achieving our goals of accessibility. We are connecting with other University Presses to share approaches and resources, and we are continuing to adapt to the changing global guidelines for best practices. As we work toward incorporating digital accessibility into everything we create, we look forward to sharing updates on future improvements.