SSP Spotlight: Are your images accessible, searchable, and extensible?

Ensuring every reader can access all of your publications is part of the cost of doing business in today’s digital information economy — additionally, accessible publications offer a host of benefits to both consumers and content providers. Accessible content offers high value to users of all sorts, with rich metadata that is easily searched and navigated, supporting a positive experience for everyone, whether reading on screen or via audio devices. Accessible publications are also ripe for building new data-driven products and services as well as harnessing the many other benefits of structured content. Unique opportunities are particularly available to those publishing products with numerous in-line graphics or image-heavy primary source archives.

Despite the myriad benefits, research shows that content within scholarly publications is often inaccessible and suggests a need for our industry to better operationalize accessible publishing. A panel of experts will come together on June 3rd at the 2022 annual meeting of the Society for Scholarly Publishing in Chicago to discuss practical ways to capitalize on the opportunities for born-accessible publishing, which includes images enriched with descriptive metadata.

Representing content and technology providers, panel participants will itemize what each player in the publishing supply chain is responsible for when it comes to enabling equal access to scholarly content. While there is no one regulatory body enforcing accessibility compliance, this panel will demonstrate how we can work together to create and disseminate accessible images as a part of everyday publishing processes and workflows. Participants will explain how image accessibility is a shared responsibility and that the networks, tools, and infrastructure are freely available so that everyone can do their part (e.g., ADA guidelines released this spring).

The importance of image descriptions

Publishers are responsible for ensuring every photograph, equation, or other visual asset is enriched with rich descriptions. Adopting principles of inclusive design enables routine consideration of diverse reader experiences in the development of content platforms and services. Without image descriptions in the underlying metadata, readers with limited vision, and those without a device or software that can access images in scholarly publications, will miss a great deal of the knowledge generated by scholarly authors and editors. Panelist Michelle Urberg, metadata consultant for Maverick Publishing Specialists, will explain how, for scholarly publishing to be accessible, we have to start now and work iteratively, one piece of metadata at a time, one platform update at a time.

Some publishers are duplicating image captions as alt-text descriptions; however, this generates a poor user experience. Whereas image captions are designed to categorize an image, image descriptions must contextualize an image in an article or chapter narrative. Author-generated 200-word descriptions enhance the narrative experience for readers unable to view them as intended. And rich descriptive metadata empowers readers to engage fully with the scholarship as the author intended. Such image metadata also enriches search experiences for everyone and audio experiences for anyone who enjoys text-to-speech apps. Panelist Caroline Desrosiers of Scribley advises publishers to “write alt-text like your content depends on it…because it does!”

Operationalizing across formats

Operationalizing accessible images for scholarly publishers will look different for journals, books, multimedia, and other products, and will also be distinct from accessible web publishing (e.g., marketing sites, ecommerce, etc.). The commercial returns on compliance with accessibility protocols can be quantified in the same way as those for user engagement, impact, and content preservation or archiving. Accessibility, like other efforts to deliver effective information experiences to all readers, demands rich content metadata distributed across our industry’s pipeline of stakeholders.

Publishers should be looking to partner with both upstream content creators (researchers, authors, editors, etc.) and relevant software (peer review, production, etc.), as well as downstream colleagues (platform providers, indexers, etc.) to drive better returns. Panelist Hannah Heckner, Director of Product Strategy at Silverchair, will discuss how technology vendors can partner with publishers to scale accessible publishing and capture the many benefits of rich image metadata.

Accessibility is good for business

This SSP panel will demonstrate that, when it comes to accessible publishing, we are all in this together. Image accessibility, in particular, requires accountability across the scholarly communications value chain. Accessible publishers avoid legal exposure and ensure they are not passing this burden along to their institutional customers. Moreover, by investing in accessible publications, organizations can meet initiatives to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in our industry.

Distributing accessible products or services is a design decision all of us have the chance to make every day. Every member of our publishing community has the power to enable or disable, to empower or disenfranchise. What will you decide?

Join Lettie Y. Conrad, Maverick’s Senior Associate for Product R&D, and Michelle Urberg, Maverick’s metadata expert, at SSP in Chicago on Friday, June 3rd for this informative panel.

To learn more, download Maverick’s Accessibility Program service sheet.

By Lettie Y. Conrad, Maverick Senior Associate, Product Research and Development
Lettie Y. Conrad, Ph.D., is an independent researcher and consultant with a passion for human-centric methods of product R&D. She has developed a specialty in driving efficient and effective information experiences in scholarly communications and works with a global portfolio of technology and content providers to deliver optimum user engagement with publishing platforms. She serves as North American Editor for Learned Publishing and is a ‘chef’ with the SSP’s The Scholarly Kitchen blog.

By Michelle Urberg, Maverick Affiliate Associate, Metadata Expert
Michelle Urberg, Ph.D., MSLIS, is a publishing professional and trained librarian and musicologist, with deep knowledge of metadata standards, metadata creation, the library and publishing software industries. She is currently a private consultant specializing in content management implementation and metadata enhancement, as well as being a SaaS Products Implementation Project Manager at EBSCO. She is currently active in SSP, NISO, and ACRL. She is an active member of NISOs VAMD working group and the Peer Review Terminology working group.