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Smart Libraries Q&A: Accessibility best practices and standards

Smart Libraries Newsletter [August 2018]


Which OPAC vendors are best known for compliance to accessibility best practices and standards? How can we advocate to make sure vendors make Section 508 and WCAG compliance a priority in their design?

As institutions that serve diverse communities, libraries expect that their websites, catalogs, discovery services, and content products be deployed so that they can be well used by persons with disabilities. Libraries generally work hard to ensure that the web resources for which they have direct control in design and internal coding not only have great functional design, but also comply with best practices and standards for accessibility. As noted, multiple regulations and standards provide guidance on the presentation of web-based resources, so that they can be better used by persons with disabilities:

  • Section 508 refers to the United States Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 508: Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications, which specifically applies to resources implemented or developed by US Federal agencies, but they are also voluntarily adopted as requirements for other organizations (https://www.access-board .gov/guidelines-and-standards/communications-and-it /about-the-section-508-standards/section-508-standards).
  • WCAG or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 are recommendations issued by the W3C describing techniques to make web content more accessible (https://www

These two sets of recommendations and requirements complement each other. Websites able to comply with both documents can be considered accessible from a technical viewpoint. Functional accessibility may be a more subjective evaluation.

It can be especially challenging to design and deploy library catalogs in ways that not only technically comply to standards for accessibility but that are also functionally usable by persons with different types of disabilities. Some library catalogs are not easy to use by persons with disabilities due to overall complexity, dated user interface mechanisms, and library-specific labelling and terminology, which may not be readily understood by users.

Methods for achieving good accessibility differs between locally-developed websites or web-based resources and those purchased or licensed from external vendors. Libraries have direct control over the resources they develop internally and can make any needed adjustments to internal coding and interface design needed to make it accessible. This approach assumes that the library has the needed technical expertise to not only perform the development, but also to have expertise in the accessibility standards and in design of interfaces for optimal user experience.

Most libraries depend on externally-supplied products or on contractors for at least part of their web environment. For these resources, achieving accessibility must be accomplished through product selection and working with the vendor or contractor. Requirements for accessibility must be included as requirements in the procurement process and validated once the selected product has been implemented.

Widely used products, such as library catalogs, can generally be expected to comply with the minimal requirements of Section 508 and WCAG, especially those offered by the major vendors. Since almost all libraries now include accessibility requirements in their request for proposals, lack of compliance would exclude them from ongoing sales opportunities. But don't take compliance for granted: make accessibility compliance a mandatory requirement in any procurement process, evaluate responses accordingly, and validate conformance once implemented.

When assessing public-facing web products, such as online catalogs, a preliminary investigation might include checking whether the vendors provide statements regarding the accessibility of their products. Some of the major library technology vendors provide these statements:

  • SirsiDynix:
  • EBSCO Information Services: /technology/accessibility
  • ProQuest / Ex Libris
    • Primo: Product_Documentation/System_Administration_ Guide/010System_Architecture/070Accessibility
    • Summon: mon/Product_Documentation/Frequently_Asked_ Questions_(FAQs)/Summon%3A_Accessibi lity_ Compliance
    • Alma: duct_Materials/050Alma_FAQs/General/Accessibility
  • OCLC:
  • Koha:

This approach applies to online catalogs based on open source software as well as proprietary products. At least in the United States, most open source implementation take place through support services from commercial providers. Open source products should be held to the same level of conformance. There may be fewer barriers to achieving compliance since both the vendor and the library have access to the source code that generates the patron-facing pages, and adjustments can be made as needed.

It is also important to note that both proprietary and open source catalogs and discovery interfaces allow for considerable customization. Libraries expect to customize their public interfaces to align branding, to accommodate local preferences in the display of bibliographic information, and for the integration of value-added services, such as cover art, recommendation engines, link resolvers, or request services. The vendor of the catalog itself cannot be responsible for any issues related to accessibility that may result through local customizations and integrations. It is therefore important that libraries test the technical and functional accessibility of their catalogs following any major changes in customization or configuration.

A variety of tools are available to assess or validate a product's or website's conformance to accessibility standards. These tools range from sites that perform free online validation to fullfeatured testing suites oriented to professional software developers available for purchase or subscription licensing. The United States General Services Administration maintains a resource page on testing tools for Section 508 compliance: https:/www ation-officer/office-of-deputy-cio/office-of-enterprise-plan ning-and-governance/accessibility-and-section-508/gsa -508-technical-tools-and-resources.

Libraries using older online catalogs may face especially difficult challenges in accessibility. As noted, most vendors ensure that their current offerings conform with library expectations for accessibility. Legacy products often do not receive major development attention, including updates to the interface that may be needed to achieve compliance with accessibility standards. Libraries tend to hold on to their integrated library systems for more than a decade and may have public interfaces developed without attention to accessibility.

Should it not be possible to adapt an older online catalog to conform to accessibility standards, the library would need to address the issue when the time comes to replace its integrated library system. Some libraries may opt to implement a thirdparty discovery service, which may offer a modern user experience and accessibility compliance.

Libraries strongest source of influence in emphasizing issues such as accessibility comes through their pocketbook. Procurement documents, service contracts, and other legal agreements related to public interfaces must include language that requires conformance to specific accessibility standards. Such requirements will ensure that vendors give this issue a very high priority, but this leverage also depends on a critical mass of libraries making these stipulations. The library and the vendor communities need to hold this issue as a priority to ensure widespread implementation of websites and web-based resources that can be easily used by persons with disabilities.

View Citation
Publication Year:2018
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 38 Number 08
Issue:August 2018
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:24060
Last Update:2022-11-25 14:53:37
Date Created:2019-03-05 16:15:20