Powering Accessibility: A White Paper

Having accessible content is a crucial movement within scholarly publishing. Discover how Atypon has put accessibility at the heart of their platform to empower publishers and societies to create accessible content.

Our Atypon and Wiley colleague Bruce Rosenblum was a NISO champion, an enthusiastic advocate for the standards, metadata, and semantic structures that underpin so much of what we do in scholarly communications—including digital accessibility. Following his ALS diagnosis, Bruce not only kept his day job but also threw himself into advocacy work on behalf of ALS research, accessibility, and disability inclusion. This feature is dedicated to Bruce’s memory, in gratitude for his contributions to the tools that power our accessibility work.


According to the World Health Organization, more than 15% of the world’s population – over 1 billion people – have some kind of disability[1] and this number is growing dramatically because of an aging population and increases in chronic health conditions. Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a near or distance vision impairment.[2] As many as 15–20% of the population have some symptoms of dyslexia[3]. And by 2050 nearly 2.5 billion people are projected to have some degree of hearing loss[4]. This creates challenges for many, who will struggle with reading and comprehension, or accessing and processing web pages.

While all publishers and societies should be striving to meet accessibility standards, forthcoming policies will make this mandatory. The European Accessibility Act will come into effect in 2025. Meanwhile the Office of Science and Technology Policy released guidance on making all US-funded science free to all, which increases the importance of accessibility even more

[1] https://www.who.int/health-topics/disability#tab=tab_1

[2] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/blindness-and-visual-impairment

[3] https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-basics-2/

[4] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/deafness-and-hearing-loss#

Implementing accessibility for scholarly publishing

Accessibility is about providing all the information that a user needs to engage with your digital content. An accessible website ensures users with visual impairment can still interact with a page by using metadata or code to deliver the same information. It enables a hearing-impaired visitor to find a text alternative to video or audio content. And lets a mobility impaired user to navigate content without needing a mouse. It’s imperative that readers of all abilities have access to content without barriers. Making accessibility one of your strategic priorities benefits not only those with a disability, but your entire audience, offering a better user experience. It also does wonders for your content’s discoverability as accessibility improvements ensure high-quality indexing and search engine optimization.

Requirements for accessibility have become easier to follow over time, thanks to shared standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the EPUB standard file format for books.[1] The WCAG guidelines, which we follow at Atypon, aim to ensure that content is:

  • Perceivable – Are alternatives for images and videos provided?
  • Operable – Can the site be used with a keyboard?
  • Understandable – Are forms labelled and error messages easy to identify and action?
  • Robust – Are user interface controls designed for compatibility with screen readers?[2]

During 2024, it will be imperative that publishers and societies assess how they can meet forthcoming requirements for accessibility:

  • EU Directive 2019/882 (the European Accessibility Act) – in effect July 2025: “This Directive promotes full and effective equal participation by improving access to mainstream products and services that, through their initial design or subsequent adaptation, address the particular needs of persons with disabilities.”[3] Our expectation is that there will be further legislation of this nature implemented in the US and elsewhere.

We’ve heard some common questions it’s worth highlighting the answers to. Firstly, not all back content needs to be updated to be accessible, only newly published content. However, educational material renews each year and needs to be accessible so consider making any material included in academic products accessible, even if it is old content. Secondly, PDF and ePub documents might not be considered under the EU Directive definition of a website. However, we consider that anything that can be read online is best categorized as part of a website, and so should be reviewed under this directive.

  • The OSTP Nelson Memo on ‘Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research’, announced in August 2022, indicates that agency plans must outline “online access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications in formats that allow for machine-readability and enabling broad accessibility through assistive devices”[4]. Although primarily about delivering greater availability of US government-funded research through open access, it also focuses on making research accessible to everyone.

To support these policies, the W3C Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) requirements for accessibility offer shared standards, providing metrics and guidelines in accessibility. They present a model to make web content and applications accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. These include vision impairment, hearing loss, limited movement, cognitive and learning disabilities, and combinations of these. Remember, ability can change over time, and a disability can be permanent, temporary, or situational. This means much of your audience could benefit from more accessible features, whether for a short period of time or indefinitely.

Despite these developments with standards, accessibility is still difficult for many publishers.[5] A UK Publishing Accessibility Action Group (PAAG) survey found the greatest hurdles for publishers are around resourcing and image descriptions. Financial resources, technical expertise, and senior buy-in were also challenges.[6]

An accessibility audit can flag any potential areas for improving accessibility towards WCAG standards. Atypon provide weekly automated accessibility tests to give partners a baseline understanding of how accessible their sites are and where there are opportunities to make improvements. We can also generate a VPAT report to help you identify required improvements.

What it means for you

  • All scholarly content sites should be accessible to any user, regardless of ability.
  • Accessibility requirements can be complex, but there are standards in place to help, such as the WCAG guidelines.
  • An accessibility audit may be the first step for any publisher or society considering accessibility. Get in touch to learn more.

[1] https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/90710-getting-up-to-speed-on-accessibility-and-sustainability.html

[2] https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/

[3] https://www.eumonitor.eu/9353000/1/j9vvik7m1c3gyxp/vkz686pm8ozr

[4] https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/08-2022-OSTP-Public-Access-Memo.pdf

[5] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/leap.1146

[6] https://www.paag.uk/

Accessibility in practice

When we talk about website accessibility, we’re looking at two separate but related projects: making the site accessible, and making sure the content is accessible (including journal articles, books, and other digital objects).

Making your site accessible

Here are some of the ways we help make sure your website remains accessible:

  • Our Page Builder widgets provide the framework for accessible sites; widgets share common code across all your pages. Page Builder is our easy-to-use, drag-and-drop UI and UX design tool.
  • Our design approach uses themes as the basis for new sites. All UX 3.0 themes are designed to be accessible, and customizations must keep them accessibility compliant. UX 3.0 excludes unnecessary information, removes visual clutter, simplifies navigation, and enhances search. And good news going forward – ‘out of the box’ UX 3.0 themes will also be compliant to WCAG 2.2 AA.
  • Our automated release tests validate WCAG 2.2 level AA accessibility.
  • Specific modules have accessibility goals – for example, the eReader is 98% compliant to WCAG 2.1 AA and we’re working on improving that further. We’re currently reviewing the compliance level and are updating to WCAG 2.2.. We’re also engaging the DAISY consortium for a full review. The mandates of the specific modules’ product owners also include compliance improvement goals.

Making sure your content is accessible

Here are some of the ways we make sure that the work you do to make your content accessible is fully delivered on your site.

  • Our Atypon AXEL technology and Page Builder widget convert XML to HTML to deliver rich accessible, discoverable, and reflowable HTML pages; generate ePub3 from your XML. Paired with the Atypon eReader it encourages readers to access content in ePub rather than PDF. Why? Because while newer options can improve PDF accessibility, a reflowable ePub will always be more accessible than a PDF. A PDF is optimized for print output, with fixed layout and limited accessibility features. An ePub file generated by AXEL enable accessibility features including:
    • reflowable text that adjusts to the reader’s screen size and settings
    • customizable fonts, type sizes, and text/background colors
    • text-to-speech options, including language tags
    • screen-reader-compatible HTML tables and MathML equations.
  • Our accessible eReader displays both ePub and PDF content without requiring readers to download files. As we’ve mentioned, our eReader team has been updating our compliance levels to report against WCAG 2.2 and are in the process of reviewing content accessibility with the DAISY Consortium.

Our upcoming features

Using tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI) can help us create an inclusive place for people with and without disabilities to access scholarly content.

Our product teams are working on further accessibility improvements, including leveraging Atypon’s award-winning AI technology to improve UX and SEO.

Our features in development include:

  • Compact and concise one-sentence summaries. They’re auto-generated and used as meta descriptions to support discoverability.
  • AI-assisted alt text for images which is key for those using screen readers.
  • Image enhancements which use AI to automatically improve resolution and quality allowing for better readability.

This is just a slice of what’s on the Atypon roadmap for Literatum. Our ongoing multi-million-dollar investments in research and development mean we continue to attract the best technology talent. This makes sure our platform remains the most innovative in the market, enabling you with everything you need to seamlessly publish all content in an accessible and discoverable way.

Conclusion: how can you prepare for accessibility?

We’re putting accessibility at the heart of our developments. We’ve been preparing our partners since 2021 on the policy changes ahead, and embedding accessibility into the strategy and delivery of scholarly content. That includes implementing award-winning AI solutions to make accessibility easier to deliver for our clients, making scholarly content more discoverable and understandable to all.

From conversations with our clients, it is clear accessibility is becoming a significant focus area for societies and publishers. For success, accessibility needs to be a collaborative effort, and an ongoing conversation since the journey will evolve as standards change or people make manual changes to their sites. Here we will cover a few ways to get started on your journey.

Request an accessibility audit

The first stage for any society or publisher considering accessibility should be an accessibility audit. Atypon provide weekly automated accessibility tests to give clients a baseline understanding of how accessible their sites are and the opportunities to make improvements. We can also generate a VPAT report to identify improvements. In other cases, a third-party can provide accessibility audits. We can work with you to review these reports.

Consider a migration to accessible templates

For many clients, accessibility audits will recommend a few quick wins along with several bigger changes that require a UX3 website to handle. A migration to Atypon’s UX3 theme, enabling AXEL and using the AXEL Publication Widget takes care of most common accessibility issues since it has been designed with accessibility standards in mind. Because Atypon maintains a unified codebase across all Literatum websites, all our customers will automatically benefit from every implementation of new and evolving industry standards and regulations for accessibility.

Take a flexible approach to solutions

Although coming up with clear goals is important, some flexibility is needed, because accessibility is not an exact science. For example, different screen readers will interpret the standards differently. So some flexibility is critical to find a solution that works best with the majority of third-party programs and also provides the best value for users. We’re here to help you navigate it all.

Atypon’s Literatum furthers research by enabling its partners with everything you need to seamlessly publish any type of content in a discoverable and accessible way. Get in touch to learn more and download the whitepaper PDF!