Accessibility Audit

In the summer semester of 2020, UT iSchool Masters candidate and former TDL Helpdesk Technician Katherine Smithroat focused her capstone project on auditing the accessibility of a few of Texas Digital Library’s service offerings. Her full report is accessible in our Capstone Projects collection here.

Summary of work:

For my capstone experience, I performed a detailed assessment of the accessibility of Texas Digital Library hosted services, with an emphasis on DSpace repository hosting services. I also performed assessments of the accessibility of other TDL hosted services such as OJS Open Journal Systems, Dataverse, and Vireo Dissertation and Thesis management software. The focus of my study was on assessing the interfaces for each of these programs, and some preliminary assessments of the content hosted in each of these programs. This project of work will serve as a baseline analysis and plan of action guide for future development work in making Texas  Digital Library’s website and services more accessible to a broader audience, affecting all member institutions including major state Universities such as The University of Texas System and The Texas A&M University System.

Literature review summary:

During my project, I read literature surrounding general accessibility guidelines as well as contemporary accessibility challenges with institutional repositories. Despite there not being a whole lot of data surrounding institutional repository accessibility specifically, there were some trends notice in regards to accessibility within open access repository data. One study of institutional repository accessibility with universities in Nigeria “revealed that none of these academic institutions has put in place any strategy to ensure the long-term re-use or accessibilities of the contents of their Institutional Repository”. They suggested implementing more object-based record keeping. The Conference on Inclusion and Diversity in Library and Information Science (CIDLIS) at the University of Maryland found “digital repositories overall lack consistency in how they make information and content accessible to users. Inconsistency in metadata does not promote interoperability or discoverability between repositories and within the repository itself”.

It is important to note that there were 814 lawsuits regarding digital accessibility in 2017 alone. Though the 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act does not explicitly state adherence to WCAG guidelines as a necessity for institutional repositories, the ADA Title II prohibits disability-based discrimination on the part of state and local governments, and Title III prohibits disability-based discrimination for “places of public accommodations” like private businesses that are open to the public, such as restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, museums, and doctor’s offices. Citations of these two titles result in the most lawsuits regarding accessibility.

One way institutions can better adhere to accessibility guidelines is through conducting a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) statement which outlines a website’s compliance with 508 accessibility standards. In a study from a UNESCO comparison of 5 institutional repositories, only 2 of 5 common institutional repository software have released VPAT statements.

DSpace, as a non-profit organization, has not gone on to release an accessibility statement, though it would be largely beneficial to institutions to perhaps perform their own assessment using a template such as the  ITI (Information Technology Industry Council) template.

Tools & methodologies:

For my accessibility baseline assessment, I originally planned to use WorldSpace data but experienced issues with UT liaison to get eid access to the software. I ended up switching to Deque axe tools for data gathering instead. I also tried the Wave google extension but found the lack of exportable results limiting. The Wave tool did have a good webAIM powered contrast checker and it is good for seeing quick visuals and perhaps can be used at an individual level for institutions wishing to perform further assessments of their services, and a screenshot of this tool contrast checker report is found on the right.

Going through the DSpace system with WCAG – Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust guidelines in mind, I went forward and assigned tests to myself using a list of heavy use pages for DSpace as well as individual institutional DSpace instances and some other TDL service homepages.

For Katherine’s full report, please visit our Capstone Projects collection here.