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Writing Accessibility Statements: A Guide for Publishers

Part 1: The 5 key elements of the statement 

Huw Alexander + Alistair McNaught

An icon representing the writing of an accessibility statement.

We need to talk about accessibility.

As a publishing community there is a wealth of great work, thought, and resources being invested in improving the accessibility of digital content and, in turn, improving the learning outcomes and enjoyment of readers. The issue though is one of silence. Unfortunately, publishers are not telling the story of their accessibility work through their statements. In a recent analysis of publisher accessibility statements in the UK, we discovered that only 8 per cent (56 publishers) of the 677 publishers surveyed had an accessibility statement on their website.

This silence is deafening and has a negative impact on customers. It is also a poor reflection of the actual work that is being dedicated to creating accessible content. Publishers would never miss the opportunity to talk about their books or raise the profile of a positive review, but they are missing the opportunity to talk about the great efforts they are making with accessibility.

An accessibility statement is essentially a marketing tool. It’s an opportunity to tell the accessibility story of your company and engage with your customers. It’s also a map of your content that disables barriers and enables your users.

We know that writing an accessibility statement can be a daunting task. Where to start? What to include? We understand and in the spirit of inclusivity we’d like to offer some guidance on writing a great accessibility statement and telling your story for your whole audience.

In this first part of our guide to Writing a Publisher Accessibility Statement we’ll talk about the following 5 key elements of the statement.

  1.  Introduction.

  2.  Using the resource: Things that work well with the website/content/platform

  3.  How accessible is the product? Are there issues the user should know in advance?

  4.  What to do if you need better accessibility than currently available.

  5.  Embedding accessibility.

We explain each element below and map each one to the ABC Charter for Accessible Publishing that provides a framework for building an accessibility programme within a publisher.

In Part 2 next week we’ll introduce the ASPIREreview criteria to help create a detailed framework that guides you step by step in the creation of a user-focused statement.

An icon of a person walking through a door, representing the introduction to your accessibility statement.

1. The Introduction

If an accessibility statement sits on a website and is undiscoverable, is it really there? Make sure that your statement is prominently positioned and signposted on your website. Ensure that the statement is surfaced in Google searches. Your accessibility statement is an evolving documents so make sure to identify and remove out of date information to reflect the updates you have made.

Explain your commitment to accessibility standards and how this aligns with your company’s philosophy or vision statement. The accessibility statement is an opportunity to tell your story, acts as a powerful marketing tool, and creates a positive message of corporate social responsibility.

Compliance with the ABC Charter for Accessible Publishing

Section 1 applies to the following elements of the Charter for Accessible Publishing.

  • Commitment 1: Stating our accessibility policy on our website, including adherence to the Charter.

  • Commitment 4: Designating and publicising a point of contact in our organization to assist persons with print disabilities to access our publications.

  • Commitment 7: Promoting the adoption of accessibility standards throughout the supply chain.

An icon of a tick, representing the things that work well with your content.

2. Using the resource: Things that work well with the website/content/platform

You cannot assume all users know how to make best use of an accessible file or interface. This section is a key marketing pitch to tell users what you have done for accessibility, what works and how they can benefit from it.

The content covered will vary depending on whether you are responsible for file formats, delivery interfaces or both. Where there are multiple file formats, you can provide guidance and insights on the different reading experiences afforded by each format. Where functionality is not specifically available, but your product is compatible with other tools, you might suggest free tools or plugins to make the difference – for example, text-to-speech browser plugins, clipboard readers, colour changing tools etc.

This section will include information on the following.

  • Magnification and reflow.

  • Personalization options such as colour/contrast, line spacing, margins etc.

  • Availability of image descriptions.

  • Navigation options, including tagging for headings and subheadings etc.

  • Keyboard-only navigation and operation.

  • Interoperability with assistive technology (this may be influenced by Digital Rights Management (DRM) decisions, so clarify this where applicable).

Compliance with the ABC Charter for Accessible Publishing

Section 2 applies to the following elements of the Charter for Accessible Publishing.

  • Commitment 1: Stating our accessibility policy on our website.

  • Commitment 5: Testing our digital publications for accessibility, incorporating appropriate feature descriptions and metadata.

  • Commitment 7: Promoting the adoption of accessibility standards throughout the supply chain.

3. How accessible is the product? Are there issues the user should know in advance?

An icon of a triangular warning sign featuring an exclammation mark.

Inform users about any accessibility issues that have not yet been resolved – for example, if images lack descriptions or PDFs are not tagged for reading order or screen reader testing failed on the interface. Letting people know in advance is better customer service than ignoring the issue, letting disabled users waste time finding the problem and then trying to resolve it too late. DRM restrictions can have an impact on the tools the end user can use, so mention these where applicable.

Examples include:

  • EPUBs being tied to Adobe Reader and thus losing much of their accessibility,

  • Copying restrictions reducing functionality for text-to-speech tools that rely on reading the clipboard.

By being transparent about what does not work you can discuss other options available and help manage expectations. You may be able to suggest alternatives such as:

  • Accessing the content in a different way that has more closely matches the reader’s needs for example:

    • download a different format,

    • read it online,

    • read it in a Kindle edition on a phone or tablet.  

  • Free tools or plugins that can make a difference. For example, colour overlay tools or high contrast settings can compensate for a lack of colour change options in a delivery interface.

 

UK law regards the base level accessibility requirement as meeting the requirements of the EU accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe (EN 301 549) – this is very closely aligned to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 at AA level.

Compliance with the ABC Charter for Accessible Publishing

Section 3 applies to the following elements of the Charter for Accessible Publishing.

  • Commitment 1: Stating our accessibility policy on our website.

  • Commitment 5: Testing our digital publications for accessibility, incorporating appropriate feature descriptions and metadata.

  • Commitment 7: Promoting the adoption of accessibility standards throughout the supply chain.

An icon of methods of communication, featuring an At sign, a phone icon, and a mail icon. A hand points to the phone icon.

4. What to do if you need better accessibility than currently available (who to contact)

If the options above still do not meet the needs of a disabled reader, they may need a more accessible option or a DRM free version that their local alternative format team can help with. This is the place to describe your ‘support ecosystem’. For example, is there a dedicated email, phone number, or internal role responsible for accessibility? Do you have your content distributed through the RNIB Bookshare collection, Bookshare, or the AccessText Network etc?

This information may already be in place, in which case you might simply add a link from the accessibility statement. This is a useful place for information on:

  • Contact details.

  • Licensing terms + conditions.

  • Typical response times.

Compliance with the ABC Charter for Accessible Publishing

Section 4 applies to the following elements of the Charter for Accessible Publishing.

  • Commitment 1: Stating our accessibility policy on our website.

  • Commitment 4: designating and publicising a point of contact in our organization to assist persons with print disabilities to access our publications.

  • Commitment 8: Supporting national and international collaboration with organisations representing persons with print disabilities so as to increase the availability of publications in accessible formats.

5. Embedding accessibility

A statement page shows a node network diagram and represents embedding accessibility.

This section is designed to demonstrate both confidence and competence, so it covers the following aspects:

  • When the testing was done and when the accessibility statement was last updated. You should aim for annual updates of your accessibility statement. Always ensure that you have dated your statement and included the relevant update dates.

  • What the testing involved, including which assistive technologies were used. You may have used a third-party vendor to audit your site – make sure to reference them. If you use automated testing, then include the name of the provider, such as Axe or Microsoft Accessibility Insights.

  • Include an accessibility roadmap. The roadmap is a way of communicating to your customers that you have identified issues and are seeking to address them. It is a sign of engagement and a proactive approach. The roadmap could include the following:

 

  1.  What the testing showed and whether it showed a need to make improvements. If it did, do you have a structured remediation plan with a timeline?

  2.  Outline how internal workflows and quality assurance processes have incorporated accessibility.

  • Provide information about the staff training that you have undertaken. Provide an outline of what processes and training you have implemented within your company. Talk about your accessibility working groups or dedicated accessibility-focused departments/staff. Highlight your involvement with external taskforces or committees.

  • Discuss the ways in which your content development processes embed accessibility.

  • Encourage your users to provide feedback that can help you to identify issues, successes, and inform your future decision-making.

 

Remember your accessibility statement is not a one-off exercise. You are expected to update the statement annually and reduce ‘disproportionate burden’ claims as your expertise and awareness improves. Your accessibility statement is an evolving document – you are having a conversation with your users and customers and showcasing the improvements and innovations you have implemented.

Compliance with the ABC Charter for Accessible Publishing

Section 5 applies to the following elements of the Charter for Accessible Publishing.

  • Commitment 2: Nominating a senior manager who will be responsible for accessibility.

  • Commitment 3: Raising awareness among, and provide technical training for, relevant staff.

  • Commitment 5: Testing our digital publications for accessibility, incorporating appropriate feature descriptions and metadata.

  • Commitment 6: Monitoring our progress in this area.

  • Commitment 7: Promoting the adoption of accessibility standards throughout the supply chain.

An icon of a lightbulb representing ideas.

We hope that this introduction to writing a publisher accessibility statement has been helpful and provided some insights and ideas for writing your statement. Next week, in Part 2 of the Writing Accessibility Statements: A Guide for Publishers, we’ll walk you through the ASPIREreview process and the key elements that make a fantastic, user-focused statement.

CONTACT

If you would like to commission an ASPIREreview or have any questions or need help in creating your accessibility statement and telling your story, please contact us at aspire@textboxdigital.com.

View the ASPIRE publisher list to compare ASPIREscores across the publishing industry.

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