Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Accessibility by Design: How to Make Information Open to All

Clir News No. 152

April-March 2023

By Erin O’Donnell Headshot of Erin O'Donnell in artistic style

CLIR staff members traveled to Princeton University in March for our affiliate Code4Lib’s annual conference. It was exciting to see former CLIR postdoc supervisors, publications reviewers, and other colleagues in person at the three-day annual event for “technologists … who largely work for and with libraries, archives, and museums.” We joined in discussing topics like accessibility, representative metadata, and how JSTOR succeeded in “breaking into prison.” We even had a mystery guest at the CLIR table, who greatly enjoyed our swag and Jolly Ranchers. The conference recordings are available for viewing on Code4Lib’s YouTube channel.

The powerful keynote address was given by Dr. Lydia Tang, outreach and engagement coordinator for Lyrasis, who is an advocate for accessibility and disability representation in archives. Dr. Tang’s advocacy began with the simple desire to share her work with her legally blind partner:

I wanted to show them what I did as an archivist, but it quickly opened my eyes to seeing obstacle after obstacle. From finding aids that were read by screen readers incoherently … to bumping and tripping in a physical space, it is hard to explain to someone that they are welcome when there are so many barriers to overcome.

This experience led Dr. Tang to devote her career to improving accessibility in the field of information sciences. Accessibility is more than a list of items to check off during archival and digital-library work, she explained, but a vital part of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.

Using sobering examples of failures such as a new library with stacks accessible only by stairway, or a door too heavy for a person in a wheelchair to open (see slide above), Dr. Tang challenged listeners: “How can we reimagine a more accessible future?”

Conference attendees were encouraged to consider the patterns of thinking and planning that perpetuate inaccessible design: assuming uniform abilities among users; accessibility as an afterthought; not considering accessible ways of accomplishing tasks. “Accessibility needs to be intentionally built into every facet of our world, and it’s easiest to plan it from the beginning,” Dr. Tang said. “If we wait until the end, it will undoubtedly always be more expensive and more time-consuming.”

Dr. Tang cited the challenges experienced by disabled people when interacting with digital technologies, like websites, emails, and library catalogs. Some screen readers, she noted, cannot read visually designed archival finding aids. She also talked about how people with colorblindness view the world. Inaccessible design, she emphasized, makes it impossible for many people to engage with vital online resources.

It was great to see the DLF Digital Accessibility Work Group (DAWG) highlighted as a valuable resource — Dr. Tang noted that the group’s advice for creating accessible online conferences is widely referenced. DAWG, which welcomes new members, typically meets the first Wednesday of each month; the DLF Community Calendar has the most up-to-date schedule.

The keynote included a wealth of resources to guide accessible digital design, including the Accessibility Auditing Resources wiki page; the Accessibility Auditing Shortlist, created by DAWG; and ideas for inclusion and equity in the workplace.

Dr. Tang closed with an inspiring idea: “Do one small thing every day, even if it’s as simple as making your hyperlink text more descriptive. Do your part to help us move towards a more accessible world.”

That is definitely an action is accessible to all.

Get access to session recordings, session slides, and learn more about the presenters on the 2023 Code4Lib conference website.

Did you enjoy this post? Please Share!


Related Posts

News from CLIR Affiliates

CLIR News No. 155 Jan-March 2024 Code4Lib The Code4Lib Annual Conference is scheduled to take place this year in Ann Arbor, Michigan, from May 13

CLIR News 155

CLIR News No. 155 Jan-March 2024 The Light We Bear Within Us Gaza’s Cultural Heritage and the Ruin of War By Charles Henry, president Read

Skip to content