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How can I help make my article accessible?

University presses are working deliberately to meet legal and moral obligations to make their digital content accessible to all users regardless of the user’s physical capabilities and challenges. After you submit your final manuscript, university presses and their vendors do a considerable amount of work to ensure that your article meets accessibility standards.

Much of this work is designed to improve the experience of readers who use assistive technology to interact with the article, and most of it occurs with little, if any, input from the author. For example, publishers apply tags to the text to tell assistive devices how to navigate through the parts of an article in the proper order or to indicate when a passage is in a different language than the rest of the article. Publishers also adjust the color contrast of images to make them easier for people with low vision to see and understand.

Most authors are probably unaware of the accessibility features that the publisher builds into their articles unless they themselves use assistive technology to access digital content. However, there are three things that you can do to support your publisher’s efforts to make your article accessible:

  1. Provide alt-text for non-text elements, such as images, figures, and tables: The hallmark of a standard caption is that it assumes the reader can see an image, figure, or table so it makes no effort to describe the non-text element in any meaningful detail. In contrast, alt-text is specifically written for those using assistive devices and assumes that the user is unable to interact with the content visually. Alt-text provides concise but meaningful information about non-text elements with the goal of providing an assistive technology user with a reading experience as similar as possible to that of a sighted reader. Editors and vendors can write alt-text for your article in a pinch, but they will never be able to do it as well as you can. Want to learn more? Start with the Web Accessibility Initiative’s tutorial or with this article from Ask UP.
  2. Design tables with accessibility in mind: The publisher or their vendor are ultimately responsible for making your tables compatible with assistive devices. However, there are a few things you can do to help. First, clearly label each column and row, and design the table so there is data in every header cell. Second, remember that simple tables are generally more accessible than complicated ones. Avoid designing tables with multiple levels of headers or with merged cells. Third, never use an image of a table; always insert an actual table. Fourth, provide alt-text for the table and consider writing a long description to further contextualize the table and to explain its role in your argument.
  3. Create charts with accessibility in mind: As with tables, there are certain things you can do to make a chart more accessible. First, do not use color alone to add meaning to a chart. Not everyone can see all colors or differentiate between them. Second, make sure to provide alt-text for the chart as well as a long description, if warranted.

—Johns Hopkins University Press, January 2024