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Oct 1, 2023
Iryna Kuchma

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OpenAIRE coffee break on e-accessibility: It’s all about the tools!

Oct 1, 2023

The OpenAIRE Research Data Management Working Group has started a series of informal meetings ("coffee breaks") as a means of our members to discuss topics of interest and exchange views. The most recent topic was an e-accessibility, which is of key to when building infrastructure.

Tim Berners-Lee once said, “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” Yes, well, but why is much of the data on the web still not accessible to people with disabilities? Some might blame a lack of knowledge by authors of content, which may be compensated by training. But actually, authoring tools turn out to be a major culprit, as long as research data like tables or forms for data collection cannot usually be created accessible with common digital office tools.

Andreas Jeitler, responsible for Accessibility Services at Klagenfurt University Library, and Susanne Blumesberger, an academic librarian at the University of Vienna, discussed these issues at the OpenAIRE coffee break on e-accessibility. Watch the webinar recording here:    

Could repositories facilitate accessible content? The "Accessibility" working group (the AG Barrierefreiheit) of the Repository Managers Network (RepManNet) in Austria created very helpful guidelines that provide straightforward instructions on how to design accessible content for repositories available at Whether a PDF, Word, Excel, image, video or sound file - with simple tricks, content can be designed in such a way that it is easier for many to consume. Ιn other words: Open Access for All! Thank you Susanne Blumesberger and Sonja Edler (Universitätsbibliothek Wien), Eva Gergely (Zentraler Informatikdienst Universität Wien), Doris  Haslinger (FWF - Der Wissenschaftsfonds), Denise Trieb (Sozialwissenschaftliche Bibliothek der Arbeiterkammer Wien) and Andreas Jeitler (Alpen Adria Universität Klagenfurt)! 

The bad news is that accessible documents can’t be created automatically and some tools make it easier to create non-accessible content and make it difficult to create accessible content. A big plan on accessibility is also missing in most organizations

Andreas Jeitler has chosen Microsoft Word as one of the examples, which, for instance , doesn’t enable accessible complex tables; doesn’t have a simple workflow for accessible PDF-Forms; generates corrupted PDF files with combined table cells and table of contents - a bug known for years now unfortunately; and doesn’t have a PDF/UA conform export. And Austrian law prohibits buying software that produces non-accessible content. 

“There is too much functionality in the tool” is another issue - colour  combinations and font selections are numerous and perhaps some of the choices could be limited with accessibility in mind. As  author, you can use a document structure, e.g. a heading style, but it’s not a must. Furthermore  it’s impossible for a screen reader to jump from one heading to another. The same goes for text alternatives or non-text content. The screen reader won’t “read” the picture if they aren’t used and described by a text. 

What do we need? Simple rules for content creators. Take a look at these ten points checklists on accessible media produced by the University Library Klagenfurt:

A tip: PowerPoint for Microsoft 365 can transcribe your words as you present and display them on-screen as captions in the same language you are speaking, or as subtitles translated to another language. 

And if you are digitizing content and want to make it accessible for mobile devices users and people with print disabilities, blind and visually impaired, check out EODOPEN project Guidelines and recommendations for the provision of alternative and special formats available at shared by one of the coffee break participant.