Making the published work accessible to everyone

Ted Gies
Principal user experience specialist, Elsevier

March 2012

Imagine going to your favourite website or service and suddenly finding you are not able to read any of the content.  This is the experience some people have if a site has not been designed with accessibility – or universal access – in mind.

Or imagine if you were a law student or a science researcher with a disability and could not physically turn the pages of a book, then how would you feel if there was not an accessible electronic version?  In fact, approximately 10% of the world population is “print disabled” and rely on electronic/web formats to access information.

In my view, as a member of a publishing company, we need to ensure the information and services we provide are usable and accessible to everyone, regardless of physical ability.  If we can advance the education or career of a person with a disability by providing the same content and tools in an accessible format, we make a contribution to their civil rights.

When I first started in Elsevier’s User Centered Design group in 2001, I was assigned a simple task: be the point person for accessibility for our then small portfolio of online products.  I did not think this would prove very exciting but digging a little deeper, it became clear universal design is a means of producing a quality web product more usable to all persons.

When people ask about the business case for an accessible product, I ask: do you value easy to use products?  Have you ever created a bookmark? Forgotten your mouse?  Clicked a checkbox or adjusted the typeface or resolution to make the print more readable?  An accessible site makes all these things simpler for everyone.

Across Reed Elsevier there are people who incorporate accessibility into their everyday roles.  For example, in 2011 the Elsevier Book Archive fulfilled over 3,700 requests for accessible book files through the AccessText platform it helped launch. 

Our New Lexis product in particular has been developed to adhere to the most contemporary accessibility guidelines.  Some of our LexisNexis training consultants work with screen reader users and are also learning sign language to more effectively train those with hearing impairments.

We have been working with important initiatives such as the Enabling Technologies Framework and the TIGAR Trusted Intermediaries Project, and have been employing technology to turn text into speech for many Elsevier book titles.

I have the pleasure of leading the Reed Elsevier Accessibility Working Group to drive accessibility forward, working with colleagues to deliver educational webinars, featuring speakers from in and outside the company.  Some of our past speakers have included researchers from Wright State University’s Learning with Disabilities programme and Richard Lane, Web Editor of the Lancet, who happens to be blind. 

One achievement of the Accessibility Working Group was last year’s Accessibility Matters, a detailed guide on accessibility sent to over 60 of our offices worldwide.

Working on accessibility and sharing that knowledge creates a buzz around the topic.  The ultimate satisfaction, though, is when users find our products accessible and easy to use!

Ted Gies

Ted Gies, Principal user experience specialist, Elsevier