Accessibility and Digital Content/Creation: Implications for Open Education


In the Fall of 2017, Rebus Foundation Assistant Director, Zoe Wake Hyde, took part in a roundtable discussion at University of California, focusing on making digital content and creation more accessible for people with disabilities. The gathering was convened by the Authors Alliance, the Silicon Flatirons Center, and the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, and it brought together a diverse group of participants.

That meeting generated the report, Authorship and Accessibility in the Digital Age, which is now available on the Author’s Alliance Website. Zoe’s thoughts on the experience, including the written report, offer a uniquely Rebus perspective.

The roundtable event last November was a great experience, bringing together stakeholders from all parts of the authoring ecosystem. While open education wasn’t the focus, for those working in our field, there are useful lessons to be drawn from the resulting report.

Discussion centered on the opportunities and barriers created by digital authoring tools, for creators and consumers both with and without disabilities. While not discussed in detail in the report, one point I would highlight is the impact of the permissions granted by Creative Commons licenses. Significant challenges can end up being systemically imposed by the very legal framework in which we operate. That is, a user’s efforts to make the content work for them (such as remediating textbook content) are often limited by copyright restrictions, proprietary softwares, and digital rights management mechanisms.

Creative Commons licenses address many of these issues by allowing for adaptations, but we still need to be careful as a community not to use this as an out for creating high-quality, accessible content from day one. Just because somebody can adapt content to meet their needs, there may be a temptation to think that the burden to do so falls on them alone. This cannot become our expectation.

We all have a responsibility to produce accessible digital content, using the best tools available to us, so that the work required to adapt a text for use by readers with disabilities is minimal. I highly recommend taking a look in the Authors Alliance report for some of the group’s thinking on this—specifically the section on opportunities to integrate accessibility into author workflows (page 9) and ways to improve technical authoring tools (page 12).

Other parts of the report I found interesting for our work at Rebus are the sections on authors not being aware of their role in accessibility (page 8), and on the inadequacy of current authoring tools (page 11), which identify some of the specific barriers we need to address.

If you have comments or opinions on this report, or on the broader issue of accessibility when it comes to open education and open publishing, I’d really like to hear. Tweet us @rebusfdn or email me directly, so we can continue the conversation.

Authorship and Accessibility in the Digital Age: An Authors Alliance, Silicon Flatirons, and Berkeley Center for Law & Technology Roundtable Report (Sept. 2018)

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