RLI 281 25 DECEMBER 2012 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A QUARTERLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC Universal Design, Inclusive Design, Accessibility, and Usability D igital content cannot be assumed to be accessible to assistive or adaptive technologies such as text-to-speech screen readers. Early PDFs that still populate library websites and databases were often image-only files, and some software will not recognize columns in articles nor translate charts, graphs, and figures into something meaningful and accurate. Crowded database search screens with image-only buttons for critical navigation or access to full text have similarly been problematic. But even as some problems are solved, others are created if accessibility is not an upfront consideration. E-books are a key example. The primary factors that have excluded visually impaired users from the e-book revolution are the use of file formats that cannot be read by the technologies used by the blind DRM schemes that prevent such technology from accessing these files and proprietary e-book reading software or devices that the blind cannot use. E-books, which hold the promise of truly equal access by the blind to all printed information, are in serious danger of becoming an even greater barrier to such access.47 In a Canadian study of students using screen readers to use popular library databases, the authors found significant barriers to discovery and full-text access. Studies have shown that information literacy is a critical element in fostering problem solving and independent learning in higher education students…The question this study asked was whether the barriers in database design can affect a student’s information gathering process. The results would point to yes, the first step in information literacy— the ability to critically locate and select appropriate articles is being compromised. The students in our study were forced to abandon articles because of technological barriers and this limited the amount of resources they could use to write their assignments. Only the intervention of a librarian or peer would have allowed them to continue in locating the full text and reading the article. Their self-efficacy as independent learners is challenged every time they encounter an unreadable PDF or take up to eight hours to find four articles.48 Universal design is a concept that originated in architecture and the built environment. Perhaps its most cited example and metaphor is the curb cut, mandated and designed for wheelchairs but appreciated by anyone with a stroller, shopping cart, bicycle, or rolling suitcase. “Similarly, text captions of speech in videos were intended for individuals who are hard of hearing or deaf, but the primary users are patrons at noisy sports bars and fitness centers and spouses who wish to continue watching television while their spouse sleeps. In addition to being more sustainable, integrated accessibility features are also far less costly in the long run and, according to a study by Microsoft, are used by up to 67% of users.”49 Retrofitting technology, like architecture, is far more expensive than planning for inclusion by design. “The cost of accessibility when carefully planned and designed is almost zero…However, often extreme
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