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Assessing accessibility: Digital Accessibility/UX Intern and librarian, Iman Wright, discusses her work and experiences at Elsevier and beyond

November 11, 2021 | 6 min read

By Library Connect, Iman Wright

woman working at the computer

Digital Accessibility/UX Intern provides insights into creating more inclusive resources.

As the Digital Accessibility/UX Intern for the Digital Accessibility Team at Elsevier for the past several months, Iman Wright has helped provide feedback to improve Elsevier’s internal and external services. Iman is also a librarian. She received her MLIS with a concentration in Information Science and Technology from Simmons University in Spring 2021.

Iman Wright had her first hands-on experience with digital accessibility after she noticed an error and proactively emailed the library at Simmons University. Iman, who is legally blind, uses a screen reader to navigate the internet. “While taking a summer class in 2020, I noticed the link for the database page on the main library website was not labeled properly,” Iman pointed out. This interaction led the library to consider the accessibility of their site and pushed them to advocate for an internship to assess further. At the Simmons Library’s Systems and Web Application Office, Iman “performed audits and determined how accessible the websites were for Simmons Library,” specifically navigating with a screen reader. To determine if a website is accessible to those who are blind/low vision, Iman reviews all aspects of the web page, including links and images to make sure she can understand the contents. “I was given a checklist that I had to use against the websites within Simmons Library,” Iman said. “I checked using a variety of browsers like Edge, Chrome, Firefox and Apple’s Safari using screen readers such as JAWS and Voice Over. I did this using Windows 10 and Mac OSX laptops, and the iPhone.”

Image of Iman Wright

Iman Wright

What is JAWS?

Job Access With Speech or JAWS is a screen reader software program used by blind or visually impaired individuals to access computer software and websites. A screen reader, also known as a text to speech or assistive technology, converts the rendered source code of a webpage into a Braille or verbal output.

image of Jaws screen reader logo

When reviewing websites, Iman comes across a variety of common accessibility errors. These can include missing or unhelpful alternative text for images, poorly labeled or ambiguous links, and mis-formatted headings and paragraphs. On the Simmons Library site, Iman noted another common mistake: “I recommended a change in color contrast (with light blue and dark blue menus for the main library page).” The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)(opens in new tab/window) state that colors must have a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1. These guidelines can provide guidance when putting together web pages to make them accessible to the widest range of users.

As the first intern in the Systems and Web Applications office, Iman said, “my presence represented diversity and inclusion—as a black woman who is legally blind.” Her time as an intern “was both a teaching and a learning experience for me and my colleagues.” She suggested further that “Simmons consider doing usability sessions with patrons who are blind” going forward. Iman also reflected on the experience: “I learned how invaluable my participation was as I performed audits and determined how accessible the websites were for Simmons Library.” Her experience at the Systems and Web Application Office made Iman a great fit for the digital accessibility and UX internship in the Digital Accessibility Team at Elsevier. The Digital Accessibility Team provides product development support and education surrounding tools and accessibility techniques. The team works with both internal and external groups to build accessible digital publishing and product compliance among many other efforts. “Accessibility is one of those universal competencies which impacts nearly every department in the company and is growing globally as society embraces inclusion,” said Ted Gies, Manager, Digital Accessibility Team, Elsevier.

Since starting in July at Elsevier, Iman has worked on several websites and resources to assess their accessibility features. Iman’s experience as a new employee helps shine a new light on usability and accessibility issues for employee resources and onboarding processes.

In particular, Iman provided accessibility feedback on an internal onboarding webinar series. She noted the use of color contrast for the presentation: “the black, orange and white worked well as a low vision viewer.” There were also some areas for improvement: “The accessibility issues I encountered were related to real-time activities like matching words with the correct images,” and, “there were the occasional audio and technical issues that were encountered when in smaller group sessions." Iman also suggested ways to improve the experience for blind/low vision individuals: “people [could] state their names when speaking at the start,” and “provide the materials needed ahead of the seminar.” This feedback was shared with the creators of the resource, so that improvements can be made.

Iman also provided crucial feedback for external products and services. One project that piqued her interest was the auditing of eyeWitness to atrocities(opens in new tab/window), an app developed for individuals to record crimes of atrocity to be used as evidence in a Court of Law. Iman said, “It was really important to me to contribute to something [this] vital.” Going through the app, Iman found that it was difficult to set up her phone’s camera using a screen reader. Iman noted a possible reason that screen reader capability may not have been previously considered: “I don’t think many people know that someone who is legally blind or who has low vision can also be a photographer.”

Improve your website’s accessibility with these tips:

  • Always create alternative text (alt-text) for images

  • Make sure you have at least a 4.5:1 color contrast ratio between text and background color

  • If there is video or audio, make sure to include closed captioning and a transcript

  • Use descriptive text for links which describe a topic or purpose

  • Use the Elsevier Accessibility Checklist(opens in new tab/window) to provide greater insight into the most relevant accessibility guidelines

Iman also assessed key research databases including ScienceDirect and Scopus. Product managers especially responded well to hearing about new opportunities for optimizing their applications for use with a screen reader.

In addition to using her expertise and skills to better improve services, Iman has spent time furthering her skills and attending meetings with librarians to learn more about career paths and opportunities. One such meeting was with a group of fellow librarians who are sight impaired. Iman received “advice from a perspective that I had never considered before,” Iman said. “As we discussed discrimination due to disability during the interview process, and the decision to disclose one’s disability, [a librarian] said to let them discriminate because in doing so I would learn about their company’s culture and weed them out as a place where I wouldn’t want to work.”

As Iman’s internship ends, she discussed her experience and plans: “My internship with Elsevier has provided me with a wealth of information and has given me new networking opportunities to advance web accessibility and library science. During my internship, I was allowed to explore areas that were of interest to me, such as the health sciences and podcasting, that I can use to further my career. I will continue to develop my skills to further my ultimate goal of working within information technology in corporate America.”