In accessible publishing, earning our role as pioneer and leader

Next steps include involving more users with disabilities in the design and testing of new products

Ted GiesTripp NarupAt the London Book Fair last month, Elsevier won the 2016 Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) International Excellence Award for Accessible Publishing in the Publisher category for “providing outstanding leadership and achievements in advancing the accessibility of commercial e-books or other digital publications for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled.”

In this article, two of Elsevier’s accessibility leaders – Principal User Experience Specialist Ted Gies and Global Archive Manager Tripp Narup – write about Elsevier’s initiatives to make content accessible to people with print disabilities.

At Elsevier, we believe everyone should be able to benefit from the scholarly knowledge and scientific and medical discoveries we publish. In fact, we provide an accessible format for 100 percent of our journal and book titles. For example:

  • All Elsevier books published since 2007 were developed in XML first, allowing us to create accessible HTML and EPUB3 versions with usability features designed for the widest population.
  • On ScienceDirect, we have over 2,500 journals and 34,000 books books in an accessible HTML format – that’s 20 percent of the world’s STM research.
  • Elsevier produces more than 1,200 nursing videos as companion products to our nursing books. All videos offer at least a text transcript, and all 128 videos in the Essentials module – the most important nursing skills within fundamentals and health assessment – have an audio description track and closed captioning.
  • Our Digital Books Archive fulfills over 4,600 alternative file requests a year for disability services offices around the world, delivering them the same day we receive them.

International text and symbols are used to indicate web-accessibility features. (Source: <a target="_blank" href="">ScienceDirect blog</a>)There is a reason for these impressive statistics: Elsevier was a pioneer in content accessibility. As a founding member of the AccessText Network, we have been providing alternative formats to disability service offices since 1999. We were one of the first publishers to embrace EPUB3 as our preferred accessible multi-channel delivery format. We are very active in the International Publishers Association rights holder accessibility group, advocating within the international publishing community for inclusive publishing. And we were first to sign the Accessible Books Consortium Charter for Accessible Publishing. In addition Elsevier created the publicly available Accessibility Checklist tool, which helps simplify the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and US 508 guidelines.

We’re honored for being recognized for our leadership in inclusive publishing, and it gives us a chance to highlight just how much progress is being made in this field.

The ABC Award was presented by Michelle Woods, Deputy Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization, whose organization leads the Accessible Books Consortium.

One of the people who accepted the award was Dr. Alicia Wise, Director of Access and Policy for Elsevier, who has a special appreciation for its significance due to her own personal experience. During a video interview at the London Book Fair, she shared her enthusiasm for the award and the importance of accessibility:

That means our books are available to people who are blind or have dyslexia. Those people will be better able to become engineers or physicists or chemists or doctors and nurses … which is really, really cool.

Dr. Marcia Balisciano, Director of Corporate Responsibility for RELX Group, credited our colleagues across the business who prioritize accessibility so all users have the ability to access our material.

Michele Woods (center), Director of the World Intellectual Property Organization's Copyright Law Division, with Dr. Alicia Wise (left) and Dr. Marcia Balisciano (right) of Elsevier’s parent company, RELX Group, accepting the ABC International Excellence Award for Accessible Publishing, Publisher Category, for Elsevier. (Photo: London Book Fair)

What’s next in accessibility?

The award comes on the heels of another record-breaking year for accessibility at Elsevier. With new tools, training, text alternatives for figures and images, closed captions and audio descriptions, we are responding to the wider array of customers seeking accessibility. Elsevier has a new employee site, Elsevier Accessibility, the primary hub for relevant accessibility policies, guidelines, services, educational resources and tools. We also offer a new eCourse for employees on web accessibility fundamentals.

This year, we’re involving more users with disabilities in the design and testing phases of product development. We are also expanding our efforts to support dozens of platforms adopting accessibility. Elsevier platforms ranging from ScienceDirect to Sherpath, the adaptive learning solution for nursing, all benefit from the early testing using assistive technology such as screen readers. We know customers want accessible solutions, so we have designed our development process to incorporate accessibility as a business-as-usual component.

Collaboration and openness

Elsevier has always preferred to work with vendors and partners who adhere to the highest accessibility standards, and we will continue to promote their adoption. Collaborating with external partners has become part of our accessibility mantra and is specifically mentioned as a guiding principle in our company’s accessibility policy. Recently Elsevier partnered with Bookshare and Load2Learn to increase the availability of our books to people with print disabilities.

With web platforms, our in-house experts have successfully helped companies such as Highcharts, the leading chart library company, to incorporate web content accessibility into their products. We presented the accessible chart work at CSUN 2016, the premier international conference for technology for people with disabilities.

Customers or users interested in collaborating on improving accessibility of our platforms, books, journals can contact us anytime through

Accessibility is a convergence of quality and usability and an opportunity to expand our offerings to everyone in the international reading community regardless of ability. There is an undeniable long-term benefit of Elsevier’s accessibility efforts: our customers all over the world can more easily reach their full potential.

Related resources

Elsevier Connect Contributors

As a Principal User Experience Specialist at Elsevier, Ted Gies @tedgies1 leads a companywide initiative around web accessibility. For over 10 years, he has worked to help teams understand how to integrate accessibility into development, messaging, sales materials and user experience. Ted leads the Elsevier Accessibility Collaboration Group, manages the Tiered Accessibility Model for Elsevier, and has helped craft the company’s accessibility policies.

Tripp Narup is the manager of Elsevier’s Global Books Digital Archive, based in St. Louis. His department handles over 4,600 alternate file requests for disability services offices worldwide. Tripp also coordinates the Operations division’s efforts to bring alt text and closed captions to Elsevier products.

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