APS News

Journals Aim to Improve Access for the Blind

APS journals are developing ways to improve the journals’ accessibility to blind people and others with print disabilities while adding enriched content for all users.

Bob Kelly, APS Director of Journal Information Services, is working on converting APS journal articles to a universally accessible format that would give added information to the screen readers that disabled people use to read the content. This could make it possible, for example, for blind people to print graphics in tactile form.

Journals have been structured  and typeset to be read on paper, not to be listened to. Most online content has sophisticated tagging and metadata to enhance the content and make it navigable, but most images and graphs lack metadata and aren’t searchable. The APS journals currently use XML/MathML formatting for text and equations with figures in Postscript. Kelly is now working on making equations and images in a universally accessible format.

Kelly teamed up with John Gardner, a blind physicist at Oregon State and founder of ViewPlus technologies, which makes products such as Braille printers for people with print disabilities.

By using a new enhanced format for figures, a graph that otherwise is completely inaccessible to a blind user could be made accessible. For instance, a sight-impaired user could feel the slopes of lines on the graph, from an embossed printer, and listen to the software read out values of data points. Graphics with this added information would also be easier to work with, edit, and integrate with text. Sighted physicists might also find the technology useful. For example, a computer could read aloud the information contained in a graph while the scientist looks at something else, such as an experimental instrument.

Switching to universally accessible format could also make it easier to add enriched content such as interactive data, figures, and equations that all users could benefit from.

Kelly and Gardner have demonstrated a proof of concept, using files from one of the APS journals to show that APS journals could be published in a universally accessible format (DAISY, Digital Accessible Information System) for very little cost. A DAISY format would make possible improved navigation for sight-impaired people.

They have presented the proof of concept at several scholarly publishing conferences. “It was overwhelmingly positively received in the publishing community,” said Kelly.

Next, software and procedures must be developed. Kelly has been working with the typesetting vendors to develop the software and composition protocols needed.

When the new accessible format is implemented, APS journal users will still be able to read APS journal articles online with a standard browser, and sight-impaired people will be able to navigate articles with a DAISY reader.

APS expects to offer one of its journals with this universally accessible option in 2010. Further enhancements will continue to be developed.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Science Writing Intern: Nadia Ramlagan