The Value of Comparing Oranges to Oranges

Evaluating digital resources can mean looking at usage statistics and licenses, assessing the value of package deals in relation to how frequently library users access this content. However, libraries are beginning to add one more important criteria to this evaluation process—accessibility. This can mean looking at platforms and evaluating discoverability of content as well as the accessibility of the PDFs—can a screen reader navigate to a desired title and successfully read the downloaded file? These evaluations can be conducted with the use of open-source screen-reader simulator tools such as FANGS or HTML CodeSniffer, among others, which don’t require advanced technical knowledge to use. While some research libraries in the United States and Canada have started to evaluate their own resources by employing in-house expertise or hiring external contractors, many are turning to new tools to aid in their procurement decisions.

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) was developed by the Information Technology Industry Council for use when procuring goods or services. This is a vendor-generated document that is designed to assist procurement offices in making more informed decisions when considering compliance with Section 508 standards. Vendors are encouraged to complete these templates and make them available on their websites or on request. Research libraries in the United States and Canada have begun to ask their vendors for these documents as they make procurement decisions.

The value of this template is further reinforced by the newly established VPAT Repository, which compiles existing VPAT documents from vendors who have granted permission to share these. This project is supported by the Libraries for Universal Accessibility, known simply as “LUA”—a community comprised of librarians and accessibility advocates that was established in 2010 at an American Library Association conference in Washington, DC. LUA is dedicated to maintaining an active dialogue about inclusive libraries, promoting existing resources, and developing new tools.

Across the border, the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) new Accessibility Community is hard at work on developing an Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) vendor template, which will draw on the VPAT template, cross-referencing the two legislations and identifying common requirements. This will make it easier for libraries to “compare oranges to oranges” when evaluating the accessibility of digital resources.

Katya Pereyaslavska is the Scholars Portal accessibility librarian at the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) and the University of Toronto Libraries (UTL), a position she has held for almost three years. She currently serves as an ARL visiting program officer (VPO), working with the  Accessibility and Universal Design Working Group.