Supporting a Commitment to Accessibility

A word cloud with such words as: accessibility, PDF, ADA, WCAG2.0, user experience, assistive technology, etc.

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Background

The University of Michigan Library has declared Accessibility is a strategic direction. The library maintains, and creates, a massive amount of content. It can’t feasibly be remediated all at once. As an intrinsic goal of the Library system, how then do we focus our efforts?

Because the Library not only holds but also creates content, we also need to address materials created by colleague units in the future. This can be done by working with colleagues to make sure materials are created with accessibility in mind, so they will be usable for all patrons.

Our team focuses on digital materials. This type of team can gather digital materials existing from collections in the library, creating more accessible versions of them with a long-term project management style; at the same time the team can field requests to remediate content from patrons and colleagues as one-off, short-term projects. This approach ensures that we meet the immediate needs of students, faculty, and staff who encounter barriers. It also allows us to strategically improve the accessibility of content over time.

In addition to the active remediation efforts of this team, the team can also offer training videos, meetings, and documentation on remediating content and guidance for creating materials so they are born more accessible. Much like the active remediation the team performs, this can be managed with documentation and by-request meetings designed to raise awareness and build understanding about processes, tools, and best practices to aid in the creation of materials.

The Accessibility Remediation Program

In September of 2020, during the still early throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Accessibility Remediation Program was created as a prototype unit working under the Accessibility Strategist & Librarian for Disability Studies. Its goal is to provide services to students, faculty, staff and partner Library units aimed at remediating existing content in the Library Collections. The team is also taking steps to help Library partners make sure their future created content is as accessible as possible.

The Team

The team consists of  two core members, supported by student specialists. The students have been truly excellent, not only helping with the content remediation processes and doing the bulk of the actual work when we receive a request but also in the creation of our processes and documentation, the testing of tools. 

  • Faculty Leader: Stephanie Rosen, Accessibility Strategist & Librarian for Disability Studies
  • Project Manager: Bryan Birchmeier, Project Manager in Learning & Teaching (50%), Intellectual Property Coordinator in Publishing (50%)
  • Students: Sammy Sussman, Sharon Ma

Services

Proactive Remediation

The team works regularly on projects for colleague units providing forms of remediation which are designed to assist the most users/patrons. For example the team worked with Deep Blue Repository and Research Data Services (DBRRDS) to identify items in the repository which, if made more accessible, would have the biggest impact for users. Together, we created a workflow, and then worked with the DBRRDS team again to refine that workflow to yield better results.

Reactive Remediation

While the long-term focus of the team is to identify and remediate the Library’s digital collections efficiently, one of the most useful services we offer to both patrons and to our colleagues is the remediation of materials by-request. For example, we provided post-production captioning services for the Library's A-V support team after they recorded a Library Douglass Day Celebration event.

We also continue to find opportunities to share our expertise with colleagues, independent of working on a request for remediation.

Assessing Our Work and Needs

We’ve always wanted to assess as much of our work as possible so we could continue to improve what we do and add to the services we provide when appropriate. The Accessibility Remediation Program assesses work being done by the team in order to improve processes, take feedback, and evaluate our tools and processes.

Methods

For both proactive and reactive remediation, the team gathers feedback through a Qualtrics ‘exit’ survey which gathers quantitative feedback about work performed and also descriptive feedback about the work performed, the team, and the user’s needs. I match these survey results to either tickets in the management system (JIRA) which we implement, or to our own project trackers if the feedback is for a longer term project. Combined, the survey system and ticket system track the following:

  • How long the work takes to complete
  • How much longer the work takes (if applicable) than the agreed upon time.
  • Whether the requestor was satisfied with the work
  • How often the requestor or their unit receive requests to make materials more accessible
  • Any ideas the requestor may have to improve the process or the delivered materials
  • Whether the requestor identifies as student, faculty, or staff
  • The requesting unit, or the requestor’s unit membership
  • The accessibility goals or requirements of the requestor’s unit

Internally, every member of the team has agency to evaluate and bring concerns to the rest of the team about one of our tools or processes, or the documentation regarding those tools. For tools we’re satisfied with, we usually only revisit them when a process is being altered to check if they still match well with that process. 

Frequency, Results, Findings

Out of 22 surveys sent after completed tickets thus far, 12 have been returned. As far as the surveys are concerned, based on information from past respondents and some assumptions it seems that the slightly higher than 50% response rate is mainly due to surveys timing out after 30 days of no response.

Every one of the returned responses to the survey shows satisfaction with the work performed; and nearly every response shows satisfaction with the communication provided, and timeliness of the delivered files. If the team is able to consult in any way with requestors, a deadline is typically reached for delivery of the remediated materials. According to the results exported from JIRA, and supported by the data from the ‘exit’ surveys, all but one request has had its expected delivery date met by the team thus far; the only request not meeting the requestor-proposed deadline was the very first requested project. The breadth of work covered by these tickets spans from lighter weight work captioning a short video, to providing full structural and descriptive metadata tagging of a major PDF report in the form of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality Report

Acting on Assessment

Most of the actions taken as a result of our  assessment have been tool- and process- oriented as the team is still only beginning its second year of service for the Library.

Service Assessment

We’re approaching the first agreed upon time for our team to have a look at the assessment survey results and data from our tickets to make changes to how our processes function. The research for this post was an excellent opportunity to get an early look at that, and it's been encouraging to see the overwhelmingly positive results of the surveys and the relative lack of delays in getting remediation finished in time for requesters. The student specialists are entirely to thank for that as they do the largest share of the work when it comes to processing files and performing work that winds up being delivered back to the requestors. While our team will review these findings as a whole, there may be no major cause for adjustments to the way our processes work.

Internal Assessment

We are continually working as a team to assess our own tools and workflows; working behind the scenes to research and develop new practices. Final decisions on tools and processes remain with the Faculty lead and Project Manager but having the entire team involved in the evaluation of a process or tool has helped greatly.

We’re currently working on evaluation of a tool we’ve been using to remediate PDFs which is supplied by a vendor and paid for by the University. Because this tool frankly doesn’t provide support for at least two features that a tool of its type needs to create accessible PDFs, and some other bugs and difficulties, we’re not likely to use this tool much in the future. However, through our team’s open discussion of the tool’s usefulness we decided as a group to keep the tool for specific uses and update our documentation and processes to reflect those changes.

Accessibility Remediation Program 1.1

As the Accessibility Remediation Team moves into its second full year of operation and we look to expand both the size of the team and the services and number of colleagues we work with, we’re also looking at ways of increasing our use of assessment to gauge our work in these areas. Ideally we want to be able to expand our assessment to not only what we have done and what we are doing, but also what we can help with in the future. The end goal (which is a rather large unicorn) would be an accurate assessment of the digital collections, repositories, publications and other created content in the Library. Over time we would like assessment to point us to colleagues we could work with to make the best impact of remediation for accessibility for the community.