Amnet: Most publishers are not engaging authors to provide alt text. What are your thoughts on having an author do that?
Evan: Alt text is more about experience than it is about the content. We want to make sure that the screen reader user will have an equivalent experience as a normal user when consuming an image. Authors are great at describing the content, but not always great at creating an equivalent experience.
Amnet: And Matt, are you guys repurposing your alt text on future books?
Matt: Yes, we only write new alt text or revisions where the illustration has changed.
Amnet: Are you archiving your alt text within the source files or spreadsheets?
Evan: Mainly in spreadsheets.
Amnet: Is W. W. Norton’s website accessible?
Matt: The website definitely has some accessibility issues. Our accessibility team is currently in the redesign phase of the website’s development.
Amnet: And, you’re involved in that process, Matt?
Matt: I’m starting to be involved with the redesign. Prior to joining Norton, I worked as a web accessibility consultant and a large portion of my job involved conducting web accessibility audits.
Amnet: In the next six to twelve months, do you plan to apply technology to develop solutions in any specific business areas? And is accessibility part of the consideration?
Evan: We’re definitely interested in technology solutions for accessibility. I’m running the lab now as well, so that’s a pretty high priority for me, finding technology options for accessibility to reduce the rate of error or the possibility for humans to make mistakes. One of the big areas where we’re looking into using technology is adding more integration tests to all of our software, especially for accessibility, primarily using Deque’s aXe. The DAISY Consortium’s Ace tool runs aXe tests against EPUB files, which has been very helpful for us.
Amnet: Have you been experimenting with that?
Evan: Oh, yeah, I actually had a tool that I was working on which was very, very similar to Ace, but I’ve since abandoned it since Ace is so well-maintained.
Amnet: Okay, one last question. What are some of your pain points with accessibility, and how you might want to start exploring how to resolve them?
Matt: A lot of our pain points will somewhat subside by themselves in the coming months or years because a lot of pain points arise from bad legacy content. Also, a lot of people approach accessibility through the remediation mind-set, but we’re finally getting over that hill of constantly having to kind of go back and fix things as we have accessibility integrated into the workflow, and there are constant checks throughout the production process versus just a last check. We’ve really put it in our culture. There are still some growing pains that I think will start to lessen over time.
Amnet: So, your content is becoming truly born accessible at this point.
Evan: Yeah, we’re definitely getting there. The biggest barrier to that comes from workflow issues; for instance, if accessibility is not involved in the initial development of new material, chances are something’s going to go wrong. Nothing is made accessible accidentally. So, I think that’s a big pain point, trying to figure out how to get people involved early on to create a horizontal of accessibility throughout the production process. It’s how we approach accessibility throughout. Aside from that, honestly, the biggest pain point is finding good alt text authors, people who can do it well and at a reasonable price. It’s really a specialized skill. I always say that alt text is the hardest part of accessibility; we can add the correct ARIA attributes, improve the markup to make complex widgets and all of that fancy stuff. But writing good alt text? That’s hard.
W. W. Norton’s commitment to accessibility is woven into the fabric of their learning materials, development processes, innovation efforts, and employee culture. They work closely with key members of the disability community and organizations such as W3C and BISG, who are committed to creating accessible instructional materials. Norton’s staff contributes time, expertise, and creativity to move accessibility forward and help people make progress in their lives through learning.
Amnet would like to thank W. W. Norton and their accessibility staff for sharing their time and experiences, and for partnering with us to make their educational material accessible to all users.
Disclaimer: This is to inform readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author, and do not reflect the views of Amnet.