Coffee Chat Recap: Accessibility and Web Archiving

By: Kiera Sullivan and Lydia Tang

The Web Archiving and Accessibility & Disability sections co-hosted an engaging coffee chat about accessibility and web archiving on May 19, 2021. Dr. Lydia Tang, Immediate Past Chair of A&DS, gave a talk on accessibility tools, accessible web design, and web archiving. Big thanks to Dr. Tang for her presentation (view her slides!), and also to everyone who attended, asked questions, and shared their thoughts.

Dr. Tang’s presentation highlighted the idea of designing accessibility from the very beginning. She pointed out that the way a website is designed will affect how a screen reader navigates the content. Consider the web content that we collect – or may one day collect – in our web archiving activities. How accessible are archived websites for screen readers? They are only as accessible as they were created – which has been an evolving concept for developers.  Can or should we attempt to remediate inaccessible archived websites? Further, how accessible are the platforms that we use to keep our web archives, and how about our own websites?

The good news is this is one wheel we do not need to reinvent. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has published a series of web accessibility guidelines. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is an industry-standard that is continually being updated, and it is a tremendous resource for making web content accessible to all users. As archivists we cultivate expertise in preserving material and making it accessible, whatever the format. If web content is one of the formats we work with, perhaps it is a professional duty to learn to recognize the components of the websites with which we engage and which we collect. These guidelines are an excellent place to start. Additionally, there are a number of groups that work on building resources, training, and awareness of accessibility best practices, such as the DLF Digital Accessibility Working Group and the Society of American Archivists’ Accessibility & Disability Section.

Dr. Tang shared her go-to tool for evaluating web accessibility: the WAVE tool, which she uses regularly as a browser extension for Chrome. Using WAVE, she demonstrated how easy it is to analyze a website for automatically detected errors such as missing alt-text, contrast issues, and other under-the-hood issues that might not be apparent but could greatly impact the website experience for people using screen readers and other assistive technology. It certainly isn’t a catch-all but is at least a big first step. She also shared other tools and resources, including WebAIM’s Contrast Checker, and a variety of assistive tech programs to try out – see her slides for a list of these!

One powerful takeaway from the conversation was the idea that we need to encourage and facilitate a culture of accessibility in our workplaces. Accessibility should be a regular component of our usual discussions about workflows and projects. It means thinking about the tools and templates that we use, becoming familiar with their accessibility features, and improving our own use of them. Coffee chat attendees shared their ideas for how we can achieve this, including playing around with dark mode, high contrast mode, and color schemes on our websites. The discussion also included looking at a WARC file together and questioning whether WARCs preserve alt-text and other accessibility features of a website.  We wrapped up the hour by considering whether accessibility statements – incorporated in the Conditions Governing Access note or a similar note – should be a required element for descriptive standards.

Did you attend this coffee chat? Have any afterthoughts, questions, or key takeaways that you would like to share? Please feel free to drop your thoughts in the comment section of this post. Do you belong to an SAA section that might be interested in co-hosting a coffee chat with the Web Archiving section? Let us know!

What coffee chat conversations would YOU like to see the Web Archiving section take part in? Leave your suggestions in the comments or reach out to any of the steering committee members with your ideas!