Accessibility of your writing or presentation is more than just about the technical level. How it can be accessed in terms of where it is located, the format of text and diagrams, the language and overall FAIRness of the communication all need to be considered.
FAIR stands for findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable and you can find out more in our sub-chapter sub-chapter on The FAIR Principles.
Where you communicate#
Where your research is communicated and how much it costs will have an impact on its accessibility. Most communications to wider audiences will be free to access as they will be distributed online, which makes them even more impactful. However, many scientific articles are not accessible even to researchers because they are behind paywalls. A paywall is the restricting of access to content through a one off payment or subscription cost. You can find out more about paywals by watching the movie Paywall.
The cost of academic books is also exclusionary. They often cost five times more than popular novels, although there is a growing movement towards open access e-books.
Conference and workshop fees can exclude some researchers. While you may not have control over conference access, you can share your conference presentations and posters on an open repository which will widen their accessibility. You may also consider recording your presentations and making them available online.
If you are organising an event, you can make an effort to reduce the costs or offer grants to certain individuals to ensure that your event is accessible.
You can try to make your outputs freely available by publishing them in an online repository such as Zenodo, Figshare or Open Science Framework. This will allow your content to be accessed by a larger audience and consequently have a greater impact.
You need to consider how those with disabilities can fully access your communications.
Often the text in academic publications is accessible but the images and figures are not.
The colour of images needs to be considered for people with colour blindness and it is a must to include alternative text for all images. Also, consider what format is best for screen readers.
There are features you can use within most word processing and presentation software that can help you to edit your documents in this manner. These include being able to add alt text to any images and using the specific headings to help a screen reader move to different sections.
Microsoft Office has an accessibility checker so you can easily run this feature when your document or presentation is completed and make adjustments.
For more information about accessibility see Ability Net and their guide to creating accessible documents.
There is also a useful blog about alternative text and you can find out more in this useful introduction to alt text by Webaim.
English is considered the academic language and we should be careful to make sure that all our outputs are accessible in this language. Outputs should be written straightforwardly to make them more accessible to those with English as a second language.
However, not all communications should be in English. Researchers need to consider the wider audience of their communications. There may be a specific community with another language that needs to be engaged fully in the research and therefore communications should be translated.
Global research communities should also consider translating key documents into additional languages as has been done for our project README file.
It is worth considering applying the FAIR principles to all the science communications that you deposit in open repositories, such as conference presentations and posters, as this will make them more sustainable.
Tips to apply the FAIR principles to training materials by Garcia et al (2020) [GBB+20] can be easily adapted for this purpose.
Find out more in our sub-chapter on The FAIR Principles.