Access Is Essential!, Part 2

Online Access
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by Shana Scott

As I outlined in my last post, the purpose of preservation is to protect an object, document, or other material and ensure it lasts for future generations to see and use. I talked about accessibility and what it means for all types of people accessing physical collections.

Here’s a statement that very likely won’t surprise you coming from a digitization firm: Digitization enhances accessibility. At least, it does when fully utilized. Here’s how.

Digitization Facilitates Non-Physical Access

In Part 1, I discussed some of the ways institutions are meeting the needs of people with disabilities by adjusting physical access.

But since 2020, for visitors of all types, physical access just isn’t reliable anymore. For many institutions, the limitations introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic have created an urgency to provide access online.

Ask yourself: how preserved is an object, document, or other material if it cannot be seen or used by anyone?

That’s where digitization comes in.

A digitized collection might mimic the experience of walking through a museum or strolling through library stacks. Information and items are presented in collections, and if a user desires, they can be examined closely without the physical restrictions of location or environment. But another way that digitization facilitates access is by taking that experience to the next level.

Imagine that museum or library walk again. If a user wanted to search a collection for a single name, print a copy, or quickly switch to a related item, those actions require multiple steps in the physical realm. In digital spaces, however, faceted, full-text search can be built into the user experience.

Digitization, Combined with Accessibility Features, Makes Collections Accessible to People with Visual Impairment

Whether users have limited eyesight or use tools like a screen reader, a digitized collection can become accessible to people with visual impairments through a website or database. Having these accessibility features built into a website not only assists those who need additional functionality, but also those who want to take a closer look, use search, or simply enjoy customizing their browsing experience.
If your collection needs to meet ADA compliance, take special notes of requirements and be sure to plan to meet them from the ground up.
Adjust brightness
Many sites offer “light mode” and “dark mode.” Some even provide several color options or a brightness scale to customize viewing.
Adjust font and image size
Modern browsers often have functions that allow for zooming in on a page, but it is always best practice to integrate these controls into the website itself. That way you can ensure that the results appear to users how you want them to.
Accessibility fonts
Some people have difficulty reading certain fonts. Providing font alternatives natively or via a plugin is a great and easy way to aide users.
Full-text OCR or transcription
Whether a user desires to search a document or uses a screen reader to translate words on a page to audio, an image of a document alone will not suffice. Fortunately, optical character recognition (OCR), when augmented by human corrections and manual transcriptions, turns text from the image into readable information.
Image descriptions
Even sighted users not relying on a screen reader’s audio description can benefit from image descriptions. These pieces of embedded text describe information that is conveyed visibly. They can also describe context, effects or techniques used, and details that hurried users might otherwise miss. Image descriptions also improve a website’s search engine optimization (SEO).

How Can I Enhance My Collection’s Digital Accessibility?

Beyond building a digital exhibit with accessibility features in mind, several factors impact whether an audience can access your digital collection. Ask yourself:

  1. Can Users of All Abilities Navigate My Digital Exhibit?
    Refine your user experience by utilizing the access features outlined above, and test the collection’s website using heat mapping to see where users give up and leave the site. Look at everything from complicated and confusing menu structures to simple interactions, such as making sure buttons link to the pages they should.
  2. Can Users Discover My Digital Exhibit Via a Search Engine?
    Research ways to boost SEO or tie the collection to other digital libraries. Solicit press. Take the opportunity to promote your online collection through other channels, like your organization’s social media accounts.
  3. Does My Digital Exhibit Add Value to Existing Digital Material?
    Break your collection out into interactive pieces, and explore transformative uses of the materials. Turn something dry into something impactful by connecting it to relevant historical or current events topics. Use your digital exhibits to share material that doesn’t otherwise exist online.

On the other hand, you may find yourself wanting to address the questions above while simultaneously gating some pieces of the collection behind a paywall or membership login. Offering the three points outlined in the publicly accessible portion of your website encourages users to take the next step and sign up. This can increase your audience as well as your revenue.

Whether people accessing your collection need additional accommodations or not, digitization can open doors to new audiences and make exploring and sharing your collection easier.

If you’re ready to go digital, take advantage of our free collection consultation, and let’s learn where your collection can go, together.

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