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A partnership between UK Libraries, the Center for the Enhancement of Learning & Teaching (CELT), and Emily DeWitt, a Lecturer in the Department of Dietetics & Human Nutrition, has resulted in the creation of a new tool for library users who use screen readers. 

Close collaboration among several UK Libraries units led to the rapid development and launch of a widget that significantly improves the user-friendliness of UK Libraries’ primary search tool, InfoKat Discovery

During the Fall 2023 semester, DeWitt worked closely with CELT’s Senior Universal Design Consultant, Dr. Jennifer Pusateri, to adapt her course materials to accommodate a student who used a screen reader. 

“Students in the course are expected to complete essays that need peer-reviewed sources to support their work,” said DeWitt. “We quickly discovered that while UK Libraries has accessible resources built into their licenses and screen reader-friendly databases, there was no easy way for my student to filter searches by ‘peer-reviewed sources.’” 

InfoKat works with screen readers but navigating search results can be difficult, said Systems Librarian Jason Griffith. “When using a screen reader, reaching the portion of the screen where search results can be filtered requires an excessive amount of tabbing. It was not a workable solution for anyone trying to access library materials.”

After encountering this obstacle, Pusateri connected DeWitt with UK Libraries Liaison Coordinator Helen Bischoff. Bischoff then assembled a team of Griffith, Head of Electronic Resources Jen Montavon-Green, and Library Discovery Systems Coordinator Daniel Naas.

The team immediately went to work building a custom system that allows an InfoKat search to go straight to pre-filtered, peer-reviewed results. After DeWitt’s first contact with the Libraries on Oct. 2, the fully-operational widget was developed, user-tested, and delivered on Oct. 30. 

“The widget was really helpful,” said DeWitt. “It saved my student time and allowed her the opportunity to have the same experience as her peers when searching for peer-reviewed sources.”

“Our goal is to make the system work for the user, so the user doesn’t have to make the system work for them,” said Griffith. “We do usability testing for all of our discovery systems, but we don’t always see the practical issues until someone reports them. This is why it’s so important to have someone like Helen to reach out to.”

While designed for users who employ screen readers for visual impairments or dyslexia, the widget has wide appeal as an access point to InfoKat, especially for users who are new English Language Learners, first-year students, or users with attention-related disabilities.

The screen reader widget is one small step in UK Libraries’ commitment to creating an equitable experience for all users, with initiatives that span resources and technologies, library spaces, and affordability. 

“We want to create partnerships wherever we can to remove barriers and improve access,” said Bischoff. “The most important thing to do is to reach out to us.”

“More than anything, I am appreciative of the teamwork that went into ensuring my student had an equitable experience,” said DeWitt. “The student-centered effort that went into creating the widget was above and beyond. As a new faculty member encountering this accommodation for the first time, I was not sure the best way to proceed. Jennifer and Helen made it so easy and provided detailed explanations to all my questions. This experience has solidified the value of CELT and UK Libraries for me, and I am grateful to know I work with others who want to ensure there are accessible options available for all students.”

Many of UK Libraries’ digital resources, including InfoKat, are maintained by third-party vendors. Though it helps deliver an equitable search experience, the widget is largely a work-around to an underlying systems architecture issue. 

To rectify these larger issues, Griffith, Naas, and Montavon-Green work closely with vendors to bring accessibility and usability issues to their attention and to collaborate on solutions. 

“We write accessibility clauses into all of our licenses for electronic resources, and require that vendors modify their products to meet our standards,” said Montavon-Green. “Beyond these licensing agreements, when we’re able to approach vendors with concrete usability problems, we can advocate for our users and work together to affect change on a commercial level, which helps create products that are more accessible for everyone.” 

“Something I’ve learned from this process is that accessibility doesn’t always mean user-friendly,” said Bischoff. “Many of these products are technically accessible but there’s still a barrier. We’re grateful to all of our users who point out what the barrier looks like.”

“We’re here to serve users, and if there’s anything we can do to address barriers, we take that very seriously,” said Montavon-Green. “The most important factor is access. That’s our philosophy in Electronic Resources and all across the Libraries.”