Research and scholarly communication accessibility

Inclusive Kent Series by the Research and Scholarly Communication Team, Information Services

Left to right: Person with visible disability using headphones with laptop; blind person using accessible computer keyboard; person standing on a train listening to headphones.

The first in our Inclusive Kent Series brings some exciting news about how accessibility is being embedded in research and scholarly communications systems and processes at the University of Kent.

A reflective case study that examines how staff at the University of Kent have been working to embed accessibility in research support and scholarly communication systems and processes, has been published in an EDI Special Edition of the Advanced Journal of Professional Practice.

The team

The Research and Scholarly Communication Support Team provides digital content and expert services throughout the research lifecycle. They do this by:
  • supporting applications to secure funding for research projects by planning where, when, how and with whom research findings will be shared, and planning how to organise, secure and archive research data
  • Enabling Open Access publishing, providing guidance on where and how to publish the outcomes of research, how to manage copyright and how to licence research works for use, resuse and sharing
  • Looking after and advocating for key online systems that support research at the University of Kent.

A reflective case study

The paper published by the team, Embedding accessibility in research support and scholarly communication systems and processes reflects on how, in the context of the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations (2018), improvements are being made to accessibility across research systems at the university. The authors, Josie Caplehorne, Rosalyn Bass, Helen Cooper, Suzanne Duffy and Liam Green-Hughes (Information Services), share their methodologies and break down the steps they are taking to embed inclusive practices across the Kent Academic Repository, Kent Data Repository, and Kent’s Open Journal System. They explore the steps they undertake and what their learnings are from each stage. Sarah Slowe, Assistant Director for Academic Strategy, Planning, and Performance, describes the work as being a “real testament to values and visions driving change that can often be seen as ‘add on’ or ‘extra’ to core work”. She also reflected on the “years of work in identifying problems, possible solutions, collaboration, communication, prioritisation, and ultimately…making real change”.

Making real change

We have implemented real world changes to our systems and process that are reducing access barriers for everyone.

Kent Academic Repository (KAR)

KAR provides an official record of research works produced by members of staff at the University of Kent. These records consist of bibliographic metadata that describe the work and the full text of the work itself. KAR contains over 62,000 documents and files, and this number continues to grow. They can be accessed by anyone at any time, but we had no system in place to respond to requests for accessibly formatted versions of these research works, only to download the original version. Our aim was to enable users to request accessibly formatted copies of research works, and a process to respond to these requests – which required system changes. We also needed to enable staff to respond to requests for accessibly formatted content, which required training and development of guidance. We hope that we have now provided an easy and seamless way for people to request accessible versions of documents from the KAR. Improvements to digital accessibility, such as colour contrast and keyboard navigation, have also been implemented to the platform. We took the lessons we learned from making KAR more accessible and applied them to our Kent Data Repository.

Kent Data Repository (KDR)

KDR is a research data repository that preserves and provides open access to datasets, software, code, and other research materials produced in the process of conducting research at the University of Kent. It uses the same platform software as KAR, so we applied the same changes to the overall platform as we did for KAR. However, we could not apply the same methodology to the files uploaded to the records as the variety data of data file types makes assessing accessibility very difficult. Although it has been difficult to implement improved accessibility in the same way that we have done for KAR, we are open to requests to help with this using a universal help form The general accessibility upgrade to the platform means that the help form is accessible and can be used to requests different formats where required.

Open Journal System (OJS)

OJS is an open-source software for managing and publishing Open Access scholarly journals, used by academic researchers to publish articles, and was originally developed and released by the Public Knowledge Project at Simon Fraser University in Canada. The University of Kent uses OJS to publish four Open Access scholarly journals. Unlike some traditional publishing models, authors are not charged an article processing charge and readers can openly access content. Making improvements to OJS accessibility involves multiple processes, due to the number of stakeholders involved in developing and maintaining the overall platform and each of the editors who manage the individual journals. To support our editors to maximise the accessibility of their journals, training is now offered and can be provided by the University’s OPERA Team. The training covers the legal requirements of the accessibility legislation, the importance of accessibility and inclusive practices, and practical support to create accessible content. When a prospective editorial team are making an application to host a new journal with the University of Kent, they must meet certain criteria which now includes providing fully accessible website and journal content. We implemented this in March 2018, ahead of the changes to UK law, to ensure equitable access for all to University of Kent published journals. If a new journal does not agree to meet these conditions, the journal proposal will be declined.

What’s next

Although we have made reductions to access barriers, we are acutely aware that our work is ongoing. We are already making further improvements and will continue to embed inclusive and accessible practices in our work.
If there is anything you would like to discuss about our work or this publication, please contact