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It’s All About Accessibility for Library Management Systems

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Published May 14, 2021

James Martin, Softlink IC’s Development Manager has a little accessibility challenge for our Liberty library management system (LMS) users.

Close your eyes. Now, try sending an email to your boss (this should be fun). How can you use a computer without being able to see the screen? How do you select a program? What use is a mouse? Once you get into a program, how do you find your way around?  This is the problem facing millions of blind users worldwide.

Fortunately, there are tools and standards out there to help. There are also organizations whose sole focus is to define a consistent approach that software can implement to make a program accessible to everyone.

Softlink IC Developers Get a Real Insight

As part of our commitment to ensuring that our LMS and research management system are accessible for all users, Softlink IC is currently going through an iteration of updates aimed at improving this aspect.

To assist in this, we recently got in touch with Intopia, a company who are experts in the field. They also offer services from training to compliance certification, to embedding developers within companies. Softlink IC was looking for training to help raise our awareness of accessibility needs, and how users with needs might use Liberty.

The session was hosted by Sarah, one of the co-founders of Intopia who has more than a decade of experience in Accessibility, and by Neil, who is a blind full-time user of assistive technologies.

Disabilities Within the Community

They kicked off by giving our developers an overview of the different types of disabilities that affect the community. Blindness is probably the first one you think of, but there are many others that affect how someone uses a computer including:

  • Low vision.
  • Colour blindness.
  • Limited movement or paralysis.
  • Deafness.
  • Cognitive or language impairment.

A well-designed, accessible site can be used by people with any of these disabilities. But beyond that, following the guidelines developed for people with specific needs also creates a better experience for everyone.

A Demonstration on Using a Screen Reader

Neil then gave everyone a demonstration of how he uses a screen reader to navigate sites. As the name implies, a screen reader is a program that reads what’s on the screen. In addition to that, it also provides assistive controls to let users, for example:

  • Jump between sections.
  • Identify links.
  • Identify buttons.
  • Interact with form fields.

James commented, “Every time I see an experienced screen-reader user in action, I’m impressed by how amazingly capable they are at using a computer without sight. It is a task that seems intimidating to me.”

Neil also demonstrated how he was able to use his screen reader to discover what options were available on the Liberty homepage, and navigate the page to perform a search and find the information he was looking for. It was very valuable to see a blind person use the tool.

As James noted, “It’s one thing for developers and those of us who are sighted to look at the page and use the tool to navigate it based on our visual foreknowledge. It’s something else to see someone use the tool without that visual foreknowledge.”

As an aside, while we’re talking about screen readers, James suggests you check out this blog post by a blind software developer and listen to his clip of what he hears from his screen reader. He guarantees it will amaze you!

The session with Intopia concluded with Neil showing the developers a few specific issues that he discovered while using Liberty (look for fixes in a coming release!). Sarah then identified some tools that we can use to help assess Liberty’s accessibility and highlight any issues.

Our time with Neil and Sarah was very valuable and informative. It will help us ensure the accessibility of our products for all our users. The Softlink IC developers really appreciated their time with Sarah and Neil from Intopia.