Open Access = Access for All.

Posted by Paula Clemente Vega on 5 February 2024

A blog post by Dr Steph Driver, OLH’s new accessibility specialist developer.

 "Nothing about us without us" is the central tenant of disability rights movements across the globe. I am but one disabled voice. I can code. I can facilitate. I can advocate, but to make Janeway accessible we need to build a community of voices. Please get in touch if you are interested in being part of our accessibility network, and also watch this space for more throughout 2024.

You may have noticed the picture above has no alt-text.  Or because it has no alt-text you may not have been aware there was a picture (the picture shows an open book with cut-out letters on top of the page, obscuring parts of the text and falling to the floor).  There is no alt-text because Janeway does not have this feature for news pages. "Audit needed for missing alt-text fields" is the first of our new category of ‘accessibility issues’ for Janeway.  You can view all our accessibility issues on github.  Do note they are tagged as ‘a11y’ which is a shorthand for accessibility formed by the first and last letters with 11 letters in between, but often pronounced ‘ally.’

My route to Janeway has been akin to traversing the Badlands with a whimsical navigator. I have been interested in accessibility since I first encountered the concept as an undergraduate studying software engineering. Promoting inclusion felt ethical, it felt like the future, but I also found the accessibility tools useful... for myself. Even finding myself 'disabled' by the end of my degree, I still didn't feel like the right kind of disabled. My diagnosis wasn't about my sight, so who was I to use a screen-reader? I spent the next 15 years keeping text-to-speech as my guilty secret, feeling I had little right to use it but benefiting from it. It was only halfway through my PhD that my life-long vision differences were diagnosed. I had a 'kick myself' moment, finally realising it was useful for me because I needed it. Reading was not supposed to be so hard, listening to books was not just permitted, but levelling the playing-field.

I had cannily found myself a PhD topic so obscure that there was very little I could read. But even so, I had trouble getting articles. I remember months of negotiation with my university library trying to turn on the 'accessible' settings of one of the big publishers. I still cheer when I hear of students pushing for change. How many bright minds are we losing from academia because inaccessible resources are excluding them from the academic conversation? Several times in the last few years stories have reached the UK national news about students suing for disability discrimination over inaccessible reading lists. 

Open Access doesn't come with a 'these readers only' caveat. The Accessibility and Open Access revolutions are natural bedfellows, and the conversations being had here in the Janeway engine-room are exciting. We have big plans, using the existing Janeway Accessibility Roadmap as a launchpad.

One key area for improved accessibility is User Content, which was previously excluded from the roadmap.  The challenge of improving the accessibility of user edited content was discussed at the Janeway Lower Decks conference in September. My PhD was looking at writer: computer synergy, and I believe much of that research will be transferable here. My ultimate goal is to have it both easier and more efficient to publish accessible content in Janeway than to exclude potential readers.

If you share this goal please do get in touch with me via

Photo by Héctor J. Rivas on Unsplash