Accessibility to Library Databases and Other Online Library Resources for People with Disabilities

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Introductory and Policy resources for web accessibility

Vendor license paragraphs

This page is for sharing information among library employees about accessibility and usability of library databases and other online resources. I hope you’ll contribute! If it would be easier for you to email your contributions, rather than posting directly to the wiki, you are welcome to email . Please include the sources or experiential basis of your contributions. Contributions from people who know how to use any assistive technologies are especially appreciated. You do not need to be an expert to contribute. Your experiences regarding the usability of a resource for a person with a disability are important as well.

There is also a section to share practical information about strategies librarians have used to evaluate accessibility. In my experience, most libraries do not yet have an in depth expert on these issues, so we are learning as we go. If you are very new to accessibility, you might want to start with ASCLA Think Accessible Before You Buy , especially the Understanding the Language section. WebAIM offers another introduction to accessibility Also, I have found this article useful: Web accessibility at academic libraries: standards, legislation, and enforcement. Author(s): Michael Providenti, Robert Zai III Library Hi Tech; Volume: 25 Issue: 4; 2007 Research paper

Thank you to Will Reed and everyone who had the idea for this page. I am an academic reference librarian. I hope this page can be useful for librarians from public and other types of libraries as well.

Suggestions about this page are welcome as well. -Adina Mulliken

Accessibility of specific vendors


  • Credo Reference copied from an automated email received from Credo Reference 3/10/09:

It is a priority for Credo that our system is accessible to all types of users, and we have designed Credo Reference to be used effectively by people with disabilities. In February 2009, we completed an accessibility evaluation of Credo and made a number of updates. Credo now meets all of the relevant W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Priority 1 and Priority 2 checkpoints and is in compliance with Section 508 of the ADA.

A few of the changes that we made for accessibility:

• Each page on Credo has hyperlinks specifically placed to enable users with screen readers to skip common navigation elements of our pages and jump to a page's main content.

• Provided <link> relationships to the headers of pages to permit automated navigation to deep pages which helps screen readers navigate the site.

• Provided a narrative sitemap that describes pages within Credo to users who cannot see them.

• Included text equivalents for images, charts and graphs.

• Enabled keyboard controls for the Credo Concept Map.

Credo has been designed to be used with either keyboard or mouse controls. Our help section describes how to operate the various features of Credo Reference using only the keyboard:

Credo's Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is available at

  • CSA/Proquest

During 2008 Midwinter ALA ACRL-ANSS meeting, representatives said their interface complies with the UKs SENDA accessibility guidelines but they did not know about Section 508. Adina did not find an accessibility statement on their website as of 8/2008.

  • East view

As of 10/17/08, the vendor said they are not compliant with Section 508 and they have not tested the product with users who have disabilities. They do have a Library for the Blind subscribing to the product and they have been able to make some adjustments to the database for that library for the blind. Adina Mulliken

  • Ebsco

Philip Springall Information Specialist CNIB Library 4/2009

We subscribe to Ebsco's Research Databases and have been very impressed with the work they’ve done with regards to accessibility. For the JAWS user they have detailed descriptions on how to search for and read articles:

Using Access Keys to navigate EBSCOhost <>

Selecting a Database Using JAWS 8.0 <>

Basic and Advanced Searching using JAWS 8.0 <>

Finding Search Results Using JAWS 8.0 <>

Searching and Browsing Publications using JAWS 8.0 <>

Using JAWS with PDF Files <>

Ebsco has teamed up with some disability groups at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and other educational institutions to create the Ebsco Accessibility Interest Group, a group designed to look at issues of accessibility with Ebsco products. I don’t know of many vendors doing this kind of thing so this should definitely be highlighted.

Video of person using Jaws to navigate an earlier version of Ebsco's interface, and explaining what she is doing:

Notes from Adina 5/2010- When working with screen reader users on the results page, we have found it confusing to get to the results. This is challenging in other databases as well; however, we figured out that in Ebsco, using headings to navigate, it is necessary to go through a large number of somewhat confusingly worded headings to get to the results, which are a level 3 heading.

(following links checked 12/2008 by Adina Mulliken)

Ebsco has done usability testing with users who have disabilities. They also state they are compliant with Section 508.

  • Eric (link checked 4/2010 Adina Mulliken)

  • Gale (link checked 8/2008 Adina Mulliken) Says “Gale is working hard to get completely compliant. Since Gale publishes content from such a wide variety of reference sources and periodicals, it is difficult to address the tagging and mark-up of every document. We are working toward a standard, accessible interface design, with a goal of making our content meet all the accessibility standards.” Gale has an newer link that says "Updated Dec. 8, 2008": Says, "We consistently test new products using Cast's accessibility assessment tool ("Bobby") and we evaluate our new interfaces and products using the JAWS screen reader as well." Note that Bobby no longer exists.

  • Lexis Nexis Academic and Lexis Nexis Congressional (4/2010 Adina Mulliken)

They have filled out a "Voluntary Product Evaluation Template (VPAT)" which details accessibility of the product. You can request it from Lexis Nexis. They do not claim to be compliant with all criteria. They have said they do testing with the Jaws screen reader. They are coming out with a new interface in June.

  • Mango (email to EASI listserv from Katherine Schneider, Ph.D. 4/26/09)

Are any of you aware of screen reader friendly language learning programs comparable in scope and price to Mango? Our public library just bought Mango and its buttons are not alt text tagged, so I can't learn it. I've raised the issue with Mango and with the library. Perhaps if I can find an alternative I can get to use that until Mango gets accessible. Thanks for any ideas. Kathie

Katherine Schneider, Ph.D. Senior Psychologist, Emerita Counseling Service University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

  • Medline(link checked 4/2010 Adina Mulliken)

  • OvidSP

“OvidSP will not be compliant, but we're a lot closer than we are with current Ovid Gateway. We've eliminated most graphic buttons in favor of text links (which screen readers can read). We've implemented much of the new functionality, and a bit of the old, such that it degrades gracefully when javascript is not available. Our new color scheme is much easier to read for people with poor eyesight or color blindness. For Firefox users, nearly all of the text in the interface can be scaled larger (using Ctrl-+, Ctrl--, and Ctrl-0) to make it even easier to read.” - email Adina received on 10/26/2007

Adina did not find an accessibility statement on their website as of 8/2008.

  • OCLC (4/2010)

  • Peterson' GRE practice test (email to EASI listserv from Kelly Ford 6/1/09)

My library (King County in Washington State) subscribes to a career/college testing resource at Out of curiosity I thought I’d see how I scored on the GRE practice test they offer. I made it through one question. Then I was stumped. Not because I couldn’t answer the question but because I couldn’t advance to the next question.

The test design uses HTML that offers graphics that are not links or buttons to move from question to question. Disappointing that I suspect many libraries subscribe to this service and that are tax dollars are propping up a company with such poor inaccessible web design.

Has anyone ever interacted with this company around accessibility?


  • Proquest (links checked 12/2010 Adina Mulliken)


  • WilsonWeb (link checked 4/2010 Adina Mulliken) During the 2008 Midwinter ALA ACRL-ANSS meeting, representatives said they communicated with at least one adaptive technology vendor. They did not say if they had done user testing with people who use any adaptive technologies.


  • NetLibrary (4/2009 Philip Springall)

Navigating through NetLibrary eBooks with a screenreader can be challenging but OCLC have created some support documents. The documents do not appear to be online but if you contact OCLC asking for tips navigating plain text and DRM protected PDF NetLibrary eBooks they should be able to provide you with some instructions. Philip Springall, Information Specialist CNIB Library


  • Sage Journals Online (5/2010 Adina Mulliken)

Sage has filled out a VPAT form explaining how they comply with Section 508, which you can request from them. It says that some criteria they do not yet support are that skip navigation links are not embedded in html pages, they are currently adding row and column headers to tables, and "Scripting is not used to create user interface elements in most cases. Javascript is used to hide/display some elements on a custom search page."


  • Metalib (links checked 12/2008 Adina Mulliken){475327AD-F744-44BC-8901-CFA3765488ED}&details_type=1&itemid={C41A7BEC-B647-41E5-BA68-6320032AA482}

“This new version of MetaLib features a fully accessible user interface that complies with the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, level A, and Section 508 of the United States Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 794d).”

“Accessibility Statement Ex Libris™ is committed to making its Web-based applications accessible to as many users as possible regardless of the challenges that they face. As new technologies emerge, Ex Libris makes every effort to improve the accessibility of its products.

The MetaLib® user interface was developed to comply with leading international accessibility and industry standards: The W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, level A Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 794d) Disclaimer Institutions can customize the interface of MetaLib. Ex Libris cannot guarantee that the resulting user interface will be compliant with accessibility standards after a third party has altered the interface.

MetaLib connects to other Web sites maintained by third parties over which Ex Libris has no control. Ex Libris makes no representations as to Web accessibility compliance standards maintained by other Web sites.”

  • Central Search

During a Summer 2007 presentation to Syracuse University Library staff, a customer representative said Central Search was not yet compliant. Adina did not find an accessibility statement on their website as of 8/2008.


  • Suzanne L. Byerley, Mary Beth Chambers and Mariyam Thohira. (2007). “Accessibility of web-based library databases: the vendors’ perspectives in 2007,” (25)4, Library Hi tech, 2007, 509-527. Contains very useful, in depth information about accessibility from numerous vendors. Information about Ebsco (and probably other vendors) is no longer up to date; however, for vendors that do not post much or any accessibility information on their website, this may be the most current information available.;jsessionid=C55C43123047035ED59F58B072176F3F?Filename=Published/EmeraldFullTextArticle/Articles/2380250406.html

  • Axel Schmetzky’s Web Accessibility Survey Site especially this section and the accessible policy statements for collection development here

  • JISC Academic Database Assessment Tool Includes information about accessibility if provided by vendors for e-book platforms and database platforms.


  • Libguides (information as of 12/2008 Adina Mulliken)

Libguides has filled out a "Voluntary Product Evaluation Template (VPAT)" which details accessibility of the product. You can request it from Libguides. They do not claim to be Section 508 compliant.

Strategies/experiences evaluating resources

Philip Springall Information Specialist CNIB Library, (4/2009)

We’ve found, as you’ve noted, that one of the things that’s missing from a lot of these products is an accessibility audit or accessibility test. It’s fine for them to fill out a VPAT or say that they are 508 compliant but the true test of accessibility, at least from what we’ve found, is whether or not someone with a disability can use their product. A lot of vendors are making a move towards accessibility by filling in VPAT’s but user testing is a critical next step.

Webcredible in the UK has an interesting piece on accessiblity audits vs. accessibility testing. It’d be hard to convince a vendor to do either of these but if they have done them it’s a very good sign…

(12/2008 Adina Mulliken) I attempted to use the ASCLA Think Accessible guidelines once by emailing them to a vendor when my library was considering buying a product. When I spoke with the customer service person later, they made it clear they did not understand the guidelines, but would talk with their IT staff. The representative then emailed to say the product was not “compliant” yet. I did not get answers to the specific questions in the guidelines.

I've gotten response from vendors for most of the following questions.

  • Is the product compliant with accessibility guidelines for people with disabilities such as Section 508 or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from WC3? If not, which guidelines within Section 508 or WCAG does it follow or not follow? For WCAG, what level? Have you filled out a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) to explain how your product complies with Section 508?
  • If the database includes full text, are the documents in pdf, html, or other formats? Especially if some of the full text is only in pdf, is it tagged to be accessible for text to speech synthesis software? (such as screen readers like Jaws and Window Eyes for vision impaired users and Kurzweil 3000 for people with learning disabilities)
  • If you do usability testing with users who have disabilities, could you tell us about it (which assistive technology or disabilities were included)?
  • Do the products have any other features that you think could be especially useful for some people with disabilities (such as spell checking)?

In my experience, customer service representatives usually need to check with their IT staff to find out about accessibility. I understand that compliance with accessibility guidelines is not necessarily enough to make a product reasonably functional for people with disabilities, and so user testing with people who have disabilities is important. I believe institutions need to find ways to do this (for our own websites as well as for resources from vendors). In the meantime, I've found that using the questions above has been a way to get started.

Added by Adina Mulliken 10/13/10

Liblicense's model license agreement- paragraph about accessibility

Disabilities Compliance. Licensor shall comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), by supporting assistive software or devices such as large print interfaces, voice-activated input, and alternate keyboard or pointer interfaces in a manner consistent with the Web Accessibility Initiative Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

The Rehabilitation Act is also relevant to web accessibility and I am not sure why it is not included.

Liblicense's introduction to the model agreement has the disclaimer, "To be of maximum value, this document should be used only as a reference document that assists professionals in negotiating (or preparing to negotiate) database content license agreements. Under no circumstances should any person or organization use or adopt the LMLA in its entirety, or use it as the sole or exclusive basis for negotiating a license contract."

Here's what the SCELC (Statewide California Electronic Library) consortium inserts into the licenses it negotiates

Compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act. Licensor shall comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), by supporting assistive software or devices such as large print interfaces, voice-activated input, and alternate keyboard or pointer interfaces in a manner consistent with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative, which may be found at

From CDL (California Digital Library)

Model license: “Compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act. Licensor shall make reasonable efforts to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments, and provide Lisensee current completed Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT).”

From NERL (Northeast Research Libraries Consortium)

Compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act. Licensor shall comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), by supporting assistive software or devices such as large print interfaces, voice-activated input, and alternate keyboard or pointer interfaces in a manner consistent with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative, which may be found at