Accessible Digital Documentary Heritage (UNESCO)

Earlier this month, UNESCO published Accessible Digital Documentary Heritage: Guidelines for the Preparation of Documentary Heritage in Accessible Formats for Persons with Disabilities. This 21-page report focuses on “the right to access to documentary heritage by persons with disabilities.”

As noted in the report’s Forward, written by UNESCO Deputy Director-General Xing Qu, “The advent of digital cultural archives and collections has spurred significant advancement in global access to culture, including through digitization. This has profoundly enhanced our cultural experience, not only in terms of production, dissemination and new technology-based access, but also in terms of participation and creation, as well as learning and participating in knowledge societies. As the UN agency that fosters the creation of knowledge societies that are inclusive, pluralistic, equitable, open and participatory for all, UNESCO believes that the advantages of digitization should be enjoyed equally by persons with disabilities.”

In the report, UNESCO examines the accessibility of its own Memory of the World website. This examination looks at website navigation, colors and contrast, links, images, and forms. Ultimately, the report states “the Memory of the World Register website has some basic accessibility features, nevertheless, the website
itself needs to be re-designed to make it more useable and accessible for people of all abilities, while the website’s content (items in the register, images, documents, etc.) should be adapted with better awareness of digital accessibility issues.” The way in which these components are examined directly connects to the guidelines found in the third section of the report.

In the final section of the report, 14 guidelines are divided into two categories – basic guidelines and advanced guidelines. The basic guidelines include a number of critical overall considerations, such as:

  • Consider accessibility at every step of document digitization, rather than fixing accessibility issues post hoc.
  • Plan to allocate sufficient resources for accessibility.
  • Involve persons with disabilities and/or accessibility experts in the process.

The advanced guidelines focus more on how to make specific types of materials accessible. These include:

  • Digital images should be accompanied by a text description of their subject’s key features (content and form) and should be captured with the highest resolution possible.
  • PDF documents should be screen-readable.
  • Videos should be accompanied by captions or sign language interpretation, as well as audio description.

Overall, this report provides a summary of many issues that inhibit accessibility of digital content. The report – and specifically the case study of the Memory of the World website – provides a solid framework for others wishing to examine their digital collections and web presence to ensure materials are accessible.

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