Product, Research

Greater Accessibility in Science Applications is Needed. Here’s Why.

Author Chandana Balasubramanian , 18-Nov-2021

Science belongs to the curious.


In a perfect world, anyone with an idea can roll up their sleeves and dedicate themselves to the rigors of the scientific method: try, fail, dust yourself off, and repeat until you succeed. As the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman once said, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with the experiment, it’s wrong.”


After all, new discoveries stem from poking, prodding, and assessing something old through a new lens. And then thinking, “Can we make this better?”


Gaining insights from new perspectives needs inclusivity. At its core, science needs to be a democracy – for all people, by all people. And in the United States, one in four people live with some type of disability. To be more impactful, the science community needs a greater representation of diverse voices – including people with disabilities.


It is time for the next step in making science accessible. Institutions must demand that not just their physical premises; but all virtual spaces are designed with accessibility in mind.


Why is ICT Accessibility Important in Scientific Applications?


Most universities and organizations have been making their physical buildings more accessible for persons with disabilities. More websites are now built to meet global Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessibility standards in the digital world, which is commendable.

However, an increasing amount of coursework and research work now requires the ability to manipulate science software and technology. This reliance on virtual platforms in science education and research began before the year 2020 but accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual or blended learning is now par for the course in most educational institutions, especially those dedicated to research.

An encouraging trend has been in the world of library technology and sciences. There have been several vital conversations around embracing disability inclusion, and several top universities have publicly declared their commitment to offering information and access to users with disabilities.

Additionally, educational institutions purchase or subscribe to various tools and technology for students and faculty to collaborate, communicate, learn, and research. Going forward, these technology partners must offer ICT products and services designed with accessibility in mind from the start. Science education equity is a worthy goal that we are happy to support.


What Are the Accessibility Standards Your Technology Partners Must Meet?


Ideally, technology partners must be WCAG 2 (either 2.0 or 2.1) AA-certified or AAA-certified. WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These are technical standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium through collaboration with global experts. There are three levels of ‘success’ criteria – A, AA, and AAA. Since A is the bare minimum rating for web platform accessibility, it is recommended that organizations look for a AA or AAA-certified platform.

If your technology partners are AA or AAA-certified for WCAG guidelines, your faculty and students with disabilities will have access to (at minimum):  

  • Alternatives to text like images or audio descriptions for commands
  • Images and text can be resized
  • Compatibility with standard assistive technology for the visually-impaired
  • Captions are present when audio is important
  • There is high-contrast text and other such assistive functionalities.

In the US, you may also select, whenever possible, technologies that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Accessibility Must Be In the Product DNA – Not an Afterthought


Not all accessible platforms are alike. Preferably, technology or research platforms have disability inclusion as an integral pillar of their entire design and development process.

As an example, what if you are constructing a new wing for your library? If you design with accessibility in mind, you will create wider entrances and ramps to accommodate wheelchairs. You may be able to plan and budget for a bathroom stall or two designated for students and faculty with disabilities. However, if accessibility is an afterthought, all potential solutions become highly expensive, problematic, and never quite right.

Similarly, there is a difference between technologies that embraced accessibility and digital inclusion from the very start. For example, consider GIDEON, the comprehensive Global Infectious Diseases, and Epidemiology Network database.

The GIDEON R&D team gathered customer input about disability inclusion before building the product. The robust platform was tested with hundreds of users from 164 countries with varying levels of abilities. The entire GIDEON epidemiology database and web application were built to meet WCAG 2.1 guidelines for ICT accessibility.

Because of this foresight, faculty and students of varying levels of disability can easily access GIDEON’s website and the web application to study over 2,000 pathogens and 360 infectious diseases. They can review 84,000+ seroprevalence and prevalence surveys, 23,000+ disease-specific country notes or mix and match over 36,000 epidemiological charts on country-specific or worldwide disease prevalence, incidence, and much more. This is our way of making research in science easier to be a part of than ever before. 

Chandana Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network, and has a Masters degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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