A potential benefit of digitizing zines is increasing their accessibility. While a physical copy of Mirha-Soleil Ross’ gendertrash from hell might be hard to come by for many people in 2017, putting a high quality scan of the zine online makes it accessible to anyone with an internet connection, right? Not really.
Depending on the context, “access” can take on very different meanings. I think we should think critically about what it means to make something accessible and who is included in what we define as accessible. Having a zine online does increase accessibility in certain ways, however, folks with certain mobility limitations which prevent the use of a mouse or keyboard, people who are blind or have low-vision, or other disabilities may not be able to access an online PDF version of a zine. There are, however, digital tools which can be used to make PDFs more accessible. Thinking about accessibility as at once an ongoing practice (nothing is ever “fully accessible”) and a collective responsibility, we have been experimenting with some of these tools at the Collaboratory and CLGA.
After creating high-quality scans of all four issues of gendertrash, we ran the PDF’s through Abbyy OCR software. This software is incredibly easy to use, it automatically analyzes a PDF and recognizes (mostly correctly) which areas of the page are images and which are text. The text can then be utilized by screen reader software, which verbalizes digital texts.
Next, we are working on adding alt text image descriptions to the images within gendertrash. You can add alt text to a PDF using Adobe Acrobat. These image descriptions will also be read by screen readers, providing the listener a fuller engagement with the zine. Writing clear and comprehensive image descriptions is surprisingly challenging, especially as many of the cut-and-paste images in gendertrash are quite abstract. However, I think it’s important to take on accessibility as a collective practice and continue working towards increasing accessibility in digital humanities projects. This is just a starting point, and I have much more to learn about digital accessibility, so I am looking forward to feedback and suggestions.