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Purpose: This paper aims to suggest how the information journey of students with disabilities could be facilitated, by first revealing the existence of inaccessible formats such as Portable Document Format (PDF) and then suggesting the inclusion of alternative formats of accessible learning materials, thus improving retrieval.

Design/methodology/approach: A sample of 400 articles published over 10 years (2009-2018) from four journals are selected and analysed for accessibility against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 2.0 by using automated accessibility checkers, a screen reader and manual human expertise. The results are presented and recommendations made on improving accessibility.
Findings: The findings suggest that the PDF versions of the selected journal articles are not accessible for screen reader users but could be improved by adopting accessible and inclusive practices. Including alternative formats of the learning materials could help support the student information journey.

Research limitations/implications: The results of the study might not be very representative of all the articles in the journals given the small sample size. Additionally, the criteria used in the study do not consider all existing disabilities. Thus, although the PDFs may be inaccessible for some people with disabilities, they may be accessible to others.

Practical implications: Given that PDFs seem to be the preferred format of journal articles online, there is potential for a difficult information journey for some students due to the limitations posed by inaccessibility of the PDFs. Thus, it is recommended to include alternative formats which could be more accessible, giving the student the choice of accessing the learning materials in their preferred format.

Social implications: If students are unable to access the learning materials that are required for their course, this could lead to poor grade, which might negatively affect the students’ morale. In some cases, some students might drop out.

Originality/value: This study analyses the accessibility of learning materials provided by a third party (journal publishers) and how they affect the student, something that is not usually given much importance when research in accessibility is carried out.



Julius T. Nganji, (2018) "Supporting the information journey of students with disabilities through accessible learning materials", Information and Learning Science, Vol. 119 Issue: 12, pp.721-732,

Julius T. Nganji's Profile


Julius T. Nganji, PhD

Researcher, passionate about digital accessibility & usability and improving user experience.

Adjunct Lecturer

Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy
Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto



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