There are many big challenges facing the world and societies today and Springer Nature is committed to creating a sustainable business to help tackle them. This not only means using technology to open up research and accelerate solutions to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but doing so in a manner that is ethical and responsible, and that supports people in a fair and impartial way.
This blog looks at some examples of how we’re developing technology to improve accessibility in research and education, as highlighted in our recently published Sustainable Business Report.
Technology has the potential to make research and education more widely available than ever before. But without the right approach, technology can put up barriers too. True accessibility means considering every user in every situation – from those with disabilities to those who may face language barriers.
At Springer Nature, our ambition is to increase and improve the accessibility of what we publish, as well as bring research and education to those who may otherwise struggle to access it. As well as improving user experience and increasing user research with participants with disabilities, we’ve also been looking at opportunities to develop new technologies that support access to research and education.
Below we take a closer look at some examples of how we’re doing this, as highlighted in our Sustainable Business Report 2021.
Websites have to work for all users, including those with disabilities. Ensuring websites are accessible requires a range of different interventions and considerations, including – crucially – testing it with end users.
To get the best results, developers need to build with accessibility in mind and repeatedly test as they build. One approach to accessible website design is regression testing: allowing developers to automatically check if they have introduced accessibility errors to their site – such as forgetting to include alternative text for images or creating problems navigating a site using a keyboard.
In 2013, Springer Nature technologists realised that regression testing software for accessibility did not exist, so they decided to develop it. The software, which was named Pa11y, is free and open source, so anyone can use or amend it.
Pa11y is now included in over 1,600 information repositories and is the default accessibility testing tool in both Netlify and Gitlab. This means more than 3 million people and businesses can easily access automated accessibility testing.
English is widely used as the primary language for scholarly publishing, but this can disadvantage authors whose first language is not English.
As a solution, Springer Nature has developed DeepL AI, which integrates auto-translation into the publishing process. The service is available for authors across all disciplines as well as for submitted manuscripts. It enables authors to translate their work from Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese and French into English. A human check is then carried out to ensure accuracy.
Providing authors with a free, easy and efficient way to have their book translated gives them the flexibility to write their manuscripts in the language they prefer, while significantly expanding the audience for their work.
“Feedback from our authors is that translating their books and manuscripts is costly and often time-consuming,” said Stephanie Preuss, Senior Manager Product and Content Solutions, Books Publishing Solutions. “The SN Translator uses technology to improve research, open up new possibilities for authors and help us advance discovery. It will hopefully enable authors, who may not have otherwise, to publish their work in more than one language.”
The COVID-19 pandemic posed a significant barrier to accessing education. The swiftly changing rules and regulations required equally swift adjustments by educators to ensure that learning could continue.
Macmillan India worked with the Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer (FITT) to produce an online learning solution. The result was ALTURA (‘Advanced Learning and Teaching using Resources and Assessments’), a blended integrated learning solution that won the Best Classroom Tech Solution of the Year 2021 at the Ed Tech X Indian Education Awards 2021.
"ALTURA solves a key customer need of searching for relevant and engaging resources for an effective and seamless teaching-learning experience,” said Rajesh Pasari, Managing Director, Macmillan Education India. “It meets high product quality standards, and combined with creativity and innovation, we are sure it will be successful and sustainable in the long run."
ALTURA functions like a teacher’s assistant, ready with lesson plans, a rich suite of assessments and teaching videos. The aim of the programme is to help schools enhance academic performance through continuous assessment, performance analytics, and data-driven decision-making.
Over 250 schools have signed up for it, not just to meet the immediate need for virtual teaching during the pandemic, but also for the ease of use that it offers teachers, parents and students alike.
This post is part of a series to accompany the publication of Springer Nature's Sustainable Business Report 2021. It highlights just a few of the contributions we have made towards some of the SDGs over the past year, and how we continue to build foundations for the future through the continued opening up of research and the building of new partnerships.