Do physicians make their articles readable for their blind or low-vision patients? An analysis of current image processing practices in biomedical journals from the point of view of accessibility
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Visual content in biomedical academic papers is a growing source of critical information, but it is not always fully readable for people with visual impairments. We aimed to assess current image processing practices, accessibility policies, and submission policies in a sample of 12 highly cited
biomedical journals. We manually checked the application of text-based alternative image descriptions for every image in 12 articles (one for each journal). We determined whether the journals claimed to follow an accessibility policy and we reviewed their submission policy and their guidelines related to the visual content. We identified important features concerning the processing of images and the characteristics of the visual and the retrieval options of visual content offered by the publishers. The evaluation shows that the actual practices of textual image description in highly cited biomedical journals do not follow general guidelines on accessibility. The images within the articles analyzed lack alternative descriptions or have uninformative descriptions, even in the case of journals claiming to follow an accessibility policy. Consequently, the visual information of scientific articles is not accessible to people with severe visual disabilities. Instructions on image submission are heterogeneous and a declaration of accessibility guidelines was only found in two thirds of the sample of journals, with one third not explicitly following any accessibility policy, although they are required to by law.