Zotero Accessibility

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This page gathers the IT Subcommittee's resources and reviews of the accessibility of Zotero. This page will be updated as new information is available or further reviews are conducted.

Accessibility Overview

Due to the complexity of use cases, we've split up the review by the Desktop App, the Browser version for PC and Mac, and the Web Plug-in/Zotero Connectors. In general, Zotero does not have a webpage dedicated to accessibility, but they have recently (2022) hired an accessibility specialist for their team. Any accessibility issues are reported through the Zotero Forums.

It is highly suggested that any university or library who relies on Zotero as a citation manager for their researchers should also purchase increased storage for their users. This money goes to supporting the open source software, and offers users more space to store their PDFs. The main accessibility reviewer for Zotero is at a university that supports Zotero through purchasing more space for its users.

Due to cognitive issues, we were unable to full test Zutilo, which is a 3rd-party plug-in that allows you to create other keyboard shortcuts. There is also a cognitive issue with using and understanding the interface; some users may require more help from an experienced or sighted Zotero user in order to fully use Zotero.

Zotero Desktop App (5.x or 6.x)

The Zotero desktop app is not accessible. There are several unlabeled buttons, a general lack of headers, and it's impossible to reach the toolbar using just a keyboard. There are several operations that are only available to mouse users, and do not have a corresponding keyboard shortcut. However, the Zotero desktop app is required to use any web plug-ins/Zotero Connectors. Once the Zotero app is installed and set up, screen reader users and keyboard-only users can simply leave the software running in the background without interacting with it again. The deduplication folder, unfiled folder, and pulling metadata from a PDF are only available through the desktop app.

Browser version on Chrome or Firefox (PC)

Using Zotero in the browser on Chrome or Firefox on a PC is generally accessible, with some issues. In order to use the web plug-ins to import articles to your Zotero library, you need to have the Desktop App installed and running; however, once it’s installed and configured, you do not have to actually use the desktop app and can rely on the browser for most workflows. With Chrome and Firefox, it seems that if you get lost/have problem/get stuck, you can return to the collection folder you were originally working in and open it again to reset the page and fix most issues. Zotero is unusable once you get above 200x magnification.

Browser version on Chrome or Firefox (Mac)

Using Zotero in the browser on Chrome or Firefox on a Mac is generally accessible, with some issues. In order to use the web plug-ins to import articles to your Zotero library, you need to have the Desktop App installed and running; however, once it's installed and configured, you do not have to actually use the desktop app and can rely on the browser for most workflows. Issues with using the plug-ins/Zotero Connectors with Safari are reportedly fixed by Zotero 6.

General Information

Known Accessibility Issues

We've organized the accessibility issues by workflows and then by browser vs. desktop app, to make the page easier to understand for users and librarians. These workflows were tested with screen readers (NVDA and VoiceOver) and keyboard.

Workflow #1: Use the browser plug-ins/Zotero Connectors to import items into your Zotero library

Make sure you've create the collection folder first, before trying to use the plug-in to save an item to Zotero. There is no way to make it on the fly while using the plug-in with your browser. There are also no audio notifications that an item has been successfully saved to Zotero. You MUST have the Zotero desktop app installed, configured, and running in order to use the plug-ins. We do not suggest using the option to "Enable Saving to Online Library" as this caused many errors in our testing with a screen reader. Zotero and the Plug-in had to be uninstalled to remove the errors. We were unable to get the saving to Online Library to work on any browser, or with any operating system. If you activate the plug-in but don't immediately use it, it will eventually disappear without any audio notification. There were some reports of problems using the Zotero connector/plug-in with Firefox. Not all testers had the same issues.

  • Use Ctrl-Shift-S to activate the plug-in. This only works if you don't have Ctrl-shift-S mapped to another action or application.
  • By default, it'll bring up whatever folder you last saved materials in. Just hit enter to save to the default folder.
  • Tab to the extend button for the Folders in order to select a different collection folder. Arrow through to find the correct folder, then tab to the Done button.

Workflow #2: Move items from a folder or My Library into collections

Browser Version, PC or Mac

For Chrome and Firefox:

  • Tab until you are highlighting the article you want to add to another collection. NOTE: adding to a collection does not remove it from the current collection if it is in one. To do so, you will need to add the article to a new collection folder first, and then remove that item from the old collection folder.
  • Shift-tab to get to the toolbar, then use the arrow keys to navigate over to "Add to a collection" button, and press enter.
  • A popup box will appear. Tab over to the My Library dropdown button, and use the left-right arrow keys to select the folder/collection you want the item to be added to. Press enter to select the folder, then tab to the ADD button. There is no audio confirmation that the item has been added to the collection folder.
  • If you’re having some troubles doing this, you may need to refresh the page, or you can back-shift to the Collection Folder you were working in and open it again to refresh. (Example of a usual issue, is that when you select an item and then shift-tab, it takes you to the tags section instead of the toolbar. If that happens, you need to go back to the original folder you were working in, enter to open it again, and then tab forward to the item. It should then allow you to shift-tab back to the toolbar to add the item to another collection.)

Desktop App

There is no way to use a screen reader and mouse to move an item from one collection to another while using the desktop app.

Workflow #3: Adding tags to articles

This workflow is the same for the browser version as well as the desktop app. Both options allow you to use a screen reader and keyboard.

Select the item you want to edit, and then Tab to INFO, and then Arrow over to TAGS. You can then tab to the list of tags (if they already exist) and delete or edit with the keyboard. To add tags, navigate to the Add Tag button.

Workflow #4: Editing item information/Metadata

This workflow is the same for the browser version as well as the desktop app. Both options allow you to use a screen reader and keyboard.

Select the item you want to edit, and then Tab to INFO. Info is easily navigated using Tab. If you upload a file to your collection folder without first creating a blank new item manually, you will not have the option to pull the metadata from the PDF or edit the INFO box in the browser.

Workflow #5: Creating Bibliography

Browser Version, PC or Mac

You can create a bibliography in Chrome or Firefox using the keyboard and screen reader. You can select several items in a collection folder by using the shift key and arrowing down, but you can only select adjacent articles. (You can't use ctrl-A, as it will select everything on the page, not the articles themselves.) Once your items are highlighted, shift-tab to the toolbar and select the Create Bibliography button. Ctrl-Shift-C can't be used in the browser if it's mapped to another application.

  • Likely best practice: if you are trying to only get SOME items out of a collection folder into a bibliography rather than the whole folder, add those items to a new collection. Then go to that collection folder, select all those articles, and then create bibliography. There doesn’t seem to be any other way to select non-adjacent articles, or to skip one in the folder.
  • It’s difficult to navigate the pop up window for the Bibliography because the focus doesn’t always go to the right area. The options in the dropdown menu for Citation Style and Language are not labeled, so you only hear “blank” if you try to change it.
  • You can change the Citation Style, but you will need sight to know what style you’re selecting from the menu. You can also try to type in the style name, but there’s no audio letting you know when that option comes up in the dropdown menu. It requires that you type in the exact name (Modern Library Association rather than MLA). Once you select something, press enter and the box will reload.
  • By default, the action button on the bibliography page is "Copy to Clipboard." This is an unlabeled button. There is also a collapsed menu with it that just says "menu item 1." The menu item one is actually "Copy HTML." There is no audio cue that it has actually copied things to the clipboard after you activate the button.

Desktop App

As you can't access the toolbar with just the keyboard, you must use the Ctrl-shift-C keyboard shortcut. Items need to be adjacent in order to select multiple item.

  • Highlight the items you want to put into the bibliography using shift-arrow to select them, and then use Ctrl-Shift-C to copy them to the clipboard in order to paste into a Word document.
  • The bibliography will be in whatever your default citation style is. There is no option to change the citation style using Ctrl-Shift-C.
  • You can use ctrl-A to select all items in a folder, then Ctrl-shift-C to copy into clipboard.

Workflow #6: Creating a group library

You must use the browser version of Zotero to create a group library. If you are zoomed in, the option to create a group library is hidden in a hamburger menu (three horizontal lines) titled "Banner landmark Button Toggle Navigation." Once you get that menu toggled on, you have to arrow up to get into the list. Listen for the "Title, Creator, Year" and then keep arrowing up after that, and it’ll be the 6 or 7th item (somewhere around there). The link is just GROUPS. If you’re not zoomed in to the point it hides the menu, then you need to get to the "Title, Creator, Year" form element in the toolbar and then up-arrow to get to "Groups." The top of the menu is "Web Library" and the bottom is "Upgrade Storage."

Workflow #7: Adding notes

Browser Version, PC or Mac

You can add notes in the browser version. Tab down to the Info section of the article, then arrow over to Notes. Arrow down to get to Add Notes. It’ll jump you immediately into the Rich Text editing area for adding the note, but you have to switch modes to start typing in Chrome (this doesn’t seem to happen with Firefox). Once done, tab out of it, and it’ll automatically save.

Desktop App

It’s a little more difficult to add a note with the desktop app, as it opens a new sidebar menu without a close button (at least it’s not available to the screen reader/keyboard). You have to switch modes to type, and then switch again to get out of the note and back to the item information.

Workflow #8: Manually adding a new item to your library

Browser Version, PC or Mac

Tab to the toolbar; the first option is "New Item Button," and then you select the type of item you are adding. It'll add a blank item that you can then edit. You are able to upload a file as an attachment. If you want to add it to a specific collection folder, you must select that folder first before adding the new item. Make sure you create a new item entry before uploading a file in the browser version, otherwise you might be locked out from editing or adding any information/metadata to the entry (there is no way in the browser to even drag-and-drop the file into an Item; this can only be done in the desktop app).

Desktop App

With the desktop app, you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Shift-N to add a new item manually.

Workflow #9: Deduplicating

There is no Duplicates folder in the browser version of Zotero. You need to manually identify the items and delete them. Bear in mind that there is no audio alert when items are deleted.

Workflow #10: Unfiled items

There is no "unfiled items" folder on the Web browser version of Zotero. My Library brings up all materials that are in your collections, whether they have been filed into a folder or not.