George Kerscher Named NISO Fellow for Lifetime Achievement in Information Access

Photograph of George KerscherCongratulations to Dr. George Kerscher,  Chief Innovations Officer at The DAISY Consortium and Senior Advisor, Global Education and Literacy at Benetech, who was recently recognized as a Fellow by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) for his lifetime of achievement. An internationally recognized leader in document access, he has been devoted to making published information fully accessible to persons with print disabilities since 1987. We had a chance to hear from George about what this honor means to him and how people with reading barriers can be better served across industries and disciplines going forward.

Q: What does being named a NISO Fellow mean to you?

GEORGE: I have worked with NISO for more than 20 years, and most of that work has been in the library sector. NISO is also a pathway for the US to contribute to international standards, and I have participated in those activities as well. Most recently, ISO (an independent, non-governmental international organization) has approved the EPUB Accessibility Conformance and Discovery specification, and I participated through NISO in that work.

Being named a NISO Fellow is a great honour, and, being blind, I feel this reflects the change in society toward inclusion. People with print disabilities must be considered as we design information systems and standards.

Q: After achieving this distinguished honour through your work and accomplishments, what is the next critical problem that needs to be addressed regarding accessibility?

GEORGE: There is a lot more to do in access to information. Yes, the publishing industry has really stepped up to the accessibility plate, but there are still many publishers who need to embrace the principles of born accessible publications, meaning ebooks that have accessibility features built in from the start. Furthermore, society in general needs to be producing born accessible publications as a part of the normal process of document creation. I understand that Ph.D. students are now starting to produce their theses as accessible publications. This trend needs to be pushed down to all college students, and then down to high schools and into elementary schools. As soon as students start to produce materials for other students, they should make sure all students can read and consume what they produce. I can envision seventh graders creating documents which they share, and some of the students read them with the read aloud function and text highlighting as it is spoken. Once the features of accessibility are generally understood, they will become commonplace.

Q: How do people know if a title will be accessible?

GEORGE: In a born accessible EPUB, accessibility metadata is embedded using the schema.org vocabulary. Publishers are also including accessibility metadata using ONIX. The Publishing Community Group at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is finishing up a user experience guide for translating the technical metadata to a user-friendly set of information. VitalSource has already implemented this in their catalogue, which means people can decide if the title will work for them, or if it would be a good option for a course. We need to promote this approach of exposing accessibility everywhere, including library systems and search engines.

Q: What’s next for areas such as accessible math standards?

GEORGE: All browsers and reading systems need to support MathML natively. Screen readers used by blind users have supported MathML for years, but until browsers and reading tools provide correct visual presentation of equations written in MathML, it will not be accepted. I expect that read aloud functions will present spoken math correctly and highlight the expression as it is spoken. If we can figure out how to have a car drive itself, we should be able to have math made fully accessible. While reading math correctly is the first step, doing math must also be fully accessible. Interestingly, it was the National Science Foundation (NSF) that first provided me with a tiny grant to work on accessible math back in 1989, and this problem is still not solved.

Q: How can professionals in publishing, education, technology, and other disciplines work together to better serve people with reading barriers?

GEORGE: Born accessible documents and publications are at the core of a change in the information society to be fully inclusive. Authors and publishers must embrace the born accessible movement. Authoring tools must include accessibility checkers, like Word does today, MathML, and features to add alt text to images and provisions for extended descriptions. The reading systems and apps must be fully accessible and tested, and the work at epubtest.org is a good example of the testing. Schools and institutions of higher education must buy born accessible ebooks that are third-party certified, as Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPAT) may say all the right things but do not prove that the book is accessible.

About George Kerscher

George Kerscher, PhD, is the Chief Innovations Officer for the DAISY Consortium and served as the President of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).  An internationally recognized leader in document access, he has been devoted to making published information fully accessible to persons with print disabilities since 1987. He coined the term “print disabled” to describe people who cannot effectively read print because of a visual, physical, perceptual, developmental, cognitive, or learning disability. A tireless advocate, George believes that access to information is a fundamental human right and properly designed information systems can make all information accessible to all people.  He is the Director Emeritus at Guide Dogs for the Blind and in 2012 was honoured at the White House as a Champion of Change for leading innovation in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math for people with disabilities. George and his guide dog Kroner graduated from Guide Dogs for the Blind in July, 2015.

About NISO

The National Information Standards Organization is a not-for-profit membership organization that identifies, develops, maintains, and publishes technical standards to manage information.

This article has been cross-posted with kind permission of Benetech, where George is a Senior Advisor. Our thanks to Carrie Motamedi, the author of this interview. George is also the Chief Innovations Officer at The DAISY Consortium and you can read more about the NISO Award at our DAISY news piece.

TechForum 2021

March 9th to 18th, 2021

The team at TechForum have announced that they will go ahead with a virtual event this year and they will running webinar sessions throughout March and April. Workshops, presentations, and panels on topics ranging from eproduction tips to HR management in a pandemic to COVID-driven initiatives with staying power, and so much more.

The first slate of programming are paid workshops from the ONIX and Thema team at EDItEUR (limited to Canadians) and the rest of the webinars will be announced in the next few weeks

Date

March – April 2021

Venue

Online

Learn More

Keep up to date with programming as it announced via the TechForum website.

The Art and Science of Describing Images Part Three (W)

Art of Science of Describing Images part 3 title slide
In our series of free webinars February 10th saw the 3rd session focusing on image description: in the series entitled, The Art and Science of Describing Images. This webinar focused on 3 specific types of complex images with speakers Huw Alexander and Valerie Morrison showing us all how they approach these seemingly daunting areas.

This page contains:

Full Video of the Webinar

Speakers

  • Richard Orme, The DAISY Consortium—host and chair
  • Valerie Morrison—Center for Inclusive Design and Innovation at Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Huw Alexander—textBOX Digital

Session Overview

Huw Alexander opened this session by giving us a brief resume of what the webinar will cover. Continuing on from Part Two of this series this session will focus on 3 specific types of complex image: Artwork, Anatomy and Assessment.

Artwork

As with all images, Valerie advocates beginning with an overview of the artwork piece, the title together with a brief resume of the main components. For a more complex description it is imperative to consider the context for which you need the description. This may include:

  • The painting style
  • The color and composition
  • The style of the figures
  • Allegorical messaging
  • Influences
  • Historical notes

To include all of these notes within your alt text image description would be far too much and if there is a need for lengthy content here then it is better to write an extended description.

Huw explained “Sector Description” – by breaking down a painting into sections you can take the reader on a journey. This can be done in a number of ways: linear, clock face style, compass etc. Using this approach helps to create an immersive experience for the reader.

Valerie and Huw used some excellent examples to demonstrate how effective these techniques can be when describing complex images.

Anatomy

Making sure that you convey the relevant and precise elements of an anatomical image is likely to be an exacting process. Valerie made the point that you have to think very carefully about what to include in your description, because simply labelling all the parts often isn’t good enough. It doesn’t take into consideration the context in which the image is being used and it is far more useful to consider the following:

  • The name of the structure itself
  • The shape
  • The location
  • Proximity

Huw’s sectoring approach works very well with anatomical images, deciding what needs to be retained and considering the visual impact of the image itself.

Assessment

Images that are used in assessments, quizzes and tests can be extremely hard to recreate in description form and Valerie suggested that assessors consider an egalitarian approach here. By thinking of alternative ways to test knowledge you may be far more successful in creating a useful testing scenario. The example used was a geography question on the silhouettes of countries and the following might work equally well:

  • Questions about the size and shapes of countries
  • An essay question
  • Tactile graphics

All of these would test knowledge in various ways and offer an alternative to the silhouette question!

 

Related Resources

Discover the other webinars we’re running!

Webinar: Implementing Extended Descriptions in Digital Publications, Best Practices and Practical Advice

February 24th, 2021

Previous webinars have discussed in detail the methodology for describing images, and this webinar is focused on the next step of implementing those extended descriptions in digital publications.

Using real-world examples this webinar will walk through practical methods for adding extended descriptions to publication and associating them with the image being described, highlighting best practices and encoding technical guidance, providing reference resources, discussing the implications for assistive technology users and offering insight into how publishers are implementing this essential accessibility feature.

Date

February 24, 2021

Venue

Online via zoom

Learn More

Find out how to register free for this webinar and the rest of the events held in this series at the DAISY webinar page

A Great Start for 2021: New Leadership for the UK Accessibility Action Group

A large "welcome" written by handRichard Orme, Chief Executive Officer at The DAISY Consortium delivered the following welcome piece for the UKAAF

The Publisher’s Association works to ensure the value of publishing, and the contribution it makes culturally and to the UK’s economy, is understood.

Part of its important outreach is a set of special publisher communities, made up of members from a particular function who provide specialist and technical advice to councils and staff. A key one that the UKAAF community will be familiar with is the special Accessibility Action Group; active for 10 years, it was set up to discuss developments in legislation, policy and technology and how this impacts accessible publishing, and UKAAF is a member of the AAG.

The group organises an annual event and develops guidance and best practice briefings for publishers on relevant matters. What’s important for us is that part of its remit is also bringing publishers together with advocacy organisations committed to supporting the production and distribution of accessible publications.

Despite COVID and all the hassles it’s caused us, there’s reason for optimism in 2021. That’s because in November the group secured a new chair. Stacy Scott manages the RNIB Bookshare UK Education Collection service, which provides accessible curriculum content to learners with a print-disability, and is also Publisher Relationship Manager at the charity. A blind mathematics graduate, Stacy has been professionally involved in the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) education sector for almost fifteen years (check out Stacy’s profile over at LinkedIn).

Stacy is already busy planning the agenda for her first event, a virtual meeting of the group in January. If you are work in the UK publishing industry and are interested in learning about, and participating in accessibility developments (after all, this is an action group!) then you can write to mail@publishers.org.uk

The UKAAF board would like to very much welcome Stacy to this important accessibility leadership position in our sector. I’m sure UKAAF members and allies would also want to take this opportunity to wish her all the best at an exciting and fast moving time in the development of digital publishing.