The Accessible Publishing Conference: A First for the UK

Accessible Publishing Conference title slide

November 9th 2023 saw the first accessible publishing conference for the UK, organized by The DAISY Consortium together with RNIB and hosted by Google. Delegates were able to attend in person or online and an exciting day of information sharing, networking and learning was had by all under the expert guidance of the conference chair, DAISY’s Richard Orme.

Welcome from Lord Holmes

Lord Holmes, Member of the House of Lords, welcomed delegates and shared with us all his own own personal experience of growing up with a print disability and how excited he is to witness the tremendous progress being made in the area of accessible publishing. The themes of the conference fit so well alongside Lord Holmes’ work in Parliament where he has focused on inclusion. innovation, talent and technology for the last ten years.

Inclusion is the enabler of innovation. The power of the written word only becomes real when it is accessible to all.

Lord Holmes

Lord Holmes urged us to embrace all the latest technologies and to harness the power of their inclusive potential. Ensuring that everything is “inclusive by design” will put us on the best footing for the future.

Accessible Publishing Conference part 1

Towards Accessible Content

This session concentrated on the experiences of oraganizations in the UK who are working towards accessible content, at various different stages. It was fascinating to hear about the different points of view and challenges that the speakers face on a day to day basis.

Taylor and Francis’ Stacy Scott opened this session describing her own journey as a blind student through university, RNIB Bookshare and most recently trade and academic publishing. As Chair of the UK’s Publishers Accessibility Action Group (PAAG), she urged delegates to sign the PAAG Accessibility Charter as a publisher or as an ally, relaying the successes and plans that current signatories have shared.

Penguin Random House’s Simon Mellins talked to us about Accessibility Transformation at Scale. The enormous throughput at PRH involves a large number of people in ebook workflows and keeping everyone aware of accessibility issues, both internally and externally, is a not insignificant challenge. Image description is the one area that is making most publishers nervous, especially for those with a sizeable backlist. PRH are working with suppliers, developing style guides and prototypes to cope with this at scale. Likewise, creating templates for accessibility metadata means that the sheer volume of information is easier to cope with.

Darragh Deering, Ingram Content Group, spoke to us about the Print on Demand service at Ingram which offers a global solution for large print books. The scale of the market globally is huge and Deeragh explained how Ingram are tackling this. Catalog availability and improvement are two key areas of focus for the future eg. the inclusion of accessibility metadata, bespoke requirements for readers (fonts, size etc), pre-publication ordering and the establishment of best practice in this area.

Google’s Abhipreeti Chauhan presented work being done on auto narrated audio books, filling the gap between ebooks and traditional audio books and specifically providing a low cost and fast way to produce audio books for titles which might never have been selected for this format due to cost constraints. This was a fascinating insight into this program.

Resources for Towards Accessible Content

How We Read

This powerful set of presentations from 4 readers with print disabilities gave delegates a real sense of just how challenging access to content can be and how important the work towards accessible content is. What is incredibly important for us all to remember is that each reader has their own set of requirements and own personal preferences, whether they have a disability or not and that accessible content enriches the reading experience for everyone.

Richard Orme reminded us that readers with print disabilities are empowered by the accessible publications that our industry produces alongside well-designed reading systems and assitive technologies. A real theme in this session was how tricky it is to find content that meets reader’s needs, including the problem of DRM and the fear of stealing content. As noted later on in the day, accessibility metadata is the key to everything and although we may be working hard to produce accessible content, it is no good if it can’t be discovered! Speakers included:

  • Matthew Clark – low vision 
  • Paul Porter – blindness 
  • Enrico Riva – dyslexia and other learning differences 
  • David Hursthouse – physical disabilities 
Accessible Publishing Conference part 2

The Accessible Publishing Imperative

Anna Tylor, Chair of RNIB, gave a passionate presentation about the work that RNIB have accomplished through RNIB Bookshare and about her own personal experiences. She shared with us her dream for the future of real time access to educational materials for all readers via mainstream content, something that she wishes she could have hadherself as a younger reader. Describing how and what she reads today, Anna remarked that

What seems natural now, seemed impossible 15 years ago for readers with print disabilities

Anna Tylor

The Accessibility Toolbox

DAISY Consortium developers, Daniel Weck and Romain Deltour, talked us through the wonderful suite of free open source tools that DAISY offer, tools that assist content providers in producing accessible publications. Daniel opened this session by reminding us of our collective goal: to end the book famine which people with print disabilities have endured for far too long by creating Born Accessible titles from the outset and by transforming existing publications into the EPUB format

This presentation focused on:

  • Standards and Best Practice: EPUB, EPUB Accessibility 1.1, WCAG and the EAA
  • Resources and checking tools that have been developed to assist with the navigation of the complex standards landscape: The DAISY Knowledge Base, EPUBCheck, DAISY Ace and DAISY SMART. These tools fall into 2 categories and Romain explained the difference between them and why the full suite is needed to give a comprehensive assessment.

A highlight of this session was Romain’s deft description of the EPUBCheck tool

How much EPUB would EPUBCheck check if EPUBCheck could check EPUB!

Romain Deltour

With lively demo sessions and a high level focus on tools this session offered something for everyone, whatever their technical ability.

Resources for Accessibility Toolbox

Distribution and Reading Apps

Rick Johnson and Terra Masiel gave us an insight into how VitalSource and Amazon are getting ready for The European Accessibility Act. The work being done by both organizations in preparation for the EAA is crucial and Rick commented on how exciting it it has been to see the wealth of solutions being developed in readiness for the legislation.

Vital Source place accessibility at the heart of everything they do, with a focus on mainstream access for all users. In addition, they are concentrating on the localization of interfaces so that content can be made available in 37 languages across the globe. This approach of making the learning process accessible informs all interactions with the complex education ecosystem in which a large proportion of print disabled students do not inform their colleges that they have accessibility requirements. Mainstream access to content is the answer.

The European Accessibility Act is driving the empowerment of self-service for users

Rick Johnson, VitalSource

For both speakers, the element of discovery via accessibility metadata is the key to everything. At Amazon, the focus on the accessibility of the content is just as important as shipping new kindle features and Terra outlined work being done to improve content discovery and to retain accessibility features in all the various formats they ingest content in via guidance for publishers. Next on Terra’s wish list is an accessibility solution to fixed layout content

Resources for Distribution and Reading Apps

Accessible Publishing Conference part 3

International Perspectives Panel

This panel, chaired by DAISY’s Richard Orme, focused on questions that had been submitted from our audience and we were lucky to hear from some of the major international figures in accessible publishing.

Really worth watching the video of this session to understand their varying perspectives and the tremendous work that they are achieving. Richard Orme’s last question to the panel asked them what spell they would cast if they had a magic wand:

  • Cristina Mussinelli said that she would make the panel disappear, signifying that accessibility was “done”
  • Laura Brady would like to see accessibility metadata being implemented at the vendor and library level
  • Michael Johnson would make InDesign more accessible – they key to making all content accessible
  • Pedro Milliet would hire plenty of people with print disabilities throughout the publishing ecosystem
  • Avneesh Singh would cast two spells encouraging publishers worldwide to embrace EPUB 3 and for reading systems to be fully accessible.

Resources for the International Perspectives Panel

An Amazing Day!

Lord Holmes summed up why we were all at this wonderful event when he told us about his own experiences, urging us all to believe in inclusive publishing.

Without accessible materials, without inclusion, I would find it so extraordinarily difficult to achieve very much at all

Lord Holmes

Look out for further articles and blog pieces on some of these topics where we will go into more detail and explore further the issues raised by our speakers and delegates. Our congratulations to everyone involved for an outstanding day.