The APACE Project, the Accessibility Accelerator for European Publishing, Gets Underway

various coloured cone shaped game piece are connected by lines drawn on qhite paper to denote the concept of networking

Eighteen months from the time when the European Accessibility Act will unfold its effects on the digital content and book supply chain, the APACE project has begun. The network, coordinated by Fondazione LIA, aims to improve the reading opportunities – and thus the social inclusion – of more than 100 million people with visual impairments in Europe.

Three publisher associations and three organizations dedicated to accessibility in publishing form the core of APACE. They are the Italian publishers’ Association (AIE), the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (the German Publishers and Booksellers Association), and the Bulgarian Book Association (BBA); as well as the Dutch company Stichting Dedicon and the Finnish and Lithuanian libraries of the blind: Celia and Lithuanian Audiosensory Library, respectively.

Coordinating the five entities is Fondazione LIA, (also the creator of APACE) the nonprofit organization that is a leader in the development and adoption of accessibility solutions in publishing established by AIE in 2014.

“Today Fondazione LIA works every day with publishers, who contribute to the growth of the catalog of accessible ebooks in Italy, with the aim of fostering the creation of an accessible digital publishing ecosystem for all”, says Secretary General Cristina Mussinelli, “in collaboration with entities that guarantee access to publications for people with disabilities, starting with the Italian Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired (UICI), which has been an institutional member of the foundation since 2017, and with the support of the Ministry of Culture.”

Building on Fondazione LIA’s vision, standing out in the European and international landscape, and the specific expertise of the other partners, APACE aims to enhance the skills of the European publishing industry in the area of accessibility, reducing the current skills gap and contributing to the training of a new generation of experts. In fact, the acronym stands for Accelerating Publishing Accessibility through Collaboration in Europe. The project is co-funded by Creative Europe and it will run for 24 months, from January 2024 to December 2025.

“The timing is perfectly harmonized with the arrival of the European Accessibility Act, which from June 2025 will require publishers to adopt accessibility standards for digital publications. The goal is to work together, creating a two-way dialogue between the two communities primarily affected by this challenge: publishers and the specialized organizations that produce accessible publications in alternative formats,” Mussinelli emphasized during the project’s kick-off meeting, noting how cooperation – and the possibility of pooling knowledge, skills and practices – is at the heart and meaning of the project.

APACE’s starting point, pointed out Elisa Molinari, Project coordinator for Fondazione LIA, will be from the outset “to gather facts and figures on the current level of adoption of accessibility practices in Europe, with particular regard to born accessible models, which integrate accessibility into the production and distribution processes of digital books; thus identifying the specific skills and knowledge needed at each stage of publishing workflows to achieve the goal of accessibility.”

The results of this preliminary activity, which will start next month with the implementation of a survey, will enable the detailed definition of the activities of the next phases of the project, directing them toward strengthening and growth. The operation of the APACE network, moreover, rests its foundation on the experience of Fondazione LIA and the work already done in the field by each partner, and the need to outline a new innovative and efficient process of collaboration among all parties. Building on the experiences already in place, in short, APACE provides a platform for enhancing the capacities of the parties involved through sharing and interaction, serving as fertile ground for further development and collaboration.

Capacity building through training courses and a European Summer School on accessibility; networking opportunities at meetings and ask the experts sessions; outreach events to promote accessibility best practices; and pilot projects to test new methods of producing and distributing accessible ebooks. There are many formats and initiatives that APACE will implement through its partners, the results of which (guidelines, best practices, white papers) will then be made available through the European Accessibility Directory, the project website.

“The involvement of publishers and people with disabilities from the initial design phase in the different activities is an innovative practice that will allow us to share, experiment and co-design solutions taking into account the needs of content producers and readers at the same time,” Molinari pointed out.

Mussinelli concluded: “The work carried out by Fondazione LIA together with AIE and Italian publishers has enabled our country to develop a model that has anticipated what is required by the European Accessibility Act in terms of accessibility of digital content and publications.”

APACE is a support and a further acceleration in this direction, and a way to share and capitalize on our expertise in Europe as well.

Vristina Mussinelli

This article is written by Alessandra Rotondo and was originally published in the Giornale della biblioteca. Our thanks to Denise Nobili for the translation and to LIA for their kind permission to cross post this piece.