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Aspirational Thinking: Creating ASPIRE

The ASPIRE (Accessible Statements Promoting Improved Reading Experience) project was launched in 2018 as a crowdsourced project to evaluate the quality of accessibility statements in the publishing industry. ASPIRE has since developed into a fully responsive service and in this article, we trace the story of the ASPIRE from its small beginnings to becoming an industry standard driving increased transparency across the industry.

The Origins of ASPIRE

Accessibility

ASPIRE started life as a crowdsourced project supported by librarians, publishers, and ebook vendors. The aim was to create a unique resource that provided a health check on the state of accessibility information in the publishing ecosystem. The ASPIRE working group designed a framework of testing criteria and then crowdsourced the evaluation process across participating UK libraries.

A diagram illustrated a 5 by 3 matrix containing the 15 ASPIRE criteria.

The ASPIRE criteria

The results from the initial ASPIRE project offered an eye-opening insight into the state of accessibility within the publishing community and we shall explore those results in due course.

Legal

The driving force behind the creation of ASPIRE was the impending legal changes in the UK. In September 2018, the UK adopted the EU Directive on Public Sector Web Accessibility into UK law under the guise of the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018. This new legislation applied to all publicly funded organisations in the UK, including further and higher education institutions. It introduced two key elements as legal obligations:

  • Meeting the “accessibility requirement.”
  • Requiring accessibility statements.

The web accessibility legislation states that (Part 3.9.1.a):

A website of a public sector body will be presumed to be in conformity with the accessibility requirement to the extent that it meets harmonised standards.

Under the regulations, organisations that comply with WCAG 2.1 AA will fulfil their accessibility requirements. This legal change impacts all areas of the digital estate within a university or college. The Government Digital Services (GDS) states that if you pay for or subscribe to content you are “funding” it and therefore you are responsible for it meeting accessibility standards, as well as being responsible for providing an accessibility statement.

The GDS model accessibility statement outlines the key elements relevant to both the supplier and the university/college:

  1. an explanation of those parts of the content that are not accessible and the reasons why.
  2. a description of any accessible alternatives.
  3. contact information.
  4. Links to a complaints/escalation process.

Each of the first three elements is addressed by the ASPIRE review. The fourth is unique to each education provider. As a result, suppliers providing the kind of user focused guidance that would give them a high ASPIRE score are also creating the core of an accessibility statement that a university or college requires to meet their own obligations under the new legislation. By providing up-to-date accessibility statements suppliers are helping librarians and also providing an accurate reflection of their products and services, to their own benefit and to the benefit of their customers.

The ASPIRE Results: Information Silence

The overarching theme of the initial ASPIRE results was missing information within the accessibility statements. On average publishers were missing 87% of the information required and platforms were missing 78%. This missing information is critical to making informed procurement decisions  and the effective use of the digital content, and it clearly illustrated that content providers were failing to tell the whole story of their content.

A tiny mouse sits within a large block of cheese. The holes in the cheese represent the missing information with publishing accessibility statements.

The Holes in the Statements

The three key findings from the ASPIRE data were as follows:

  • Most suppliers provide far less accessibility information than a university or college requires in order to support their learners efficiently.
  • Most suppliers are missing a significant marketing opportunity because their digital products almost invariably have accessibility benefits (compared to hard copy print) that could – and should—be marketed.
  • Even when a supplier has an accessible product and useful accessibility information, the information is often hard to find or is spread across unrelated parts of the website, creating a significant variability in end user experience.

The ASPIRE project highlighted the lack of information made available by content providers, but it should be noted that it does not necessarily reflect the work and resources that are being invested in accessibility. A common response from content providers was that the survey helped them understand that they were not telling the story of the work they had dedicated to implementing inclusive publishing practices. An accessibility statement helps to promote this work and this marketing opportunity is often being overlooked. As Vanessa Boddington of VitalSource stated

The audit helped us refine the information we present to the public. Whilst we had focused on making our content as technically accessible as possible…how would users know how we can help unless we tell them?

In the face of the data, content providers were coming to understand that their message was not being heard.

Renewing ASPIRE

A key takeaway from the initial ASPIRE project was that there was demand for an ongoing service to meet the needs of publishers, platforms and users. An annual crowdsourced approach is unwieldy and ultimately unsustainable. To be truly effective ASPIRE needed to be transformed into a robust, scalable, sustainable and responsive service, to meet the publishing industry’s increased focus on accessibility.

The old logo for the ASPIRE project, left of image, is replaced by the new ASPIRE service logo, a green square with a white arrow tilted at 45 degrees and resembling a letter A.

The Development of ASPIRE

The new re-calibrated service, launched in August 2019 under the wing of textBOX, is responsive to the needs of content providers and provides a complete ASPIREreview within 5 business days. With this shift in focus to a fully-fledged accreditation service, ASPIRE can truly reflect the work of content providers and provide a window on their content for librarians and content purchasers. To further encourage accessible practices, we are also donating 10% of all profits from the new ASPIRE service to the UK Literacy Association Donkey Library scheme.

An icon of a green book sits beside an icon of a grey donkey. The donkey appears to be reading from the book.

UK Literacy Association Donkey Library

The ASPIRE Process

The ASPIRE service involves the following 4 stages:

ASPIREreview

The accessibility statement is reviewed in-depth by the ASPIRE team.

ASPIREscore

The accessibility statement is scored against each ASPIRE criteria.

ASPIREverified

The accessibility statement is accredited, and the approved review is ranked on the public ASPIRElist.

ASPIREstory

In addition to each ASPIREscore being announced to the market via Twitter, LinkedIn and library listservs, the publisher or platform is also able to submit an ASPIREstory detailing the importance of accessibility within their workflow. This marketing opportunity is a free service.

The Benefits of ASPIRE

The ASPIRE service fosters positive engagement within the publishing community across a range of perspectives:

The Librarian Perspective

ASPIRE helps librarians make informed procurement decisions and frees them from the unnecessary burden of writing accessibility statements as required by law.

The User Perspective

By creating informative accessibility statements, publishers and platforms are engaging with their customer base and highlighting their valuable content and innovative and useful features.

The Provider Perspective

Publishers and platforms invest heavily in accessibility. A thoughtful and comprehensive accessibility statement is an opportunity to tell their story, attract every customer and drive sales.

The Road Ahead

The new ASPIRE service has received a positive response since its launch in September 2019. Kogan Page posted the highest publisher score of 93% and became the first ASPIREverified Gold publisher. In recent months, ProQuest (78%), Cambridge Core (91%), and VitalSource (97%) have all achieved Gold status on the ASPIRElist for platforms. These scores are remarkable when contrasted with the average scores across the industry (14% for publishers and 24% for platforms, see Figures 5 and 6 below) and illustrate the commitment of these companies to accessible content and their users. The ASPIRE mission is to help every publisher and vendor reach a similar level.

An area graph of the publisher ASPIRE scores.

Publisher ASPIREscores by %

 

An area graph of the platform ASPIRE scores.

Platform ASPIREscores by %

Final Thoughts

An accessibility statement tells the story of a publisher’s content or a vendor’s platform. A book would never be published without a cover or a blurb to provide insight to the customer. By overlooking their accessibility statement, companies are failing to advertise their work and tell their story. The ASPIRE service helps guide publishers and platforms and amplifies their message. We help the publishing industry tell their story and open doors for their customers.

An icon of a green door represents enabling access to content and information for users.

Opening Doors, Enabling Access

Learn more about ASPIRE and make your statement today.

This article was kindly submitted by Huw Alexander, textBOX digital (an Inclusive Publishing Partner) and Alistair McNaught, Alistair McNaught Consultancy, the team giving ASPIRE a long term home.

The Business of Accessibility: Content that is More Usable is More Valuable

Delegates avidly watching the presentations

This article has been re-posted with the kind permission of the author, Abbie Headon and Bookmachine

I have to finally accept that it’s too late to say ‘Happy New Year’, but we’re right on time to say ‘Happy new Unplugged series!’ The 2019 series of BookMachine Unplugged events kicked off on Wednesday 20 February at a new venue, The Century Club, with a focus on the theme of accessibility. BookMachine Editorial Board member Ken Jones, our Production specialist, and his panel Huw AlexanderStacy Rowe and Alicia Wise provided important insights into why accessibility matters and what we need to be doing about it.

Are You an Accessibility A11y?

Ken started by setting accessibility in context: between 10% and 20% of the world’s population live with some form of disability; 36 million people are registered blind worldwide; and 217 million people live with some form of visual impairment. But the audience requiring accessible content is even larger than this, when you take into account mobility issues, dyslexia and attentional disorders, to give just a few examples.

The concept of accessibility is not a new one: Braille was developed in the 1820s, the RNIB was founded in 1868, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly included people with disabilities 70 years ago. So, while it may be tempting to think of accessibility as a modern phenomenon, it really isn’t – and therefore we have even less excuse for not having it at the heart of our publishing. And it was sobering to hear from Ken that currently less than 8% of the world’s books ever make it into accessible formats.

But we’re not on our own if we want to start improving our publishing practices. As well as experts like this event’s panel, there are countless people out there on the internet who are ready to help. A Twitter search for #a11y and #eprdctn will open up a world of helpful discussion around the topics of accessibility and ebook production. (And if you’re wondering what ‘a11y’ means, it’s the word ‘accessibility’ with the 11 middle letters swapped for ‘11’.)

A Library Full of Blank Pages

Stacy Rowe (Reader Services Product Manager, RNIB Bookshare) asked us to think about what it means when content isn’t accessible. Imagine walking into a fantastic library, with shelves stretching for miles. You search until you find the book you want – but when you open it, you discover all the pages are blank. That’s what life is like when content is not accessible to you. And perhaps the pages you aren’t able to read contain the very information you need for your education and your future career: without this information, you won’t be able to start off your life on the right track.

If we stop to think about it, there’s no need for the world’s publishing to be divided into ‘normal’ and ‘accessible’ content. If all content is structured in an accessible way, then everyone can use it. An accessible book is one that can be read using text-to-speech, enlargeable text and text-to-braille conversion – this is what we need to be aiming for. As long as our content is set up in the right way, it’s ready for apps and other accessibility devices to transform it into a medium that’s right for each user.

As an example, Stacy demonstrated for us how an ebook can be read super-fast using text-to-speech app VoiceOver and transformed into Braille by an Orbit Reader device. Thanks to this technology, readers can access Braille content through a handy device small enough to fit in a coat pocket, instead of needing a five-foot-tall mountain of Braille printouts. This demonstration underlined the fact that, as publishers, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make our books accessible: all we have to do is present our content in a well-structured way that people can use in the way they need to.

Some of Us Need the Stick

There are lots of positive reasons for us to provide accessible content: we know it’s good to spread our books to as many readers as possible; it can give us an advantage over our competitors, and it can boost out corporate social responsibility profile. But it’s not all about the carrots: some of us respond better to the stick, and there are plenty of legal sticks out there that we need to be aware of. Alicia Wise (Director, Information Power and Founding Member, ABC) explained that the two key types of laws that affect us on issues of accessibility concern copyright and equality.

The international copyright regime is monitored by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The Marrakesh Treaty, administered by WIPO, enshrines the right of people with disabilities to make accessible copies without reference to copyright restrictions. Recent signatories to this treaty include the EU and USA – so its terms apply to us. We’re also obliged to follow the legislation of our own countries, such as the UK Equality Act 2010, which protects people from discrimination based on nine protected characteristics, one of which is disability.

It’s vital that we’re aware of these laws, because the stick of legal action is real. Domino’s Pizza was recently sued in the UK for having a non-accessible ordering app, and other organisations have been held to account for accessibility failures too. If you’re presenting the case for accessible publishing to your senior management team, the potential for damaging legal action is a motivating factor they are sure to take seriously.

Do you have to be perfect straight away? No. If you’re honest, and signal your awareness of accessibility as an important issue, your willingness to engage with it and your desire for help, people will support you. So we shouldn’t be intimidated by the work involved – we just need to get started. Alicia pointed us to the free online accessibility checker, Ace by DAISY, and there are lots of people who are ready to help us live a stick-free future.

A Picture Painted in Words

Huw Alexander (COO and co-founder, textBOX) gave us a tour of one of the thorniest accessibility issues faced by publishers: how to deal with images. Publishers who have embraced the modern EPUB3 standard are able to deal with almost all aspects of accessibility, but describing images in a way that works for all users remains a tricky issue. And if you imagine using a textbook where all the images, graphs and infographics are blank or missing, you can see just how limited your access to the book’s information would become.

Huw gave us some examples of the power of good image descriptions. A key factor is appropriateness: if a book has a picture of a painting simply to illustrate the concept of ‘paintings’, then the description can be very brief. But if, on the other hand, an in-depth book on art contains a reproduction of an artwork, then the description needs to be much more thorough. Looking at The Arnolfini Portrait, a detailed description would mention not only the couple standing at the centre of the work but also other key elements, such as the oranges in the foreground, signifying the couple’s wealth, and the fact that the only character in the painting who makes eye contact with the viewer is the couple’s dog. The level of information required depends on the context the image appears in.

Adding image descriptions improves the user experience, and accessibility is a central plank of that user experience. Making your content accessible to more people makes your books better, leading to better sales as well as helping you fulfil your goal of sharing information – which is why we’re all in this business, surely.

The Time to Start is Now

Overall, our first Unplugged panel of 2019 showed that there are a host of reasons to start producing accessible content: knowing we’re doing the right thing; reaching more readers; having a marketing and sales advantage; future-proofing our content by making it machine-readable; and protecting ourselves from legal action. And there are lots of people out there who can help us get started. So really, we have no excuse: it’s 2019 and it’s time to make our content accessible to everyone.

ASPIRE Awards

The evening ended with the presentation of the ASPIRE Awards by Alistair McNaught, Subject Specialist (Accessibility and Inclusion) at Jisc. The awards were as follows:

Awards for Publishers:

Winner: Palgrave Macmillan

Highly commended: Red Globe Press; Policy Press

Sponsored by VitalSource

Awards for Platform Providers:

Winner: EBSCO

Highly commended: Kortext; VitalSource

Sponsored by textBOX

Abbie Headon is Commissioning Editor at Prelude Books, and also writes and edits books as Abbie Headon Publishing Services. She is a 2018 Bookseller Rising Star and sits on the BookMachine Editorial Board

Aspire Project to Launch at London Book Fair Accessibility Seminar

Among several of the strategies for success that will be examined at the annual Accessibility Action Group Seminar at London Book Fair this year, delegates will have the benefit of hearing from Alistair McNaught on the launch of the Aspire Project – a project that will give guidance on and eventually assess accessibility statements made by publishing companies and platform providers.

Aspire stands for: Accessibility Statements Promoting Improved Reading Experiences

By clarifying the benefits (and the barriers) in your accessibility statement organisations will:

  • help customers/readers make best use of the potential accessibility features,
  • reduce customers/reader frustration in trying to do access a functionality that you already know isn’t feasible.
  • help distinguish your product from competitors who provide no information.
  • identify future priorities for your product roadmap.

We very much look forward to the first results of this project and improvements in accessibility statements for all participants.

Further details regarding the project can be found at the Aspire website.