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Accessible Ebook Publishing in Canada: The Business Case

Logo for book summit reading - Breaking New Ground, Toward the next decade of publishingThis article was kindly submitted by Laura Brady and Daniella Levy-Pinto who are presenting this Business Case for Accessibility at The Toronto Book Summit 2019 on June 18. Laura is Director of Cross-Media at House of Anansi Press and runs the highly respected and popular ebookcraft conference in Canada. Daniella is the Coordinator for Accessibility Testing with the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS). As a totally blind reader, Daniella has considerable experience with accessible formats and accessible reading. 

Publishing people don’t want to hear much about ebooks at the moment. Print is surging, ebooks are static—all the stats say so. Do we really have to talk about ebooks anymore? People love the smell of print, it’s been proven. There are even candles that smell like print books. Consumer nostalgia for print is real, so why do we need to keep discussing ebooks?

Despite my ride-or-die ebook reputation, I am a traditionally-trained typesetter and a hard-core print fetishist, believe it or not. There is nothing sexier than good typography, nice paper, or a well-designed cover that you can touch. My house is overrun with books, to be honest. (I am biding time until the kids move out and I can convert their rooms to libraries.) But I labour in cross-media and think a heck of a lot about inclusion, diversity, and the reading experience.

What’s not always obvious in the conversations about the smell of print is that there is a healthy slice of the reading population for whom paper books are duds. The smell has nothing on the fact that they can’t see the words or navigate the pages.

A doctrinaire approach to print books is, by its nature, exclusive and self-involved.

I know what you’re thinking. “You want me to put more time and energy into ebooks? How on earth can I justify that?” We want to arm you with the facts and figures that you need to go back to your publishing houses to make an argument for doing better when it comes to digital publishing. A little known fact is this: ebooks are not automatically accessible

Learning how to design and publish inclusive content as a standard part of your workflow makes great business sense. Being aware of how content and design may create barriers to reading also helps us generate new ideas and designs. It highlights opportunities to create solutions with utility and elegance that will create better books for everyone.

Making Better Ebooks

Electronic publications have great potential for users with print disabilities to gain access to information that might otherwise be inaccessible to them. Print disabilities, according to Canada’s Copyright Act, includes visual, mobility, or comprehension impairments. The word accessibility means the “ability” to “access.” In this instance, we are talking about access to information but, as with all situations, accessibility refers to how something is designed to be used, reviewed, read, or otherwise accessed by someone with a disability or impairment of some kind.

The advent of ebooks meant that for the first time in history, blind and other print-disabled users were able to gain access to the same books and publications at the same time as the rest of the population, at the same price. Readers with print disabilities access ebooks on computers or mobile devices using various assistive technologies, including screen readers, refreshable Braille displays, or screen magnification software. A screen reader refers to the software that runs in computers or mobile devices that reads the contents of a smartphone’s or tablet’s screen out loud, allowing users with visual disabilities to access information. They utilize a variety of gestures in mobile devices, or keyboard shortcuts on computers in order to execute functions.

Digital content is inherently more flexible than hard copy. It should be possible to use assistive technologies to read the text out loud with or without being able to see the screen. The user should be able to navigate easily and orientate themselves within the context of the content. It should be possible for users to change colours or magnify text and have it reflow to fit the page.

Of course, readers who cannot access print materials in a conventional way have different accessibility requirements: blind readers need to be able to navigate books like their fully sighted counterparts can, including moving between pages and chapter or section headings, and navigating to a particular section of interest from the table of contents; people with low vision or reading disabilities need to be able to adjust the presentation of content on a screen by, for example, enlarging the font size or changing font and background colours; and people with mobility impairments may need to be able to read and navigate digital books using voice commands or other assistive technology.

This, however, does not always happen. Depending on the aggregator, the publisher, and the format, readers with print disabilities can have very different experiences when trying to access a book. Many publishers and their suppliers are still clinging to EPUB 2, an inherently inferior product from an accessibility point of view. Accessibility also depends on the devices and software which the person with a print disability uses, and on the person’s knowledge and skill in using the devices and software. Needs also are changing with the development of new technologies and the familiarity of younger people (in particular) in working with them.

Opening up Markets

A sign stating "Reading Terminal market"

Let’s talk about consumer markets. There are two post-consumer organizations serving readers with print disabilities in Canada: the National Network for Equitable Library Service, and the Centre for Equitable Library Access, also known as NNELS and CELA. And they are busy. In 2018, NNELS acquired 23,911 books — and spent 7-20 hours remediating 300 of those with their limited in-house staff. In the fiscal year ending March 31, CELA’s users borrowed 1.18 million titles, 265k of which were digital versions (DAISY talking books, e-braille, etc.) These are staggering numbers for a market the size of Canada.

NNELS is both a digital public library of downloadable books and an advocate for an accessible and equitable reading ecosystem for Canadians with print disabilities. NNELS supports principles of openness, inclusion, and choice. NNELS develops and maintains a digital repository of accessible titles for Canadians with print disabilities, available through Canadian public libraries, works to advance the agenda of accessible publishing, and builds capacity by providing employment opportunities for people with print disabilities.

Anyone with a print disability can request any title through one of those organizations, thanks to the copyright exemptions that come from Bill C-11, also known as the Copyright Act. They will buy the ebook or print book and then do the incredibly laborious work of re-formatting it for its next reader —stripping junk HTML, OCR scanning, adding alt text, etc. That’s their mandate but they are actively trying to get out of that business so they can focus on being librarians. They aren’t going to just be librarians anytime soon, I’m afraid. There are a lot of slap dash ebooks in the marketplace that are going to keep the remediation work going for some time.

So what is this mythical print-disabled marketplace? Not so mythical at all. There are 37 million people in Canada; approximately 1.5 million of those meet strict criteria for being labelled as having a print disability. That number does not account for an ageing population. According to the National Coalition for Vision Health: Vision Loss in Canada, one in nine Canadians will have irreversible vision loss by 65. That figure ramps up to one in four by the age of 75. As twenty-five percent of the population will be aged 65 or over by 2030, that is a substantial chunk of readers.

So that covers vision issues, but the term print disability is broad. According to the International Dyslexia Association, between 15-20% of the population has some form of language-based learning disability. A chunk of the population has a physical issue that prevents them from holding and manipulating a book. And, I would add, this doesn’t account for situational disabilities. Listening to an audiobook while driving, or having voice aids read text aloud so the reader can be hands-free are good examples of that. A breastfeeding mother needs her hands for other things, for example. Someone who has a broken arm may have trouble navigating an ereader or website.

There is a healthy market in readers with print disabilities. And there are some preliminary statistics that point to that group of readers being more voracious than the average. The Italian accessibility organization, Fondazione LIA, points out that where texts are accessible to them, readers with print disabilities consume more than three times the number of books than the non-print-disabled population.

Booknet Canada infographic stating that 67% of digital readers user the TOC, that tablets are used by 62% of digital readers, that the most commonly used a11y features are: font sizing-45%, night display-42%, orient text-28%, reading mode-26%, DJUST COLOUR-26%, MAGNIFY SCREEN-25% AND SCREENREADER-13%

According to Booknet Canada’s 2018 How Do Readers Use Ebooks survey, approximately half of all digital readers use accessibility features of some kind. Font sizing, night mode, text orientation, reading mode, colour modifications, and screen magnification.

SenseAbility.ca states that the buying power of the Canadian disability community is $55.4 billion annually. The value of the global population of people with disabilities and their friends and family is 3.6 billion. This is a very large, untapped market. In the UK, this enormous spending power has a nickname: the purple pound.

And beyond the disability market, 87% of Canadian consumers say that they value inclusion, and 92% of consumers are more likely to support a business that is both physically and digitally accessible.

Go out there and court those readers! The consumer market is there and eager to be served.

Opening Up Government Funding Opportunities

You may have heard about the latest round of funding in the federal budget. In March of this year, the Liberal government announced 22.8 million over five years to support independent Canadian publishers to publish more accessibly. This funding is likely going to be geared towards setting publishers up to do better when it comes to ebooks. The Department of Canadian Heritage is going to administer the monies and will start “rewarding” publishers who meet standards fairly quickly, starting next year at the latest and possibly as soon as this Fall. It’s coming, people! They have two streams of funding through the Canada Book Fund: support for organizations, and support for publishers.

There are other ways to tap into government support of accessible publishing as well. Did you know that if you write “Literature for the Blind” in the upper right hand corner of a package, Canada Post will deliver it free of charge? (Please don’t abuse this knowledge.) Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) has a number of instruments by which they support accessible publishing in this country. This agency supports NNELS and CELA/CNIB in significant ways—project support, and ongoing funding. In January of this year, they supported the organization and staging of an Accessible Publishing Summit, which brought together various stakeholders in our industries—libraries, publishers, alternate format producers, and accessibility advocates. The work of that summit is still reverberating.

At least three provinces offer funding support in the form of tax credits to publishers. At present none of them explicitly reward born accessible content, but it’s not hard to imagine that something of this sort would be part of future programs. For example, Manitoba offers a bonus equal to 15% of printing costs back to the publisher if a book is printed on paper with a minimum of 30% recycled content. One could easily see tax credits extending to publishers who put more attention and detail into their digital publishing program. Get your house ready!

Legal Requirements

Photograph of the Hon Carla Qualtrough at a podium with a quote in a side box which reads "Bill C-81 sends a strong message: Canada is a leader in accessibility".

Investing in accessibility will help mitigate legal risks and ensure that you will avoid litigation—avoiding costs and the brand damage associated with legal proceedings.

The Government of Canada and several provinces are currently working towards making Canada a more inclusive, barrier-free country. This is a very brief summary of the most relevant laws:

AODA and Other Provincial Legislation

In 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was passed for the purpose of “developing implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025″ (AODA, 2005). The act creates the legal framework for developing and enforcing regulations regarding accessibility.

When it comes to ebooks, the AODA’s Information and Communication Standard is what lays out accessibility requirements. It mandates public sector organizations and large organizations to make their internet websites and web content conform with the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)  initially at Level A and increasing to Level AA. (O. Reg. 191/11, s. 14 (2).) As EPUB files are HTML-based, WCAG standards are therefore applicable.

Other provinces also have disability legislation as well and we recommend this website for an overview https://siteimprove.com/en-ca/blog/a-complete-overview-of-canada-s-accessibility-laws/

In brief:

Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA)—became law in 2013
Nova Scotia Accessibility Act—became law in 2017
British Columbia has proposed an Accessibility Act (Bill M 219), it had its first reading in the Legislature in May 2018

Bill C-81

An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. The Accessible Canada Act was introduced in the House of Commons in June 2018, and on May 29, 2019, it was passed unanimously in the House of Commons. The Bill now awaits Royal Assent. One of the purposes of the bill is to prevent accessibility barriers in information and communication technologies, including digital content and the technologies used to access it. Requirements of this bill, including web accessibility, will likely follow WCAG. Organizations under federal jurisdiction will be required to comply, or face a fine of up to $250,000.

It aims to set the base for the full and equal participation of all persons, especially persons with disabilities, in society. This is to be achieved by the identification, removal and prevention of barriers.

The Marrakesh Treaty

The Marrakesh Treaty is an international treaty administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) that was adopted in Marrakesh, Morocco, in June 2013; Canada joined in 2016. It aims to facilitate access to published works for persons with print disabilities by providing the material in formats that they can easily use. The Treaty establishes international norms that require countries to provide exceptions in their national laws to facilitate the availability of works in accessible formats for persons who are print-disabled.

In Canada, government policy on copyright exceptions for people with perceptual disabilities already aligns with the objective of the Treaty. Before Canada could accede to the Marrakesh Treaty, the government had to amend the Copyright Act to bring the exceptions in the Act for people with print disabilities in line with the obligations of the Treaty. Amendments made to the Act include the following:

  • Permit the making of large-print books
  • Reduce the restrictions on exporting accessible materials—authors will be allowed to send accessible-format copies of their work, regardless of their nationality, facilitating the cross-border exchange of works in accessible formats with supporting organizations in other countries.
  • Safeguards to protect the commercial market for materials in accessible formats. This ensures that publishers who choose to make their books available in accessible formats can sell them in the marketplace.

In the US, the number of legal actions continues to rise and courts increasingly decide in favour of equal access often citing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Benefits Will Ripple Through the Supply Chain

A well-made ebook won’t be sent back from any vendor. An EPUB that meets certification standards will sail into the marketplace without a hiccup. It will function better across all reading systems and platforms because of clean HTML and semantic markup. It will just work. That ebook will bounce its way into OverDrive and Hoopla. The people at NNELS will do a happy dance whose tremors you will feel.

But over and above that, you will find that ebooks that meet standards and are maybe even certified, will get privileged positioning in the marketplace. In the higher education market in the US, ebooks that are certified will receive privileged positioning in the Vital Source catalogue. (VitalSource Bookshelf a part of the Ingram Group, and is an ebook platform that allows you to access course materials whenever and wherever you choose–laptop, desktop or mobile device. You can download texts directly or access them via your browser.) Consumers who need content for specific needs will be able to search for content that is resizable, or has image descriptions, for example. And instructors can search through the Vital Source catalogue for course material identified with the accessibility icon.

Vital Source accessibility icon

It feels like it’s just a matter of time before this becomes more common. We would love to see this ripple out in the library context, to make it easier for readers who need certain features to find the books they want to read. Given OverDrive’s dismal record on accessibility and their dominance in the library world, this feels unlikely in the short term. But  the fine folks at NNELS and CELA would love to see trade publishing using accessibility metadata.

Further, the use of good accessibility metadata will mean that in some contexts, your content will be more discoverable. You can use a11y metadata to indicate if that your ebook is structured, is resizable, has alternative text on images, has ARIA semantics descriptors built as well as many other features that you may wish to highlight.

It’s worth referring back to Fondazione LIA again, the Italian accessible publishing organization. Starting in 2011 as a project carried out by the trade association of Italian publishers, their goal has been to increase access to content for people with visual impairments. It has been supported by the Italian government since the beginning. They have built a catalogue of 20 thousand accessible ebooks, with more than 400 titles added per month. They are an excellent example of publishers and accessibility advocates working together with government support to leverage technology to plug a hole in the marketplace and to have a dramatic effect on the supply chain in that country.

Accessibility is Good for Your Image

People will like you if you publish with accessibility in mind. They will, they really, really will like you! A clear commitment to accessibility can demonstrate that a business has a genuine sense of Corporate Social Responsibility. Making the commitment to sustainable, inclusive marketing and employment practices, can bring about a range of benefits, including enhanced brand image and reputation, increased sales and customer loyalty, improved workforce diversity, and a more inclusive society. Conversely, neglecting to incorporate accessibility can mean that your products will be left behind, for example by not being able to adapt old or outdated content to new standards as they emerge; that would be the result of the cost of inaction.

To further underscore the relevance of accessibility for the world’s economy and businesses, it is worth noting that a key message at the Davos World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in January 2019, was the need to build a more inclusive society, and include the estimated 1 billion people in the world living with a disability.

Branding

Businesses that integrate accessibility are more likely to be innovative, inclusive enterprises that reach more people with positive brand messaging that meets emerging global legal requirements.

Making sure that the ebooks you produce are easy to use by disabled people will mean that it is also easier for every customer to use those ebooks. Think of this as a Usability Bonus.

In physical environments, everyone takes advantage of lower curbs, automatic door openers, ramps, and other features provided for disability access. Accessible ebooks are by nature flexible, allowing content to faithfully render across a broad spectrum of devices, platforms, assistive technologies, and operating systems, and this provides more options for everyone.

Showing that a company cares about accessibility engenders customer loyalty and generates repeat business. Producing ebooks which everyone can use, regardless of their abilities, unites us by design. Empathy is important here; you will be helping create the feeling of belonging rather than feeling excluded. The benefits for your reputation are particularly relevant. A survey undertaken by the National Business and Disability Council in 2017 found that 66% of consumers will purchase goods and services from a business that features persons with disabilities in their advertising, while 78% will purchase goods and services from a business that takes steps to ensure easy access for individuals with disabilities at their physical locations.

Increased sales and cost considerations

When ebooks are “born accessible,” it means that all readers can access the content at the time of publication. This enhances the experience for all readers, and is especially beneficial for readers with print disabilities, who don’t have to wait for an alternate format of the title they want to read—they can simply purchase ebooks from publishers and bookstores, or borrow them from the public library, like everyone else. Furthermore, accessibility is becoming increasingly relevant in government procurement decisions, such as books for higher education.

An initial investment means that publishers are in a position to produce ebooks that are accessible. Once established, best practices help publishers become much more cost effective, by building accessibility into all their content, right from the start. The rest is business as usual.

Creating a Diverse Workforce: People with Disabilities are Part of the Solution

Part of the solution to the current lack of accessibility, is a cultural change. Instead of an optional feature, we need to start thinking of accessibility as the baseline. A 2016 Microsoft-funded investigation about the economic value of accessible technologies to companies suggests several advantages for employees from increased talent diversity, including a boost in productivity, and increased retention.

The best way to overcome accessibility barriers is by engaging people who have dealt with those challenges.

This represents the opportunity to tap into a reservoir of potential that could enrich our society with new ideas and new interactions. Those who have had to adapt and overcome such challenges often prove to be the most positive, determined, and hardworking employees. People with disabilities are innovative and resourceful, and have experience finding ways to prevent and eliminate accessibility barriers, for example finding workarounds to be able to consume specific content.

Good inclusive design can begin with hiring people with disabilities to help find solutions. The design team must comprise individuals who can empathize with users who consume print content in non-traditional ways. It’s all about thinking beyond the “typical” user and embracing new ideas to produce a seamless experience for all users.

People with disabilities can create awareness of what works well and what doesn’t for the publishing workflow. In-house accessibility experts can also do a thorough quality assurance test to ensure that all accessibility features have been included according to specification. Moreover, employing people with disabilities can give you access to a larger pool of potential customers. There are many benefits that come with accessibility, such as the good will that doing so creates, and the relationships you can build. You can become leaders in this.

On an individual level, we need to normalize the idea that everyone has different senses and capabilities, and make sure we’re communicating in a way that everyone can understand. On a corporate level, we need to make accessibility integral to the ebook, rather than something to be added later.

Accessible content also brings about a societal benefit. When persons with print disabilities have the means of full participation in the information economy, Canada’s national productivity would benefit from the contribution of this newly realized asset. Moreover, we live in an era of unprecedented challenges, from climate change to the weakening of liberal democracies. In this context, it is of the most importance to ensure that everyone can have access to information, to enable full participation in society. We need all hands on deck, and accessible content is essential, because it enables everyone to access information.

Let’s Talk!

Group of delegates talking to Daniella at the Accessibility Summit in January 2019

So in conclusion:  let’s start doing a better job by leveraging the tools we already use. Let’s talk about getting ebooks certified accessible. Let’s talk about ebook distribution and how to use metadata to boost the discoverability of your digital publishing products. Let’s talk about folding the work of print-disabled experts into your workflow. It’s good for your profile, good for your bottom line, and good for business.

Our thanks to Laura and Daniella for enabling a wider, international audience to benefit from their wisdom. 

Accessibility in Publishing: A Case Study from Kogan Page

Kogan Page logoAccessibility: The quality or characteristic of something that makes it possible to approach, enter or use it

Context

Broadly speaking, there are three key reasons why publishers ought to engage with accessibility:

  • The first is legal: the Marrakesh Treaty (signed into EU law on 1 January 2019) now facilitates access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. This makes governmental, further and higher education institutions more accountable for digital accessibility for their stakeholders.
  • Secondly, there are well-defined standards—EPUB Accessibility 1.0 together with WCAG 2.1 and WAI-ARIA 1.1, which enable publishers to semantically describe and format their content accessibly so that assistive technology can exploit the embedded accessibility features.
  • Thirdly, there are documentation and resources available in the public domain that greatly facilitate a structured approach to accessibility for publishers.

In addition, there are well-rehearsed and compelling social and political arguments for creating content that is accessible to all readers. Publishers also have a moral as well as a commercial obligation to make their authors’ content accessible to the widest possible readership.

The fact that less than 10 per cent of all publications are currently accessible is a timely reminder that much remains to be done.

This case study will describe the approach to accessibility taken by Kogan Page over the last 18 months. The focus will be primarily on the path we took to create accessible content, but it will become clear that this is not where the journey ends.

Like many other publishers, Kogan Page approach content development with the overall goal of creating high-quality content by driving standards and workflow automation into our pre-press processes. The emerging accessibility requirements (both accessibility metadata and features such as Alt Text, Long Descriptions and ARIA roles) forced us to rethink our standards-based workflow from the ground up. This might initially seem like a daunting task, but as an independent publisher with a focused list of publications and predictable (if complex) content types, we were reasonably confident that our goal of making all our content accessible to a high standard was not overly optimistic.

A key decision was to reconfigure our pre-press workflow by developing and implementing an XHTML Schema and accompanying CSS. We had seen this as a highly desirable goal for our digital content for a long time but realising that it would enable us to incorporate all key accessibility features into our default production workflow was a real incentive to pursue EPUB Accessibility 1.0 as a realistic outcome.

The following case study will show that Kogan Page has adopted an integrated approach to accessibility. This contains at least three dimensions: content, interface, communication—plus ongoing research. While the initial approach clearly has to be content focused, it is just as important that the accessible content developed is tested at the interface at which it is ultimately accessed. It’s also key that you communicate your  message about accessibility and its importance, both internally to colleagues, and externally to authors, customers and other stakeholders in the accessibility community.

A graphic of the accessibility ecosystem from the point of view of a publisher. At its core are the two main features of ebook accessibility. First, Content, the primary focus of the publisher. Publishers need to make sure they create accessible EPUBs that use HTML5 semantic mark up and ARIA roles and include landmarks (for wayfinding), a logical reading order, image descriptions, page numbers (that relate to the print product) and accessibility metadata. This is best done with a born-accessible workflow. Second, interface, the point at which content is consumed. Publishers need to engage with their print-impaired readers to ensure their content works as expected on the various e-readers and platforms with the various assistive technologies available. It’s also important that the accessibility metadata supplied by publishers is surfaced on the platforms so disability service providers can easily see the level of accessibility featured inside each product. Publishers can, and should, communicate their accessibility policy and whether their content conforms to standards in an online accessibility statement, which should be in an easy-to-find location on the publisher website. In simple terms, the publisher works on the content, which is consumed via an interface, which is where readers engage with content. Surrounding this is the accessibility community, which includes publishers, readers, disability service providers, e-reader creators, platform providers, experts, accessibility accreditation providers, image description vendors, Inclusive Publishing, the RNIB, DAISY, Benetech and many more. Publishers should engage with the experts and participate in industry events.

Content

Making content accessible is achievable if you know the key areas on which to focus, the skills required in-house to implement change and where to ask for help. We didn’t have this information when we began our journey and offer the following thoughts in order to encourage others on theirs.

There were three factors that led us to think about accessibility in a serious way.

  • In early 2018, we made the decision to invest in implementing an XHTML schema and workflow. Our main aim was to drive structure and semantic information into our ebook files in a consistent manner and automate some of the laborious pre-press processes (for us and our vendors). We very quickly realised, though, that the structure and semantic information we would be incorporating into our files would allow us to very easily map and append accessibility features.
  • At this time, a new role was created for the purpose of implementing the new XHTML schema. It proved essential that this person took ownership of the schema process; and this lead naturally to the role doubling up as proponent and owner for accessibility.
  • We also knew that the ideal format for accessible publications is EPUB 3, the format of our entire ebook back catalogue. This gave us a good start. However, as many publishers know, not all EPUB 3 files are born equal. The EPUB 3 specification simply makes it possible to produce highly accessible files. Publishers need to supplement HTML5 with the detailed structural semantics in the WAI-ARIA specification, for example.

A diagram outlines the main features of the XHTML workflow developed by Kogan Page – allowing them to create born-accessible content. The workflow begins with the copy-edited Word file of the manuscript. This is converted to XHTML, which is rigidly defined by Kogan Page’s schema (a set of rules that ensures the content is well-formed, semantically rich and accessible). In the XHTML, Kogan Page make sure the HTML5 mark-up is supplemented with structural semantics in the WAI-ARIA specification and add image descriptions and table data. From the XHTML, there are two paths. Typesetting vendors import the XHTML into InDesign, where the text can be laid out for the print product (which is output in the PDF format). The vendors also create an accessible EPUB file from the XHTML, applying a bespoke CSS that controls the visual layout of the ebook and adding accessibility metadata, which can be read and surfaced on ebook platforms. From the EPUB, vendors generate a MOBI file for Amazon Kindle.

With the convergence of the above factors, we realised that we were in a privileged position.

We had an opportunity to design a robust workflow that would allow us to produce highly accessible ebooks consistently and efficiently.

Further research established that, for books such as ours, accessibility can be broken down into four areas.

Structure

We made sure our books included HTML5 semantic mark-up features and epub:type attributes, which aid navigation and help reading engines work out how to correctly render different types of content. We also added ARIA roles, which allow users, through assistive technologies such as screen readers, to easily identify different parts of a book and navigate its landmarks. Including these elements did not prove onerous because we were already implementing a well-defined schema that rigidly defined how our content should be marked-up and structured inside our ebooks. Without the schema, we would have struggled to make sure all of our products featured the same level of accessibility. We also used our schema to create an online validator, which checks that all of our EPUBs comply with our schema and meet our accessibility requirements. A second validation process was then built into our workflow: this validates our files against the Ace by DAISY tool and EPUBCheck. Final file validation, and the requirement for the vendor to submit zero error log files, is essential for QA and removes the costly and time-consuming requirement for remediation.

Accessibility Metadata

Accessibility data is simple to add and it helps users determine whether the file is suitable for their needs. Is the content textual, visual, auditory? Does it include flashing, alternative text, for example. The required accessibility metadata is documented in the EPUB Accessibility 1.0 specification.

Image Descriptions

Providing alt text for images is vital for accessibility, so it is worth taking the time to find specialists that can write high-quality content—it’s a skill. What you write depends not only on what the image is trying to convey, but on the potential reader, the context surrounding of the image, the complexity of the image, whether the image is already adequately described elsewhere, in the caption, for example, and whether the image is merely decorative. We recommend the Poet Image Description Tool created by Benetech and the methods outlined by TextBOX if you want to get to grips with best practice for image descriptions. Bear in mind that it may take a while to find the writers you need and provide training for in-house editorial and production staff and external vendors who will need to edit the text and make sure it is incorporated into your EPUB files. The latter needs workflow automation, but most vendors are able to offer that.

Tables

These are tricky. We focused first, again, on structure, because when tables are not structured accessibly, the data they contain can quickly become a meaningless sea of numbers and text. You need to make sure you use the correct table tags and identify column and row headers. Often, large and complex tables are rendered poorly by ereaders and table cells can spill across multiple page views. To prevent this, some publishers include the tables as images, so they can control their visual layout allowing users to zoom in and move around the table. This is usually not advised as best practice, because assistive technologies have no way of reading the image. To give all users the best reading experience, we wanted to work how to include both the image of the table and the raw table data. As a result, in our ebooks, sighted users see our larger tables (those with more than four columns) as images that fit nicely to all screen sizes. And the assistive technologies can find the readable table data and summaries in the <details> element below the image. This solution was run by experts, but we still need to do further testing with assistive technologies to make sure it’s suitable. The takeaway here is that tables are hard (for everyone)—give them special attention.

Table showing the 4 Focus Areas as described in the text above

Communication

Once our pre-press workflow had been amended, with our content generating zero errors on DAISY Ace and fully EPUB Accessibility 1.0 compliant, we realised that we needed to communicate this to our readers, customers, authors and partner organisations. The first step was to publish a new Accessibility Statement on our website. This clearly spells out what accessibility features our content supports and on what online platforms it is available. It also demonstrates our commitment as a business to accessibility and invites print impaired readers to get in touch for further information via a dedicated mailbox address.

The final part of our journey to accessibility revolves around outreach and networking. We have accepted invitations to share our experience at the London Book Fair 2019, and will participate in other events (webinars, discussion panels etc). We are also raising awareness among colleagues at Kogan Page regarding our accessibility related efforts and are now specifically engaging with industry stakeholder groups like RNIB, Benetech, DAISY, Inclusive Publishing, TextBox and others. We want to be an active participant in the discussion about accessibility and ensure that we stay abreast of new developments and share our experiences with anyone who might benefit. This article is a case in point.

There are two aspects of the accessibility ecosystem which we are particularly keen to develop:

  • Engagement with print impaired end users. This is uncharted territory for most publishers, who—maybe understandably —remain content-focused. But what really matters is the actual usability of real files in an specific institutional context on a particular platform for a specific user. We are currently looking into organising user testing of our EPUB files on a range of platforms and with a range of screen readers. This will establish how our content fares in a specific setting and we regard this as a vital final test of successful born accessible content development. With changing standards and ever-improving platforms and reading engines, managing accessibility has become an ongoing and changing task—we will probably never finish our research and development work. And that’s a good thing.
  • While we can automate the capture of accessibility metadata inside an EPUB file, there is also the ONIX metadata that accompanies the EPUB when it is distributed to third party platforms. Here it is our aim to include ProductFormFeature metadata from ONIX Code List 196 in our ONIX messages. We are testing this currently, but this is an area where the industry as a whole (including the bibliographic system providers) needs to pull together to ensure this becomes a default option.

The approach we have taken to accessibility has resulted in a new pre-press workflow, semantically enriched content, more control over the rendering of our content (CSS) and a sense that we are now genuinely reaching all possible users.

Lessons

There are a few takeaways we want to highlight, as we would have benefitted from these at the start of our journey.

  • It is important to shift perspective on accessibility away from it being primarily a burden on your resources and time. It can in fact help you optimise your workflows and improve the quality of all your digital products at the same time.
  • By implementing accessibility, we found it helpful to have an accessibility coordinator in-house. This person needs the backing and support to communicate with staff in the entire organisation to ensure that accessibility goals, commercial considerations and the impact on existing workflows are fully understood. This person needs the time and space to get their head around your accessibility goals and potential pain points. They do not need to be a programming or EPUB expert, but they do need to understand their employer’s content at a granular structural level. The DAISY Knowledge Base will guide them through the technicalities!
  • If you haven’t embarked on the path to accessibility yet, we recommend reading the specifications and BISG Guide to Accessible Publishing and plug your current EPUBs into Ace by DAISY to see how close your files are to the EPUB Accessibility 1.0 standard. From there you can plan your next steps.
  • A large percentage of accessibility requirements for EPUBs can be baked into your workflow (ARIA roles, epub:type attributes, accessibility metadata) if you have a schema. But some aspects will be specific to your business and your content (e.g. handling tables, maths, who writes/proofreads the alternative text, how much you can afford to spend on these non-automated tasks, etc) and will therefore require more serious thought.
  • Think about scalability and sustainability. Knowing what you need to add or change in your ebooks is one thing. But you need to work out how you are going to improve all of your ebooks without draining resources. Our automation of simple tasks and the validation scripts helped with this. So did training for our production editors to parse alt text and long descriptions, and check that they have been inserted in our XHTML files. Workflow automation is key to accuracy and scalability.
  • Talk to the experts! The community is very friendly and eager to help those who are willing.

This case study was written by Martin Klopstock, Operations Director at Kogan Page, and Arthur Thompson, Content Developer at Kogan Page. Martin and Arthur both presented at The London Bookfair Accessibility Action Group seminar. Read the write-up of this event where their slides are also available.

EPUB 3.2—Back to the Future of the Web.

Head shot of Matt Garrish, author of this articleIn case you missed the news, EPUB 3.2 is now officially a thing. Does that leave you thinking, “Oh joy, yet another format I have to produce!” If so, don’t worry, you’ll be happy to hear that you’re most likely already producing fully conformant EPUB 3.2 content. The “.2” doesn’t designate a brand new flavour of EPUB, only that we’ve made updates to the EPUB 3 specifications to improve and enhance what you’re already producing.

EPUB 3.2 really isn’t even all that radical a makeover of EPUB 3, despite its designation as a major revision. There are some major changes, of course, but these changes reflect a more subtle rethink of the relationship between EPUB and the Web. You’ve probably heard EPUB billed as “a web site in a box”, but due to a few technical divergences, the practicality of that statement has always had a few asterisks appended to it. (If you’ve tried to create rich, cutting-edge content, you’re probably all too familiar with those asterisks.) What I hope to do in this article is recap how 3.2 brings EPUB back closer to the living Web, and in the process opens up a more complete world of support for rich media, accessibility and all the other great features of the Open Web Platform.

To (dot) Infinity and Beyond

A common complaint about EPUB 3 is that it took a point-in-time approach to integrating HTML support. The HTML language keeps moving forward with new features and improvements, meanwhile poor old EPUB 3 was locked into the first version of HTML 5.0. You could probably secretly test new functionality in reading systems by side-loading your books, but try and get your content through vendors’ front doors and that pesky EPUBCheck validator would catch you out.

There are very good reasons why EPUB took the approach to HTML5 that it did – think stability in a time of Web standards upheaval around 2010 – but those concerns have faded. EPUB 3.2 moves the standard back in line with the Web’s evolving nature. From now on, as soon as new versions of HTML get standardized, their features become legitimate to use in EPUB 3. You’ll still have to wait on vendors updating their versions of EPUBCheck, of course, but the specification will no longer be the barrier to progression.

Why that’s so important is that it means less frustration in terms of deploying new developments in accessibility, rich media, etc.: updates and improvements to ARIA will be available as soon as they are incorporated in HTML; no more waiting on the details element for including descriptions in an unobtrusive way; the picture element is now available to provide responsive images.

Perhaps the more succinctly stated point here is that EPUB 3.2 retrenches the standard to focus on what makes EPUB “EPUB”, and steps back from regulating dot versions of its content formats.

The threat to existing EPUB 3 content with this change is low, too, as any features removed from Open Web technologies since HTML 5.0 weren’t supported well, anyway. And that’s also a nice segue into another major change in 3.2 to better align EPUB with the Web.

Thinning the Herd

When faced with missing features or functionality, the temptation is often to forge ahead and create what you need yourself. Sometimes this approach is the right one, and other times it ends up making things worse. EPUB’s history of adding new features has been chequered, especially when it comes to features the Web doesn’t support.

Did you know that you could dynamically switch content based on what the reading system supports, or create audio and video players without JavaScript? Probably not, as despite the existence of these features there’s not been a lot in the way of support in reading systems over the years.

The ideas behind the features were sound enough, but by diverging from the Web, it made it so that the very Web content that EPUB prides itself on won’t always work as expected on the Web. Unless you’re only making EPUBs out of your books, what good are features that only work in EPUB?

The answer to that rhetorical question, of course, is none, which is why a number of these features have been dropped in EPUB 3.2. With the folding of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) into the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the goal moving forward is to work with the relevant Web standard groups to develop any needed missing functionality so that EPUB doesn’t branch away from the Web again. No more going it alone.

 

And that’s the high-level tour through the most important changes made in EPUB 3.2.

There was a lot more to the revision, naturally, including a major shake-up in the organization of the specifications to try and make information easier to find. If you want the nitty gritty details (corrections, clarifications, etc.), the EPUB 3.2 Changes document is where you’ll want to go next. But hopefully this has helped provide some perspective on the objectives of the latest revision.

This update was kindly submitted by Matt Garrish, Digital Publishing Technologist and Standards Editor. Matt is  General Editor of the EPUB 3 standard and related specifications as well as the author of a number of books on EPUB and Accessibility, published by O’Reilly and developer for the DAISY Consortium.

Accessible Publishing: A Snapshot of Success—Are You in the Picture?

icon of a cameraThis has been a vibrant couple of years for accessibility in publishing, and we look forward to even greater things as Born Accessible publishing becomes part of our mainstream requirement.

Publishers should work on this now, build the necessary elements into their workflows, and reach a more diverse audience. Join the DAISY party!

George Kerscher , Chief Innovations Officer at the DAISY Consortium and Sarah Hilderley from Inclusive Publishing were pleased to publish this article with BISG. In this brief report they look at how far we’ve come as an industry in our challenge of creating born accessible mainstream content and they highlight the various tools that are available to developers and publishers to help with this challenge. The full BISG article is available here.

Accessible Publishing and the Marrakesh Treaty: Event Report from the Buenos Aires Book Fair

Logo for the Buenos Aires Book FairThis year the 2 day Copyright Seminar held at the Buenos Aires Book Fair the 25-26 April (Feria Internacional del Libro de Buenos Aires—FILBA) included a seminar on Accessible Publishing  and the Marrakesh Treaty.

Pablo Lecouna Director of Tiflonexos and Julian Calderazi, DigitalBe’s head of digitalization, gave a general overview of the activities of the Accessible Books Consortium, discussing accessibility, EPUB, Disability and Implementation including common problems together with the benefits of producing born-accessible content.

Mr. Lecouna discussed the history of Tiflonexos and it’s free library for visually impaired consumers in the Spanish language (Tiflolibros), the Marrakesh Treaty and his participation in it elaborating on its advantages alongside ABC’s mission.  Julian Calderazi presented the benefits of Accessible EPUB production workflows for publishers and consumers and  emphasizing the responsibility of content producers.

Both Pablo and Julian encouraged publishers to start building accessible content into their products from the beginning of the production process, sharing their knowledge and experience and making it clear that accessibility in publishing can be achieved with little significant effort. They both impressed upon delegates that it is timely to consider accessibility now and that Latin America can benefit from born accessible publishing now.

This report was kindly submitted by Julian Calderazi, DigitalBe. Since 2010 Julian has worked in the development of different standards relating to ebooks with numerous organizations including BISG, IDPF, W3C and currently in the Publishing Business Group, Publishing Working Group and the EPUBCheck task force within Publishing@W3C.

Rachel Comerford—The Trailblazer Behind Macmillan Learning’s Accessibility Efforts

sketch of rachel comerfordRachel Comerford, Senior Director of Content Standards and Accessibility at Macmillan Learning and co-chair of the W3C EPUB Community Group, has been instrumental in the company’s huge success with accessible publishing. Macmillan Learning are the first company to gain accreditation via the Benetech Global Certified Accessible program. This is no easy feat and Macmillan have worked closely with Benetech and other accessibility organizations to ensure that their products are indeed “Born Accessible”.

Image credit: Iris Febres

Rachel has given us this insight into what drives her passion for accessibility:

When I was eleven years old, my technology teacher told me that “girls don’t build bridges.” That same year, my toothpick bridge design broke the school record for carrying the most weight. Inclusivity is one of my core guiding principles; it drives both how I work and how I think about my work. No student should get the message that they can’t pursue their field of interest, not because of gender, disability, or any other label.

It’s with this kind of inclusiveness in mind that, Macmillan Learning’s ebooks have achieved Global Certified Accessible status from Benetech. This is a milestone on a long road, one that started when we realized that the PDF format we’d long used was a barrier to accessibility. We moved to EPUB 3, which was designed from the start for accessibility, with adaptable text and structured navigation that made it easier for all users. And, since EPUB is an open and evolving standard, Macmillan is now participating in its future development.

Moving to accessible EPUB 3 required significant changes in our workflows and how we develop content. But Macmillan Learning has a dedicated and enthusiastic production and design team who met this challenge head on. We looked at every element of our ebooks with the help of our content and standards teams, and documented the best accessible practices in an internal implementation guide. We worked closely with our composition partner on training to these standards, and subsequently went through several rounds of feedback with Benetech, who reviewed both the standards and the ebooks that resulted from those standards.

I’m proud to be at Macmillan Learning, where my passion for accessibility is not just encouraged, but acted on. We are not finished! We will continue to make it easier for students of all abilities to pursue their dreams.

In order to gain acreditation Macmillan have been through a thorough and rigorous process:

To become Global Certified Accessible, Benetech evaluated Macmillan Learning’s workflow for creating accessible books, as well as many samples of content across the disciplines they publish in, and certified conformance to the accessible EPUB creation guidelines, which are based on WCAG 2.0 AA+ standards put in place by the international standards organizations and the publishing community. Using a collaborative process, Benetech evaluated and provided feedback on more than a hundred accessibility features. The certification applies to all books created using Macmillan Learning’s updated process, which includes all ebooks with a 2019 copyright.

Read the full press release from Macmillan Learning here and join us in offering Rachel and her team our heartfelt congratulations.

EDRLab Announces Program for DPUB

EDRLab  has announced it’s program for June’s European Digital Publishing Summit with a heavy focus on accessibility. DAISY colleagues, Avneesh Singh and Romain Deltour will both be presenting at the 2 day conference alongside an impressive line up of international speakers. There will be a number of sessions concentrating on accessibility and demonstrations of the Ace by DAISY software and the SMART tool will be taking center stage.

See our events page for details on how to register and find out more

Rethinking Content for Inclusive Higher Education Part Two

A photo of a bookshelf running the full length of a narrow, lighted hallway. The focused foreground advances into a blurred background.In March, textBOX examined the challenges in delivering accessible web content for print-disabled college students in Part 1 of Rethinking Content. This second article focuses on practical solutions for universities and publishers that impact the future of inclusive higher education.

At the March 2019 CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Macmillan presented accessibility milestones and initiatives. Jonathan Thurston, Head of Global Product Accessibility at Pearson, announced their commitment to publish born-accessible digital content, as well as strategic partnerships forged with Kurzweil, VitalSource and T-Base Communications. Lisa Nicks, Director of Accessibility at McGraw-Hill, described the challenges of transforming publishing from a print to digital workflow and announced several new company directions, including EPUB 3 certification through Benetech’s Global Certified Accessible program, EPUB 3 accessibility metadata and new quality assurance policies and procedures. Macmillan’s Rachel Comerford, Senior Director of Content Standards and Accessibility, announced their commitment to delivering born-accessible digital content and meeting Macmillan’s timelines for accessible product releases.

Major academic publishers are overcoming significant barriers to accessible publishing and have changed their organizational culture and approach. The publishing industry has reached a tipping point with delivering inclusive higher education. Accessibility is no longer considered a niche area and is now a central factor in usability and intuitive design. We are at a critical juncture for tackling more specific issues while providing proactive solutions that will have a wide-ranging impact on the higher education community. Universities and publishers now need to seize the potential of this moment and move forward together with a renewed, unified direction and purpose.

Major Obstacles to Inclusive Higher Education

While universities and publishers are making progress with delivering accessible content, major obstacles are creating a vicious cycle and consuming valuable time, money and resources. The graphic below illustrates the challenges faced:

A table comparing the major obstacles for Universities and Publishers. Universities. Passive accessibility policies and procedures. Allocation of staff resources and technical expertise. Remediation without publisher accountability. Publishers. Inadequate communication and transparency. Delayed response to university requests. Vendor quality and consistency issues.

Solutions for Universities

Implement Proactive Accessibility Policies and Procedures

Proactive accessibility policies and procedures can save time for universities in the long run and have the power to influence widespread adoption of industry standards, such as EPUB 3 and WCAG 2.1. Adoption of inaccessible content creates a continual strain on university resources and risks of legal exposure. Now is the time for universities to raise procurement standards and expectations to keep pace with increasing publisher accessibility practices. The AEM Center’s Quality Indicators provide a comprehensive guide for creating proactive accessibility policies with links to useful resources.

The recommendations and examples on the checklist below save valuable Disability Service Office (DSO) resources while furthering the availability of accessible content for the entire higher education community:

  • Ensure university accessibility statement requires vendors to meet WCAG 2.1 AA. Example: CSU Vendor Accessibility Requirements.
  • Allow sufficient time for alternative format development. Contact publishers as soon as DSO or faculty identify the adoption of non-compliant products.
  • Establish procedures for evaluating content collaboratively with publishers. Example: CSU ATI Procurement Process.
  • Include requirements in new and existing publisher contracts for content accessibility and remediation as well as delivery timelines.
  • Create faculty guidelines and incentives to adopt accessible content. Example: TBR Procurement Considerations.
  • Designate DSO staff to build effective publisher partnerships. Conduct regular publisher meetings, establish requirements and expectations, create an action plan and timeline and track progress.

Allocation of Staff Resources and Technical Expertise

Taking time for a transition stage is necessary while the long-term benefits of a proactive approach take effect. Therefore, universities must plan ahead to resolve content remediation issues collaboratively with publishers.

First and foremost, universities must prioritize the use of industry standards, EPUB 3 and Accessibility 1.0, over PDF to continue positive momentum. While PDF remediation may seem like a quick fix it does not contribute to increasing the availability of mainstream accessible content in the long term. Prioritizing EPUB 3 will require changes to existing procedures. For example, universities can create an action plan that involves requesting accessible EPUB content and Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPAT) from publishers and the provision of appropriate training to staff and students on how to use EPUB files.

It is also imperative for the DSO to have at least one employee who has experience with EPUB files and industry accessibility standards. For eTextbooks, AccessText and Benetech’s Bookshare offer a wide range of EPUB content that DSOs can take advantage of using. Additionally, Ace by DAISY is a helpful free and open source tool for automatically checking the accessibility of EPUB files.

Accountable Remediation

If universities are forced to continue to remediate EPUB 3 content, publishers should be held responsible. Universities must require resolution in a timely manner. If the publisher does not respond, online retailers may be able to assist the university by contacting the publisher to remediate the problem. If universities allow time to request EPUB 3 files early in the adoption process, this will contribute to increasing accessible content availability on the market. A remediated PDF file must be a last resort and temporary solution for the university. Publishers should be responsible for providing accessible content for every non-compliant product adoption. The DSO should notify the instructor and the adoption should be identified as at risk if the university is not able to acquire an accessible EPUB 3 file in a timely manner.

Universities must also hold publishers accountable for quality assurance (QA). EPUB files must be tested by publishers and print-disabled users on multiple platforms with assistive technologies to ensure all functions and accessibility features are working consistently. If there are issues encountered in the QA process, the university should be notified and the publisher should work to resolve the issue. Publishers, platforms and assistive technologies should not work in isolation. They all play a critical role in delivering an accessible learning experience for the user.  

Solutions for Publishers

Publishers have made major improvements in recent years. Many have established a central accessibility task force responsible for listening to university partners, secured executive sponsorship, promoted accessibility across the organization and budgeted for improvements for WCAG non-compliant digital products. Publisher commitments to born-accessible content have raised the bar in an ever-competitive marketplace. For publishers who have not tackled these issues yet, now is the time to move forward to remain relevant.

While publishers have prioritized accessibility and made improvements to digital content and technologies, they now must tackle communication and transparency as well as improve responsiveness to university requests and vendor management.    

Enhanced Communication and Transparency

Publishers need to be more transparent with providing accessibility specifications for digital products and platforms to eliminate the need for university evaluation and consumption of DSO time. Populating digital product accessibility metadata in ONIX (codelist 196), on retail websites and/or within EPUB files is an industry standard requirement that improves the discoverability and sales of digital products while reducing the number of DSO requests for alternative formats.

Publisher sales representatives must be aware of accessibility requirements so they can inform and answer questions and avoid misleading prospective adopters. Representatives are on the front lines selling digital products to universities and must be instructed to notify the publisher accessibility team of problems. Educating sales representatives demonstrates support for university policies, procedures and resources. It is not acceptable to expect the university to shift resources to handle emergency remediation when this should have been handled at the front end by publishers.

Accessibility statements on publisher websites require improvement. The ASPIRE Project evaluated publisher websites for accessibility information, including accessibility contact details, enquiry response times, file navigability and image descriptions. The results revealed that publishers scored an average of 3.3 out of a total of 35 (ASPIRE). Publishers must implement the ASPIRE guide for updating website product information (available here).

Publishers can improve communication with universities by listening more actively. For example, publishers can host a session with universities to collect accessibility feedback. They can also participate in specialist conferences like Accessing Higher Ground and CSUN. Maintaining a constructive, collaborative dialogue between publishers and universities is the key to successful partnership and change.

Timely Response to Remediation

A born-accessible approach is a giant leap forward for inclusive higher education, however, there must be a solution for fixing existing inaccessible content and platforms. Universities are continually battling deadlines and are forced to triage internally when publishers do not provide usable content.

Publishers must establish both reactive and proactive approaches to university requests. If publishers take a reactive approach, they must also develop a solution to quickly respond to requests and meet university deadlines. Publishers must be prepared to receive rush requests from universities that may only have a few days before the start of class. Collaboration with partners in the education sector is key here. Everyone needs to help each other to be successful in these time-critical situations.

On the other hand, a proactive approach is more desirable because it reduces the amount of content remediation and helps them remain competitive with other publishers. This approach involves creating a prioritized list of published content and then budgeting to remediate selections on an annual basis. Regardless of approach, updating existing content will save time and money when the next edition is published.

To improve responsiveness, publishers should assign a primary contact person for university requests. This person must have a direct line of communication with the publisher’s internal department or an external vendor responsible for resolving accessibility issues. The contact person must be diligent about submitting requests and informing the university of expected delivery dates. This will build trust, ensure satisfaction and reduce the amount of time it takes to deliver an accessible file to the student.

Vendor and In-House Quality and Consistency Issues

As Bill Kasdorf states, vendor management is a critical aspect in publishing accessible content at scale: “many people don’t realize that most publishers don’t actually do the hands-on production work for their books and journals – their vendors do that. But what is a lot of work for the publishers is, frankly, training their vendors. We owe a big debt of gratitude to all the publishers–Hachette Livre in trade and the Big Five higher education publishers (Cengage, Macmillan Learning, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Wiley) particularly come to mind – who have spent years working closely with their vendors to get accessibility right. Now all the other publishers who use those vendors will have an easier path to making their publications born accessible.”

Vendors have a responsibility to maintain the publisher’s brand and reputation and aim to deliver consistent, high-quality digital products that meet accessibility requirements. To address university complaints about the quality of digital products, publishers should implement regular quality assurance checks to evaluate whether vendors are meeting expectations. Publishers must push back on vendors to resolve concerns and, when necessary, add accessibility requirements to vendor contracts.

Publishers should also require vendors to be responsible for remediation and to adhere to delivery timelines that meet university expectations. Addressing issues with vendors proactively will save time for publishers and universities.

Conclusion

We cannot let current challenges prevent us from making the changes we all want to see in the future. We can overcome obstacles together through communication, collaboration and action. Universities must be more consistent and proactive to prevent unnecessary strain on time and resources. Publishers must be more transparent and responsive to maintain their relevance. Solving these problems will make a difference for both disabled and non-disabled readers while establishing a new standard for inclusive higher education.

This article was kindly submitted by Caroline Desrosiers and Huw Alexander, Co-Founders of textBOX. To learn more about textBOX please visit the textBOX website or reach out at hello@textboxdigital.com

Accessibility Takes Centre Stage at ebookcraft 2019

a panel with donuts displayed on it for delegates at ebookcraftebookcraft is fast becoming the number one conference for many who work in digital publishing—Laura Brady and the steering committee have, over the years, devised an inclusive, accessible, diverse and unmissable event that welcomes its delegates to Toronto with open arms. From the atmospheric and moving opening ceremony given by Whabagoon, an Ojibway Elder of Lac Seul First Nation,  to the cheeky treats on offer (a.k.a. the donut wall) there was something for everyone and much more besides.

This year saw an increase in focus surrounding accessibility. All of the sessions that I attended referred to inclusivity and accessibility in some way with 4 sessions dedicated entirely to the subject. No other conference does this. No other publishing event puts accessibility centre stage. Is this a sign of exciting things to come? Let’s hope so.

Marisa DeMeglio and Romain Deltour, (DAISY Consortium), ran one of the opening workshops: Be an Ally at A11y, looking at the background to technical ebook accessibility and then focusing on the tools that DAISY has developed. Holding the attention of a packed room for 3 hours they deftly walked us through all aspects of accessibility giving resource pointers and demos for everyone to experience how they can include validation within their workflows and what they need to do to achieve this. Ace by DAISY, the free open source EPUB accessibility checker is their creation and news of an updated GUI version was welcomed by the crowd as well as details on SMART, which provides information on manual checks necessary to ensure conformance with EPUB and WCAG requirements. Together, Ace and SMART provide the most complete method for accessibility conformance testing of EPUB publications. Take a look at their slides for all the detail on this session, including useful resource recommendations (such as the DAISY knowledge base) and access to the demos.

Laura Brady (House of Anansi) ran a workshop on Remediating Backlist ebooks with Accessibility in Mind, a subject which we think is going to become increasingly important to publishers as they master their approach to accessibility. There is no quick way to do this but Laura showed us all that there is indeed a straightforward process and that there are things that you can do right now to improve the accessibility of EPUB 2 files, particularly for the less complex content that needs work. Top of Laura’s List:

Convert your files to EPUB 3, the number one format for accessibility opportunities.

Other areas for consideration include:

  • Remove bits and bobs you no longer need
  • Level up the HTML
  • Clean markup
  • Language declarations
  • Navigation file
  • Include a navigable Table of Contents
  • Landmarks
  • Page list
  • Semantics – epub:type and ARIA
  • Have complete and relevant Image descriptions
  • Include accessibility Metadata

Check out Laura’s slides for more detail on this and the rest of her presentation.

Sabina Iseli-Otto (National Network for Equitable Library Service) and Shannon Culver (eBound Canada) presented a review of the work done by the NNELS Accessibility Summit in January in their session Who Does What to Make Great EPUB: How to Build an Airplane in Mid-Air.  The outcomes of this summit are gathering momentum and there are a number of exciting working groups forming that all ebookcraft delegates were invited to take part in. They shared detailed feedback from the summit on how to develop and create accessible EPUB 3 files and what still needs to be done. The challenges are clear (image descriptions, tables , EPUB 2 still in use etc) and the group of people that they drew together in January are a stellar selection of top minds who are enthused and passionate about moving forward.

We want to encourage publishers to move towards born accessible publishing. Accessibility features are good for everyone. 

The slides from this session will give you more information on the achievements of this group.

Kai Li, a visually impaired NNELS employee, talked to us all about his reading experiences in his presentation The Users Perspective: Accessibility Features in Action, affirming in our minds that user testing is going to become increasingly more important as we work on old and new files and formats. He impressed upon us that having people with disabilities in the workplace enhances and improves working practices, giving insights that might otherwise be overlooked.

Fixed layout does not make your books last and it is bad for accessibility. In fact, as screen reader users, every word is displayed on a separate line!

Kai and other colleagues were at ebookcraft to answer questions throughout the conference and we were very lucky to have their hands on knowledge made so available to us all.

The conference ended with the extraordinary news that the Canadian Budget 2019 has announced huge funds to be put towards accessible publishing, confirming to us all that Canada is determined to embrace born accessible publishing.

There are a number of excellent event reports emerging from this two day extravaganza and we recommend these for details on the other terrific sessions. A heartfelt thanks to all who make ebookcraft what it is: the details, the welcome and the healthy attitude to conference planning—an impressive display of thoughtful and exacting organization.

We are looking forward to next year already!

 

Accessible Publishing and the Marrakesh Treaty—Are you Ready? Event Report from LBF

Logo for AAG Seminar at LBF

This year’s Accessibility Action Group seminar was held on Thursday 14th of March at the end of the London Book Fair. This didn’t deter delegates in the slightest and the seminar was a huge success—The Faculty was packed and no-one was going anywhere until they were up to speed with what is happening with accessible publishing in the U.K.

Emma House, Deputy Chief Executive of The Publishers Association kicked off proceedings with an update on the legal state of affairs in the UK specifically with regards to the Marrakesh Treaty for Visually Impaired Persons and the new European legislation that has been welcomed by FEP in the last two weeks. Publishers have an obligation to make their content available to people with print disabilities. Consequently,  it remains within their interest to make sure that their mainstream digital content is fit for this purpose. If workflows and supply chains are able to embrace this notion then the need for specialist formats will become obsolete and business practices will become more cost efficient and timely.  With the opportunity to increase the size of markets, the business case is clear although different for the huge variety of publishing businesses out there.

The seminar was designed to encourage publishers to build accessibility features and functions into their products from their very inception so that they are complying with the law and benefitting all readers with well built, well-structured EPUB files.

Three case studies were presented from Kogan-Page, Macmillan Educations and Penguin Random House showcasing a real cross-section of the publishing industry, highlighting the opportunities and challenges that still present themselves and ultimately leaving our audience encouraged in the knowledge that accessible publishing is achievable and well within their grasp.

Martin Klopstock and Arthur Thompson from Kogan-Page are truly committed to producing “born accessible” content that is suitable for all their readers, regardless of their disability.  The availability of relevant standards and documentation are a huge motivating factor for them and, together with the Ace by DAISY,  free EPUB accessibility checker they have found that validation is a straightforward component of their digital-first workflow at Kogan Page. They identified 4 areas of focus within their case study: structural semantics, accessibility metadata, image descriptions and tables with the latter 2 items still challenging them in-house. That said, Kogan Page are indeed producing born accessible digital content within their digital-first workflow and plan to look towards their legacy content in the future. For more information on their methods and lessons learnt you can access their full slide deck here.

Astrid DeRidder from Macmillan Education took the stage next and began by discussing the ASPIRE project which was the first large scale interactive ranking of publisher and platform accessibility data. Macmillan scored well and Astrid urged delegates to take the opportunity of this easy win and improve their own accessibility information that is available within their organisation. Important to Macmillan is their forthcoming Employee Disability Network which will greatly influence how accessibility is viewed within the company and the quality of the digital content being output.

Finally, Simon Mellins from Penguin Random House gave us the trade viewpoint, talking about accessibility on a large scale basis and highlighting the opportunities and challenges that EPUB presents for accessible publishing. With its natural aptitude for accessibility EPUB 3 is becoming more mainstream but, ironically, workflows in-house are fairly rigid and it is difficult to influence change on such a grand scale. The opportunity has been recognised, though, and whilst image descriptions remain the biggest challenge, there is much underway at PRH which we should watch out for in the future. Simon’s complete slide deck is available here.

Sarah Hilderley, editor of the Inclusive Publishing website and newsletter, a DAISY Consortium initiative, rounded this event off by giving a brief overview of the state of play with regards to accessibility internationally. She referred to their recent survey on content creation and validation and was pleased to report that 62% of those surveyed are adhering to the EPUB 1.0 accessibility specification and that 54% are using, or plan to use in the near future,  Ace by DAISY for their automated validation. This is very encouraging—publishers are taking accessibility seriously and the tools and standards available to them are providing them with confidence and reassurance that goals are being met.

“Accessible publishing is good publishing after all.”

This event report was prepared by Sarah Hilderley from Inclusive Publishing for the Publishers Association with whom it has been cross-posted.