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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.

Frankfurt Book Fair 2019

October 16th to 20th, 2019

Frankfurt Book Fair is one of the most important marketplaces worldwide for printed and digital content and a great social and cultural event. Publishing experts, writers, and supply chain contacts from the creative industries across the world come together and Frankfurt becomes a hub for the media and publishing industry. There is always an exciting focus on accessible publishing and we will keep our readers posted as these details become available.

Date

October 16-20, 2019

Venue

Frankfurt, Germany

Learn More

Full details are available at the Frankfurt Book Fair website

TPAC 2019

September 16th to 20th, 2019

The W3C Technical Plenary and Advisory Committee Meetings (TPAC) brings together W3C technical groups, the Advisory Board, the TAG and the Advisory Committee for an exciting week of coordinated work, including sessions from the Publishing Working Groups

To be eligible to register and attend, you must be one of the following:

  • a participant in a W3C Working, Interest, Business or Community Group scheduled to meet at TPAC
  • a W3C Member Advisory Committee Representative
  • a participant on either the Advisory Board or the TAG
  • an employee of a W3C member organization
  • an invited Guest
  • a W3C Evangelist
  • W3C staff or W3C Office staff

Date

September 16-20, 2019

Venue

Japan

Learn More

Details are available via the W3C TPAC website.

Digital Book World 2019

September 10th to 12th, 2019

The popular mainstream publishing and technology conference, Digital Book World, will feature presentations on accessible publishing content and we look forward to updating you on our DAISY sessions at this event. As usual, there is wide variety of subject matter covered at this 3 day conference with many aspects of digital publishing highlighted. A stellar line-up of speakers is already stacking up so don’t miss out!

Date

September 10-12, 2019

Venue

Nashville, Tennessee

Learn More

For full program and registration details visit the Digital Book World website

Webinar: Creating Accessible Content

March 20th, 2019

Tzviya Siegman, Information Standard Lead at Wiley and member of the W3C Advisory Board is taking part in this NISO webinar entitled: Long Form Content: Ebooks, Print Volumes and the Concerns of Those who Use Both. Her presentation will offer an overview of accessibility, covering the basic definition of accessibility and the standards that define it, the business, social, and legal obligations around accessibility and the practices for getting started on an accessible workflow and resources, testing, and tooling for accessibility. Don’t miss this essential guide!

Date

March 20, 2019

Venue

Online webinar

Learn More

Full details including how to register can be found at the NISO website.

Inspiring Words from Industry Leaders: Interview with Tzviya Siegman, Wiley

Head shot of Tzviya Siegman who is the subject of this interviewInclusive Publishing is continuing with its popular series of interviews with industry leaders and their approach to accessibility. Our first interview of 2019 is with Tzviya Siegman, Information Standards Lead at Wiley and a member of the World Wide Web Consortium Advisory Board. Tzviya is passionate about accessibility and has inspired many industry colleagues to embrace the accessibility opportunities offered by digital publishing.

I have learned so much about the way that tools, systems, browsers, and reading systems work from my work on accessibility….it will help you become a better developer.

Why is inclusive publishing important to you and/or your organization?

We serve a variety of customer from students to research to corporate consumers. It is widely established that students require and deserve accessible materials. Wiley believes that our customers are life-long learners. Life-long learners need access to all materials

Do you have a top tip for others new to accessibility?

Start with the tools at W3C’s WAI website (https://www.w3.org/WAI/). Even after being involved in accessibility for years, I go back to these resources again and again. They start off simply and walk a beginner through the basics clearly.

What do you wish you knew about accessibility 10 years ago?

I wish I had a better understanding of “native” accessibility and the way that assistive technology works. Understanding the interactions of the Accessibility Tree and the DOM changed my approach to accessibility and design. There are a few articles and documents that can really help. Melanie Richards’ Semantics to Screen Reader (https://alistapart.com/article/semantics-to-screen-readers) explains this relationship really clearly.

·What do you think will be the biggest game changer for inclusive publishing in the next few years?

There are so many things in progress that it is hard to choose just one. There is a lot of work happening in the world of SVG that could have a huge impact on accessibility. SVG can be made accessibly, and as it is becoming a more widely used and accepted format. I have heard rumors about the Canadian government offering funding incentives to Canadian-owned publishers who publish accessibly. That would make a real difference.

For those still on the fence, why should they consider accessibility?

Accessible content and platform provides a better user experience for all users. Further, most users experience some form of disability at some point in their lives, whether it is situational (e.g. power loss requires navigating without sight), temporary (e.g. a broken arm requires hands-free navigation), or due to age (e.g. low-vision). Considering all users is usually good for business.

How have good inclusive publishing practices influenced the majority of your readers?

Writing image descriptions forces us to think about what an image truly conveys. If an image is too complicated to describe well, maybe it is also too complicated for a sighted reader to understand and it needs to go back to the author for improvement?

Can you sum up your attitude towards inclusive publishing in one sentence.

Inclusive publishing improves your content and makes it more available and useful to all users.

Do you have any final thoughts on accessibility or inclusive publishing practices you would like to share?

It might seem like a lot of work to make your content accessible, but I have learned so much about the way that tools, systems, browsers, and reading systems work from my work on accessibility. It is a lot of work, but it is also interesting work that will take you down a very interesting path and ultimately help your users. You will learn so much along the way, and it will help you become a better developer.

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