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Inspiring Words from Industry Leaders: Interview with Erin Lucas, RedShelf

head shot of erin lucasInclusive Publishing is continuing with its popular series of interviews with industry leaders, focusing on their approach to accessibility. Erin Lucas is Senior Director of Accessibility at RedShelf and her passion for accessible publishing is contagious! RedShelf are working tirelessly to improve the reading experience for all their readers and we are very proud that they are Inclusive Publishing Partners.

Providing born-accessible digital textbooks is a crucial part of a campus support ecosystem to empower ALL students and can provide peace of mind to accessibility office personnel and faculty.

Why is inclusive publishing important to you and/or your organization at this moment in time?

It’s never been more important to ensure students have access to accessible course materials. As many schools continue to limit on-campus learning this fall, the most vulnerable students are in danger of slipping through the cracks. Those who rely on the in-person support of the accessibility office are at even higher risk. Providing born-accessible digital textbooks is a crucial part of a campus support ecosystem to empower ALL students and can provide peace of mind to accessibility office personnel and faculty.

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

Accessibility is a journey, not a destination – expand your horizons and get connected to other accessibility champions! Look for MeetUps, Facebook Groups and LinkedIn posts to keep learning and connecting. I know from experience that it can be challenging to feel like you’re the only person in an organization who cares about accessibility, but the passion that the a11y community has for the important work we are doing is contagious! Become your organization’s a11y evangelist by sharing your experiences and knowledge with others and I guarantee you’ll find others who care as much as you do.

What you wish you knew about accessibility 10 years ago?

Having worked in the government IT sector for so long before coming to RedShelf, it was always a part of my job – but 10 years ago I had no idea that accessibility would be my full-time job someday. I probably would have connected with more folks outside of the government sector, to better understand how far behind some industries were with accessibility.  

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

It’s encouraging that so many publishers recognize the many benefits of EPUB and, thanks to this shift, we have seen an incredible change in the inclusivity of our catalog from only 40% EPUB to 75% EPUB in just three years! But, I think the true game changer will be campus stakeholders embracing EPUB format. Adoption of PDF still outpaces EPUB by a large margin and accessible course materials often isn’t top of mind for faculty. Bookstore managers may not know how to encourage accessible adoptions with those faculty members. In addition, many accessibility offices don’t have the bandwidth to learn how to handle EPUB, or have legacy assistive technology that only ingests PDF. But, if nothing else, the accessibility community is tenacious and I’m confident that by continuing to work together – on and off campus – we can affect change. 

For those still on the fence, why should they consider accessibility, bearing in mind the possible “new normal” for students in September?

I would reiterate the answer to question #1 – not considering accessibility places students at additional risk. Accessibility and usability go hand in hand, so by keeping accessibility top of mind, you help ALL students

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

It’s been especially influential on campuses where the accessibility office is part of the process of ensuring inclusive adoptions. They can be the voice for all students, helping faculty understand how time consuming accommodations can be and how EPUB can often eliminate the need for an accommodation. But it’s not just about the students who need additional support. The current generation of learners has always been digital and learns in a completely different way than previous generations. They also expect their technology to work in very specific ways, and only inclusive materials can support those expectations. 

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

Inclusive publishing is the key to success for EVERY student’s digital educational experience.

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

A huge thank you to all of our publishing, campus and accessibility industry partners for being so willing to share their knowledge and work with me and my colleagues at RedShelf. Together, we can ensure an accessible future for more generations to come!

Back to School….Are We Ready?

graphic containing back to school items including screens and tabletsWith countries issuing plans and advice for the long-awaited return to school in September, we thought it would be useful to pause and consider how the accessibility of digital learning materials remains as important as ever. Some element of online learning seems inevitable in the “new normal” and it’s amazing how many educational content providers have adapted and reinvented their own workflows and content to suit these new environments.

It’s not been easy. Change to workflows to accommodate staff working from home is an enormous step but combined with adapting content to allow for greater access is an even greater challenge. For some publishers this second hurdle was not a problem…already producing born accessible EPUB 3 and giving students the best online experience as a result. But for those just dipping their toes into digital publishing, this will have been a fast learning curve and one that requires the collaboration of all supply chain partners. It takes a village.

The publishing supply chain around the world  reacted very quickly to support homeschooling parents and teachers delivering online learning resources,  making digital content available to all readers as much as they could. Platform providers set up schemes to ensure students could access, free of charge, the materials they needed and in most cases, these materials come with a high degree of accessibility. Our Inclusive Publishing Partners, Red Shelf and Vital Source are fine examples of this and their good work was highlighted in one of our early webinars, dedicated to considering access for students during a global pandemic.

But where do you start if you are hoping to make a difference in September but this is new and daunting for you and your team? There are some quick wins and some more challenging areas but the most important thing is that you take the plunge. None of it is quite as difficult as you might think and there is plenty of help and guidance on hand if you know where to look.

Quick Wins

  • Prepare a company commitment to accessibility and publish this on your website. This doesn’t have to say that everything you publish is 100% accessible but rather that your mission includes making your content as accessible as you can and that your work and focus is centered on user access and requirements.
  • Assess your digital content.  How complex is the content that you are producing? Focus on the monochrome simple layout documents to start with as these can ease you into the path of accessible publishing.
  • Consider EPUB – EPUB is the most widely used format within the publishing industry and offers the greatest opportunity for accessibility. EPUB 3.2, the latest version, is where you want to focus your attentions and you should instruct your developers (whether in-house or 3rd party) to take advantage of all the accessibility features it offers.
  • Use Ace by DAISY – Ace by DAISY is a free accessibility checking tool for EPUB content and you can use this on your desktop for one off documents or build it into your production workflow. The resulting report will help you to focus on what areas need attention.
  • Use the metadata! If you are confident that your content has passed Ace, then you should use the metadata options available in schema.org (for your EPUB file) and Onix for Books (for your retailer feed) and let your customers know that a particular title might indeed be suitable for them. Shout about your good work and your sales will increase accordingly.

All of these things can be put in place with relatively little aggravation. For some, your developers will already have fully embraced the EPUB 3 format so it might just be a question of making sure that they are using it to it’s full capability. Wherever you are in the process, you can embrace some of this in time for September….anything you are able to install is better than doing nothing.

And Then What?

Once you’ve got started with the simpler content you will want to think about more complex documents that might include rich and interactive material. How do we make this accessible to readers with a print disability? It is a challenge, indeed, but much of the hard work has been done for you and it’s simply a question of deciding what methods work for you. This can depend on the size of your organization, whether you outsource any areas of your workflows and what the subject matter is of the content. All of these elements coincide to produce a unique environment and you will want to take time to consider what works best.

We have heaps of guidance to help you make these choices.

Why Exactly Do You Need to do this Now?

Accessibility has always been important and the business case for it has been proven in the past so why is it particularly important right now? Well, access is a vital issue for everyone, whether fully-abled or disabled and it is understood that an EPUB with all the accessibility features enabled provides a richer and more satisfying experience for everyone. We should be affording students the best online learning experience that we can offer them and an accessible EPUB file does that.

But it is worth noting that it is also possible to remediate files so that they can be made accessible after the fact, but imagine the time and potential cost of this when you could just build everything from the start? Your files can be born accessible so that you are offering all students the same material, in the same format, at the same time and for the same cost as everyone else. This is what true accessibility looks like and we should be doing our level best to make this happen for September. Education challenges are going to be great but let’s make the “new normal” an accessible one.

Commit to making your content as accessible as you can and you are part of the solution for September. It’s simple!

Resources

  • Our Introduction to Inclusive Publishing is a great place to understand the benefits of accessible content. Take a look at the rest of the publisher resources within this area of our website to further your understanding.
  • Our developer area will give you some idea of what is required of you technically—it’s not as hard as you think!
  • There is plenty of guidance highlighted in both these areas of our website so that you can start to put some of your understanding into practice.
  • Register for our Weekly Webinar series put together is in response to multiple challenges faced by conferences around the world, as well as feedback from the wider DAISY community expressing interest in online training resources.

Publishers have stepped up to the challenge in a big way and the International Publishers Association has gathered together details of resources available in various countries to assist during this time. This list of IPA resources brings together the good work being done around the globe to provide as much information as possible.

Hugo Setzer, IPA President said:

Self-isolation around the world has seen a boom in reading. Books and reading are the ideal way of escaping our four walls but also to understand what is happening around us, how to overcome this and how to make our lives better in the future. We will need books and we will need each other. The International Publishers Association will play its role to support our international colleagues, our authors and readers, our researchers, our teachers and pupils, to overcome this crisis.

The Accessibility EPUB Eco-system in Action: Following the Journey from Publisher to Student (W)

Accessible EPUB Ecosystem opening slideIn our series of free weekly webinars July 8th saw a session about the journey accessible EPUB publications take to ultimately be delivered to students in their education establishments and our speakers came from organizations involved throughout this journey.

This page contains:

Full Video of the Webinar

Speakers

  • Richard Orme, The DAISY Consortium—host and chair
  • Michael Johnson, Benetech
  • Rachel Comerford, Macmillan Learning
  • Trisha Prevett, Southern New Hampshire University
  • Brendan Desetti, D2L

Session Overview

This webinar looked at aspects of the educational materials eco-system for accessibility and Michael Johnson opened by summarizing what would be covered:

  • What is the Eco-System?
  • The Publishing Workflow
  • Accessible Titles in Retail
  • What is Happening on Campus
  • A View Inside a Learning Management System

Michael Johnson talked to us about what is happening now. Publishers are already creating accessible EPUBs, they are preparing files for 3rd party certification and accessible ebooks are are available for sale. There is reader software to support accessible EPUB files and campuses are buying accessible content and changing their procurement policies for their systems.

All elements in the workflow from the publisher to the point of retail, from being available for purchase to appearing within the LMS / library system, are part of the accessible eco-system. Our eco-system should be accessible from start to finish to benefit all students.

The business case is clear and Rachel Comerford reminded us that:

You or someone close to you has benefitted from accessibility work at least once in the last year / /month / week whether or not you consider yourself disabled.

The ingredients for an accessible environment must include:

  • The Data
  • The People
  • The Content
  • The Platform
  • The End Product

Rachel took us through each of these areas in relation to publishing in general and, more specifically, how Macmillan Learning have approached these.

Trisha Prevett gave us an insight into how this feeds into what is happening on campus, where they currently have 180,000 online students! Accessibility is more important than ever and impacts the following areas:

  • Procurement workflows
  • Electronic Information Technology
  • Assessment of Products
  • Relationships with contracted vendors
  • Cost of resources
  • Training of faculty and staff

Brendan Desetti spoke to us about Learning Management Systems and how accessibility affects the three areas:

  • Content: in supporting instructors with accessible course content
  • Process: in facilitating practice of universal design for learning
  • Platform: enabling accessibility and an equitable user experience

Brendan showed us how D2L are ensuring that all layers of their LMS are attending to these.

Michael Johnson summarized :

  • This is indeed all happening now
  • A Born Accessible EPUB is a better EPUB
  • This is all real work and very do-able
  • Campuses must insist that their vendors are compliant
  • Publishers and platform folk should make sure they are compliant

Accessibility is about meeting the specifications but also about the user experience, the audience response, the assistance and support that comes with a product, and the change that the product undergoes.

Related Resources

Discover the other webinars we’re running!

Helping Higher Ed Students with Access to Accessible Course Material During the COVID-19 Crisis (W)

Presentation opening slideThe DAISY Consortium has launched a series of free weekly webinars in response to the many challenges presented by the Covid-19 crisis and to feedback received from our recent Inclusive Publishing survey where our readers asked for more online resources. April 1st saw the launch of this series with the first webinar focusing on solutions for higher education students during this time when their learning is being greatly impacted.

This page contains:

Full Video of the Webinar

Speakers

  • Richard Orme, CEO DAISY Consortium—host and chair
  • Erin Lucas, Senior Director for Digital Accessibility at RedShelf
  • Rick Johnson, Founder and VP, Product Strategy at VitalSource
  • Stacy Ray, Product Manager at VitalSource

This webinar looked in some detail at the programmes being offered by both organizations to assist students during this period namely RedShelf Responds and VitalSource Helps

RedShelf Responds

Features

  • To ensure that all students have access to their course materials amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, RedShelf have partnered with the publishing community to provide up to 7 free ebooks from participating publishers in the US and Canada.
  • More than 300k titles from 100+ publishers
  • This opportunity is currently set to run through May 25 2020, but if students in Canada have different semester dates and require longer access this will be arranged
  • Available to any student with a .edu student email address and in the case of organizations who use different email suffixes, alternative arrangements will be made
  • Books added to My Shelf feature can be launched within the RedShelf ereader, a browser based reading system with many accessibility features including, Text-to-Speech controls, keyboard shortcuts, screen reader compatability etc.
  • RedShelf have a dedicated accessibility team ready to respond to requests for accommodations and samples

Resources

VitalSource Helps

Features

  • VitalSource have made their Bookshelf program available to students, instructors and colleges during the COVID-19 outbreak who may need access in difficult circumstances—at home or elsewhere, both online and offline. Up to 7 titles may be accessed during this time.
  • This opportunity is currently set to run through May 25 2020 in the US, April 30 in Canada and June 30 in the UK and Ireland. If colleges have different semester dates and require longer access this will be arranged
  • Available to any student with a .edu student email address and in the case of organizations who use different email suffixes, alternative arrangements will be made
  • The app can be downloaded for ease of use offline. Native apps are 100% capable of being accessed offline.
  • The VitalSource Bookshelf is a digital learning platform and not simply an ereader (the webinar includes an excellent demo of the levels of navigation possible and the excellent compatability with Assistive Technology)
  • Accessibility features include: screen reader support, visual adjustment modes for various different requirements, read aloud tools  and rich learning tools

Resources

Other Takeaways from this Webinar For Inclusive Publishing Readers

  • Both RedShelf and VitalSource work closely with their publishing partners to ensure the highest level of accessibility within the content that they are providing. However if a publisher doesn’t provide alt text or correct links etc then this makes life very difficult. It is incumbent on the publisher to make sure that their ebooks have as many accessibility features as needed within the EPUB 3 set up—Born Accessible in fact.
  • Both organizations run checks on the content they receive and, in some instances, can reject content if particular features have not been incorportated eg – VitalSource will reject at import titles that do not include a Text-to-Speech capability
  • DRM free EPUB files can also be side-loaded into the VitalSource Bookshelf, enabling students to take advantage of a consistent, accessible reading environment.
  • Download the PowerPoint Slide Deck (3.5 MB)
  • Further Webinars in this series

 

Free Webinar: Helping Higher Ed Students with Access to Accessible Course Material During the COVID-19 Crisis

April 1st, 2020

The DAISY Consortium has announced the launch of a series of free weekly webinars on accessible publishing and reading in response to the multiple challenges being faced by conferences around the world due to Coronavirus, as well as feedback from the wider DAISY community expressing interest in online training resources.

This first webinar will explore some of the innovative considerations the industry is making to support students at this challenging time. Learn how students and instructors in nonprofit, semester-based colleges and universities can use digital reading systems to access the materials that they need to continue learning through the remainder of the term. The session will highlight initiatives available in the US, Canada, UK and Ireland.

Date

April 1, 2020 at 3pm UTC

Venue

Live online via Zoom or via the DAISY YouTube channel afterwards

Learn More

Sign up for the April 1st webinar 

For information on the whole DAISY webinar series on offer you can register your interest on the Webinar Information Page