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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – the AAG Accessibility Seminar at the London Book Fair

This event report was kindly submitted by Alistair McNaught, Accessibility Inclusion Specialist at JISC and one of the presenters at the AAG Seminar this year.

logo for the london book fair 2018

This year’s accessibility seminar felt ‘all grown up’ as if a milestone had somehow been passed. There were, in fact, two major milestones – the 10th anniversary of the Publishers Association Accessibility Action Group was one. The 150th anniversary of the RNIB was – appropriately – the other.

But the sense of maturity was more than a sense of age; it was also a sense of accomplishment. The Accessibility seminar has consistently fielded a great line-up of topics. Usually, there’s an element of aspiration, a sense of what the future could look like or signposts pointing towards it. This year’s topics went further. They were all about now; the tools you can use now, the publishers who are now prioritising accessibility and the information universities and colleges need now to help inform their support for disabled students.

Emma House, Deputy Chief Executive of Publishers Association and long-time coordinator of the Accessibility Action Group, introduced and chaired the session.

 

Richard orme, CEO DAISY Consortium, delivering his presentation at the podium

Richard Orme (CEO of the DAISY Consortium) introduced the new ACE by DAISY tool. Whilst EPUB 3.1 – the latest version of the EPUB standard – is the most accessible format yet it “has enough flexibility that it’s still possible to inadvertently create inaccessible content”. The ACE by DAISY checker examines a file and reports on WCAG accessibility issues, metadata (especially the accessibility metadata), outline structure, image descriptions etc., and creates a report on the file’s accessibility, complete with contextualised links to a knowledge base. A complementary tool – SMART, the ‘Simple Manual Accessibility Reporting Tool’ takes the outputs from ACE and configures a test plan for manual review. Finally, a Reading Systems evaluation protocol has been developed to check the accessibility of the reading system your file might end up being delivered through. This allows publishers to make recommendations for readers about the tools to use (or maybe the ones to avoid). Finally, Richard reminded the audience of the Inclusive Publishing website – a hub for advice and guidance on best practice for accessible content. So, with a highly accessible file format (EPUB 3.1), free tools to audit your content, a tool to evaluate the platform destinations and a knowledge hub… the barriers to being an accessible publisher are lower than ever.


Alistair McNaught
, one of Jisc’s accessibility and inclusion specialists, launched the ASPIRE project, a collaboration between publishers, aggregators and university libraries to provide plain English information on the accessibility features of e-book files and delivery platforms. The project provides the publishing industry with two months advance notice of a crowd-sourced audit of publisher and aggregator accessibility statements. If you don’t know what disabled customers need to look for the ASPIRE website will give you an excellent overview. If you do know, it helps focus your efforts on making the information available in an easily discovered way. The thrust of Alistair’s session was that “even if your accessibility isn’t great, knowing what does and doesn’t work allows disability support staff triage problems and prioritise solutions.” Alistair, a lactose-intolerant vegetarian, claimed that it is “easier to find out whether a £1.99 pie is suitable for my dietary needs than it is to find out if an ebook collection, costing thousands, is suitable for a dyslexic’s study needs”. The ASPIRE project should help the industry to make such inequality a thing of the past.

 

Luc Audrain (Head of Digitalisation, Hachette Livre) is not just an ‘early adopter’ but potentially the very first to incorporate the ACE by DAISY tool into a mainstream publisher workflow. This achievement earned Hachette an Inclusive Publishing award two days earlier. Luc started by identifying a spectrum of publication types depending on their semantic structure and whether they are driven primarily by content or layout. Plotting these on a scattergraph proved a fascinating way of identifying a range of accessibility opportunities and challenges.

Scatter graph of publishing types plotted by semantic structure and layout versus content. Accessibility is easier to achieve in content driven rather than layout driven texts.

Hachette’s work involved adapting their current workflows for fiction books to create “born accessible” EPUB 3. For this category of books, Hachette defined a specific profile of EPUB 3 they called “EPUB 3 Text”. The choice of EPUB 3 format was down to several factors including, a better user experience, better typographic layouts, better accessibility, a modern web technology with full market support. In 2016 Hachette tweaked their existing workflows so that the page layout XML fed an EPUB 3 work stream with epubcheck validation, and at the beginning of 2018, they have added accessibility validation using ACE by DAISY.

 

Close up of Huw Alexander, SAGE, delivering his presentationHuw Alexander, (Digital Sales Manager, SAGE) hosted the final session on “failing better”, encouraging the industry to create a culture of responsiveness and experimentation. He stressed the importance of management buy-in, not least in order to bring coherence to the processes so that everybody knows the part they play. SAGE has an excellent reputation for customer service, aiming at 24-hour turnaround but this level of responsiveness needs planning. SAGE has an accessibility working group within the company to help coordinate the vision of making content that works for everyone. This includes focusing on the user experience and moving mindsets from a niche customer service to a mainstream approach. Huw’s takeaway points included

  • have a long-term view, a pipeline for improvement,
  • acknowledge that some things are harder to do than others. You might fail to sort some issues, but make a point at succeeding at others,
  • don’t be afraid of small steps, enough small steps lead to a big change for the user.
  • Don’t be lonely. Learn from others, network and seek help. Stand on the shoulders of giants.

Emma House wrapped up the session and reminded us that it was the RNIB’s 150th anniversary and the Accessibility Action Group’s 10th anniversary.

The journey has not yet ended.
But we’ve made a good start.

Aspire Project to Launch at London Book Fair Accessibility Seminar

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

Aspire stands for: Accessibility Statements Promoting Improved Reading Experiences

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

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

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

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

Event Report: Digital Content & Disabilities Seminar, January 10th

This report was kindly submitted by Nicola Swann from the Publishers Association, U.K.

Photograph of the UCL quad

Co-production of resources with those with disabilities and the involvement of the whole supply chain in providing accessible content were two of the main imperatives to come across at a Digital Content and Disabilities Seminar held at University College London on January 10th, 2018.

This seminar was organised as a tie-in with Dr Peter Williams’ British Academy-funded post-doctoral research fellowship at UCL, which is examining the impact of mobile technology on the lives of people with learning disabilities.  As one of the seminars and workshops that Dr Williams is running to gather data and disseminate findings, the event brought publishers, university library and learning specialists, community groups, textbook platforms and other suppliers together to explore creating original content to serve disabilities, and adapting content for maximum accessibility.

The first session, looking at original content to serve disabilities, looked at methods, tools and practice, with Professor Barrie Gunter of the University of Leicester in the chair.  First speaker was Dr Williams, who gave an outline of his work on  the digital lives of people with learning disabilities as they use mobiles, laptops, apps and social media.  His project includes a look at prevalence of use, agency (self or supporter), purpose, consequence (benefit/barrier) and ease of use of mobile devices.  Each participant is helping to produce an accessible, annotated hyperlinked electronic archive of their experiences; they have their own web page to record what they enjoy and what they find difficult.  Supporters can comment, with the consent of the person whose page it is.  Issues unearthed include difficulties in finding photos as phones offer no sort mechanism, in using the access code in a supported house, and understanding how music can get onto a phone.  The web material’s password-protected, but would be available to academics and other professionals on request (peter.williams@ucl.ac.uk) – and additional participants are welcome.

Philip Gibson, Project Manager for Camphill Village Trust, outlined findings from creating a communication platform for people with learning disabilities.  The key message was ‘if you are going to do something, do it co-productively’.    This referred both to the specialist knowledge that may be required to develop electronic resources and the importance of involving all stakeholders, including those for whom the resource is being developed.

Camphill found around three years ago that those with learning disabilities were trying out quite a few digital services – – Skype, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, apps, information sites and bill paying. Most use was via touchscreen device rather than laptop, and was mostly to keep in touch; men particularly also used their devices for games.  Camphill wondered therefore if it was missing options to help users as they mostly did this in traditional ways, though the use of digital was perhaps not as effective as it could be.  It was not clear how users were weeding out misinformation and fake news, and there was evidence that once burned, people quickly shut down if they had problems with issues like signing on, fear of what might happen to personal information and operating hand-me-downs.  Many of those supported dabbled, enjoyed using tech for a while, but then stopped as benefit plateaued.

Camphill is therefore making its own app, CVT Connect, https://www.cvt.org.uk/learn-to-lead/cvt-connect in co-production with users so those within their communities can use them to keep in touch.  More and more are signing up for accounts to use in innovative ways, sharing photos and expressing likes and dislikes.  The challenge now is to make it so interesting that people will wish to use it daily.  Camphill is working on single-click use, tagging, and a less ambitious personal profile; and is keen to share with other charities and community groups.

Dr Yvonne Vezzoli, a learning and communication specialist with the Ca’Foscari University of Venice  @ Go Touch VR, is looking at the visual literacy practices of young people with dyslexia in multimodal digital environments (MDEs).  Her work is based on a strength-focused perspective on dyslexia, viewing it as a thinking and learning difference while not denying the existence of neuro disorders.  She has found that dyslexic teens strongly prefer visuals, knowing they have good skills in retrieving, accessing & interpreting them even though they may have lower skills relating to their production.  Further information on her research is available at   https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319508619_Dyslexia_in_SNS_An_Exploratory_Study_to_Investigate_Expressions_of_Identity_and_Multimodal_Literacies

and at https://www.slideshare.net/secret/x6yPngwhsTM0IP

The second session of the afternoon focused on adapting content for maximum accessibility:  tools, methods and practice, chaired by John Akeroyd, Honorary Research Fellow UCL and CIBER Research.  Tanja Stevens and Lars Christensen outlined the work of their company SensusAccess, http://www.sensusaccess.com/, a subscription service which enables students, faculty, staff and alumni to automatically convert documents into a range of alternate media including audio books (MP3 and DAISY), e-books (EPUB, EPUB3 and Mobi) and digital Braille.  Christensen said that providing accessible content is not restricted to publishers but must involve the whole supply chain; he credited Jisc (https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/getting-started-with-accessibility-and-inclusion) with a huge amount of work on technical sticking points, including complex platforms, but felt that inadequate provision of appropriate reading software was often a barrier to what could be a very positive experience for students.

Teresa Pedroso, Disability Librarian for the Bodleian Libraries, outlined the opportunities and challenges digital presents to those with accessibility needs; it is a mere 40 years old compared with print so presents a great opportunity to explore, despite the drawbacks.  The Bodleian subscribes to 1,300 databases with a variety of accessibility features; users have to learn how to use them as well as staff.  Issues include referencing in non-paginated monographs (though a lack of pagination leads to better visibility and flow).  Readers with disabilities prefer flexible provision of both print and digital; some value the lack of a wait time, where others find the flicker of digital off-putting.  How does a librarian decide between a need and a preference?  Questions apart, accessibility is making an appreciable difference – Questions apart, accessibility is making an appreciable difference – 20 years ago staff and volunteers had to produce everything the Bodleian needed to enable work with a blind academic; now 80% is sourced from the university’s collections, liaison with publishing houses or using materials the library already has.  The DAISY Consortium CEO Richard Orme pointed out that the tech and frameworks exist to enable accessibility; parties should work together to enable accessible metadata and the balance should shift towards mainstream provision (born accessible), though special repositories will likely be needed for a while.

Emma House, Deputy CEO of The Publishers Association, gave an update on the publisher perspective on adapting content.  The challenge is to make all published outputs available to anyone who has a print impairment, for commercial, ethical and legal reasons.  She outlined the relevant legislation both existing (on the PA website at https://publishers.org.uk/activities/campaigns/accessibility/guidelines/) and to come, flagging the European Accessibility Act and the Marrakesh Treaty as the legislation to monitor as it is implemented.  Marrakesh is regarded as a real triumph. One exceptional concept in this Treaty is the enablement of cross-border access to works; an IPO consultation is awaited on the changes needed within UK legislation to implement it.  Remaining to-dos include promotion in the user community on what’s available; publishers’ inclusion of accessibility in ONIX feeds; and publishers’ building accessibility into the mainstream.  Emma’s presentation is on the PA website at https://www.publishers.org.uk/activities/campaigns/accessibility/events-and-presentations/

A video from Ben Watson, Accessible Information Project Adviser for the University of Kent, described building ramps and lifts for digital information with the OPERA project https://www.kent.ac.uk/studentsupport/accessibility/opera.html.  This project promotes inclusive design and assistive technology, aiming to mainstream accessibility – shifting the culture from adjustment for individuals via inclusive learning plans towards anticipatory reasonable adjustments and inclusive practice by design.

A lightning talk from Heather Smith of the National Trust highlighted the importance of working direct with disabled people, and one from Barbara Denton of the University of the Arts London flagged the digital accessibility centre http://digitalaccessibilitycentre.org as a helpful external testing company; UAL has had a culture change as the benefits of accessibility for cohorts with a higher proportion of students with disabilities than most have become apparent.

Resources

https://www.cvt.org.uk/learn-to-lead/cvt-connect

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319508619_Dyslexia_in_SNS_An_Exploratory_Study_to_Investigate_Expressions_of_Identity_and_Multimodal_Literacies

https://www.slideshare.net/secret/x6yPngwhsTM0IP

http://www.sensusaccess.com/

https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/getting-started-with-accessibility-and-inclusion

https://publishers.org.uk/activities/campaigns/accessibility/guidelines/

https://www.kent.ac.uk/studentsupport/accessibility/opera.html

http://digitalaccessibilitycentre.org