When inclusion is a consideration from the start, accessibility can become an organic part of a workflow. It can mean increased efficiency and a superior product, while at the same time it can minimise remediation costs if accessibility barriers remain.
Publishers around the world are becoming increasingly aware that their digital content needs to be accessible – in some cases by law – and in order to accomplish this, they need to make sure that accessibility is embedded in their workflow. For many publishers, especially those just beginning to learn about accessibility (and maybe still producing EPUB 2!), this is far easier said than done.
I am the Director of Cross Media at House of Anansi Press in Toronto where I oversee print book production, ebook and audiobook production, and sometimes even help make puzzles. It is my firm belief that any commitment to diversity must fold ability into that mission and not doing so leaves money on the table. In an age where institutional purchasing hinges on accessibility, it is just plain foolish not to fold those concerns into the entire publishing life cycle.
Our work to publish accessibly has earned us the Global Certified AccessibleTM (GCA) certification for ebooks by Benetech, a recognition that Anansi’s ebooks will be accessible to readers with print disabilities. The certification exists not only to signal accessibility but to encourage publishers worldwide to make “born accessible” content the standard going forward.
There was a slow build-up to where we are now but we have been thinking about accessibility for a long time. We have always been deliberate about how we make ebooks but as the standards for ebook accessibility change over time so there has been some catch up to do. I have been working on digital publishing accessibility for some time, and brought that laser focus with me to Anansi. We have been poised and ready to take full advantage of the new monies available from the Department of Canadian Heritage to work on accessibility, including funding for audiobooks, hiring an accessibility workflow consultant, and hiring a tech intern to focus solely on fixing up backlist ebooks.
Tech in general is behind in thinking about and implementing accessibility, so the publishing industry isn’t special in that regard. But the publishing industry, particularly indie publishing, is powered by employees doing two or three jobs at once which means that ebooks – which, let’s be honest, aren’t all that sexy to begin with – only get passing attention. Then, the technical debt from relying on Adobe’s InDesign to create ebooks is a pile on. The technical knowledge needed to make really clean ebooks is peripheral to someone who is, say, the designer, typesetter, and the marketing person. And while InDesign is a good layout tool, it’s not a good ebook creation tool out of the box. It requires a lot of tweaking of the controls, and some diving into the HTML and CSS to make a really fit ebook. I don’t think that anyone is actively trying to make inaccessible ebooks, but the awareness of what it takes and the technical knowledge needed make it feel out of reach.
But let me be clear: making accessible ebooks is not rocket science. Anyone can do it – Anansi is not staffed by unusually smart, technical people. Anyone can get this, really. But it does require some thought and attention to a publisher’s workflow.
It feels imperative to get more publishers engaged in the process to get either their workflow or their ebooks certified. Benetech’s GCA certification and the Italian book publishers’ association, LIA, are examples of such programs. Our work with Benetech to get certified was iterative and, as a result, an education in and of itself. The process of getting certified will force the workflow changes that publishers need to make good ebooks, for example. It would be grand to see publishers motivated to do the work to get the kinks of out their processes.
Another important area of focus is exposing accessibility metadata to the consumer so that books that meet the standard are easy for consumers to find. There can be metadata embedded in ebooks that details its accessibility in addition to ONIX codes that travel with ebooks and audiobooks. If that info is made available in some meaningful way to consumers, then readers can find the books that meet their needs a little more easily. See, for example, the accessibility header on this product listing’s metadata: https://www.vitalsource.com/en-ca/products/reset-ronald-j-deibert-v9781487008062 This kind of metadata makes the business case for doing the work a little more palpable. If readers can find content that they can read, then they will buy or borrow it.
There are lots of other interesting things happening in this space. Simultaneous braille publications are happening a little more often. Organizations like NNELS and eBound are supporting Canadian publishers to do great things. The EPUB 3 Working Group is poised to tackle the inaccessibility of the fixed-layout format. Awareness of the need for work in this area is at an all-time high and that’s a good thing.
There is work to do, no question, but the will is strong. And, thanks to the award-winning Canada Book Fund, we have boots on the ground to get the work done.
Inclusive Publishing in Australia: An Introductory Guide
The business case for accessible publishing
Publishing accessibly from InDesign
Best practices for accessible workflows from NNELS https://www.booknetcanada.ca/blog/2020/7/22/best-practices-for-accessible-workflows-an-experimental-project
Related BookMachine articles
Overcoming the challenges of accessible publishing, by Guy van der Kolk
Becoming conscious [putting accessibility on your radar], by Alistair McNaught
The business of accessibility: content that is more usable is more valuable, by Abbie Headon
Laura Brady works in trade book publishing in Toronto as the Director, Cross Media, at House of Anansi Press, overseeing print, digital, and audio book production. She helps to plan ebookcraft, and NNELS’s Accessible Publishing Summit, is on the board of eBound Canada, and is an invited expert to the W3C’s EPUB 3 working group. She thinks about the ebook reading experience more than is healthy, probably.