Bringing accessible publishing into the mainstream
New platforms promise to bring many more books to print-impaired readers. Mark Bide and Sarah Hilderley explain.In the wake of its LBF accessibility seminar, the Publishers Association, EDitEUR and three of the UK's advocacy organisations working on behalf of people with reading impairment - RNIB, Dyslexia Action, and JISC TechDis - have launched a Joint Statement on Accessibility and Ebooks which is both a statement of principle and a call to action.
The statement of principle is a simple one. Technology is now creating an environment in which the majority of people with print impairment - whether blind or partially sighted, dyslexic, or unable to manage printed materials because of problems of physical dexterity - can become part of the mainstream market for publishers. As the ability to interface with digital files continues to improve - for example, through simple text enlargement capabilities or through digital braille readers - the need to create special accessible versions (often at considerable expense and after considerable delay) is disappearing.
The Publishers Association has been leading the way on this and, working with the Society of Authors and the Association of Authors' Agents, last year published Recommendations on Text to Speech; these recommendations have led to a very substantial decrease in the number of new ebooks published in the UK which have text-to-speech capability disabled.
The new statement commits its signatories to work to make all ebooks as accessible as possible at no additional cost to their users. By following EDItEUR's Accessible Publishing, Best Practice Guidelines for Publishers, publishers can work towards ensuring that all their ebooks have easily added features that assist accessibility (like enhanced navigation); and equally that their ebooks do not have features that are designed to aid accessibility but are unnecessarily.
The guidelines, which are written with publishing teams and publishing workflows in mind, aim to show how all employees can make a difference. They form part of the World Intellectual Property Organisation's Enabling Technologies Framework project, which EDItEUR is delivering in collaboration with The DAISY Consortium (Digital Accessible Information Systems). The project seeks to facilitate access to all copyrighted works for people with print disability.
These guidelines endorse the new EPUB 3 standard, which has adopted the accessibility features of the earlier DAISY standard. The DAISY Standard is a specialist standard used by those seeking greater accessibility in their content, but it has not been prevalent in mainstream publishing. With the publication of EPUB 3, we have a file format that can bring accessibility into the mainstream.
More detailed information on these accessibility features can be found in Accessible EPUB 3 by Matt Garrish (O'Reilly). This practical study (which is free as an ebook) helps publishers understand the huge opportunity that we have to reach wider audiences with EPUB 3. This is a book for everyone, not just technical departments, and should be compulsory pre-reading for anyone establishing an EPUB 3 workflow.
However, we recognise that publishers can only get so far in improving the accessibility of ebooks - the creation of accessible digital files is only the first stage of the answer. Each part of the supply chain - particularly the developers of ebook platforms and devices, but also distributors, retailers and libraries - has its own part to play. Print-impaired readers themselves also have a contribution to make through gaining an understanding of which accessibility features and assistive technologies are best suited to their individual needs.
This, then, is the call to action. The signatories to the joint statement are calling on others to join them in ensuring that ebooks enable all readers, using whatever assistive technology they may require, to access new books as they are published in ebook form at no additional cost. Those companies and organisations that wish to become signatories to the statement are invited to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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