2023 Accessible Publishing Summit: Summary Report

Chestnut Conference Centre, Toronto
February 6-7, 2023

By the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS)

Released June, 2023

Published by the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS), Vancouver BC, June 2023

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Table of Contents


The Accessible Publishing Summit was held with support from the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Component.

Thank you to all who attended the summit, and to all those who worked to help make the event a success.


The National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) is a digital public library of books for Canadians with print disabilities, and an advocate for an accessible and equitable reading ecosystem for Canadians with print disabilities. NNELS is funded by eight Canadian provinces and territories and housed by the BC Libraries Cooperative. Learn more about NNELS here.

About the Summit

On February 6-7, 2023, NNELS and the BC Libraries Co-operative invited over 50 people involved the ebook production and distribution chain (including publishers, leaders of publisher associations, distributors, librarians, alternate-format producers, users of alternate formats, government representatives, and more) to Toronto to participate in a two-day summit focused on accessible publishing in Canada.

This was the fifth Accessible Publishing Summit, and the mission remained the same as in past years: to create a space where those who have a stake in accessible publishing can come together to build a community, develop partnerships, gain a deeper understanding of the current state of accessible publishing in Canada, identify assets, challenges, and opportunities among stakeholder groups, and work on the ways in which the accessible publishing landscape can be developed and improved upon.

The agenda for the two days of the summit can be viewed, here: English agenda | Version française de l’ordre du jour


Over the two days of demonstrations, presentations, and discussions, a number of themes arose, including:

  • Canada has come a long way since the first summit!
  • Industry-led accessible publishing is not yet within reach, in Canada.
  • There is a lot of passion and expertise in accessible publishing in Canada.
  • While many publishers are producing more and more accessible digital books, some reading systems are lagging behind in their ability to utilize and interact with accessibility features.
  • Similarly, while some publishers are now incorporating valuable accessibility metadata, that metadata is not always sticking with the book all the way down the distribution chain.
  • Users with lived experience are key stakeholders in this accessible publishing puzzle. Their expertise is everything.

Diversity of Reading Demonstrations:
The Experience of Readers with Print Disabilities

An essential goal at each summit is to draw attention to the perspectives and experiences of individuals with print disabilities. The expertise of these individuals is invaluable, and by prioritizing their voices early in the summit, attendees are exposed to some of the issues and challenges that need to be addressed.

To accomplish this, members of NNELS’ accessibility testing team provided demonstrations of their experiences as readers with print disabilities in the morning on the first day. This year, we had three people demonstrate the experience of using three different screen reading technologies (JAWS, NVDA, and VoiceOver), on three different reading platforms (VitalSource’s Bookshelf, Thorium Reader, and Apple Books, respectively). We also had one person demonstrate the experience of reading on an iPad using magnification tools like iOS and the customization options available in Kindle, Apple Books, and Libby.

The testing team members highlighted the “Diversity of Reading”–which is what we at NNELS term the variety of different ways that people read. It can be markedly varied depending on a person’s accessibility software, the reading program or browser they are using, the hardware they have, and of course, their preferences and settings. We chose to showcase this diversity because even people who have been working in accessible digital publishing for a long time may not have a strong understanding of this, so highlighting it was valuable for many attendees.

The clear takeaway from this session was: Incorporating best practices and meeting current standards is the best way to ensure that a digital book is accessible as possible. However, even when a book is impeccable in its accessibility (such as the sample EPUB we created and used for these demonstrations), reading systems and software are still catching up.

Recorded versions of these demonstrations are available on the NNELS YouTube.

Industry Updates & Expert Perspectives

To gain insight into the perspectives from the wide range of stakeholder groups that were present at the summit, a few people from key areas were asked to provide brief updates.

Publishing Sector

Deborah Nelson (CEO of eBOUND Canada)

Deborah Nelson, the CEO of eBOUND Canada, who has over 25 years experience working in Canadian publishing, reported on the accessible publishing initiatives that eBOUND has been hard at work on in the past few years, including:

  • Benetech Certification project, where they are working with Canadian publishers to help them obtain Benetech’s “Global Certified Accessible” certification;
  • large scale conversion projects, in which they are working with provincial associations to convert thousands of backlist titles into accessible ebooks;
  • a project focused on developing best practices for image descriptions in graphic novels and illustrated books, working with CNIB, CELA, and Toronto Metropolitan University; and
  • the Accessible Publishing Learning Network (APLN), in partnership with NNELS; eBOUND created the APLN website in response to those who need a trusted space for accessible publishing information. The site contains guidance and training materials for people working in accessible publishing, and also hosts a community hub–a forum where people can post their issues and find help from others in the community. The site itself was also designed with accessibility in mind.

eBOUND’s projects are all making tangible differences in accessible publishing in Canada.

Laura Brady (independent)

Laura Brady, an expert, advocate, and leader in accessible publishing in Canada shared additional information on the Accessible Publishing Learning Knowledge (APLN) site, and talked about what is going on in publishing education.

  • On APLN: The APLN is a go-to resource for all things accessible publishing. It offers learning paths for ebooks, audiobooks, digital marketing, image descriptions, strategic planning, and much more. And, it does all this as straightforwardly as possible by using plain language and avoiding jargon. It is designed to be easy to navigate, search, and filter, and offers direct paths from beginner to intermediate. The Community Hub is a key component of the APLN site; registered users can post questions and comments, and crowdsource solutions. Everyone is encouraged to join the APLN Community Hub, engage on the forums, make suggestions for new resources and posts, and sign up to the newsletter.

On the topic of educational offerings for people training in publishing:

  • Toronto Metropolitan University offers a half term course on accessible publishing which anyone can take (CDPB 285 – Accessible Publishing and Production);
  • Simon Fraser University will provide a 4th year course in their publishing program; and
  • Humber College developed the website ca.

Kate Edwards (former Executive Director at the Association of Canadian Publishers)

Kate Edwards, the former Executive Director at the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP), which is the national voice of Canada’s independent English-language book publishers, provided an update on the work Canadian publishers have been doing, and what’s next.

Kate reported that while most Canadian book publishers do not have dedicated staff working on accessible book production, they have nevertheless made great strides over the last five years. ACP conducted a survey of their membership and learned:

  • more than 80% of ACP members have participated in accessible book production;
  • the capacity for digital publishing is high (61%); and
  • 35% of publishers use internal resources and staff to create accessible ebooks, while 65% use a mix of internal work and outsourced work.

The big question, of course, is what is next for publishers. Most are practicing corporate responsibility, and incorporating accessibility into their publishing practices; this will continue. While many publishers have made great headway over the last few years, numerous challenges remain. Some of these include:

  • Marketing: there are difficulties knowing how and where to market accessible books.
  • Discoverability: Publishers are learning to include accessibility metadata, but there is uncertainty around how (or if) this data will reach the users.
  • Digital rights management: a consensus must be reached around DRM; it can block users from accessing all accessibility features, but preserves security for publishers.

And this is just to name a few. Thus, the next steps for publishers, in addition to continuing to improve their knowledge and skills in accessible publishing, are the big conversations they must have–with each other, with leaders in digital accessibility, with copyright experts, with users, and more.

Frédéric Brisson (Executive Director at Éditions David)

The final presenter in the publishing sector category was Frédéric Brisson, the executive director at Éditions David, a French-language publisher based in Ottawa, and the Chair of the Innovation & Technology Committee at the Association nationale des éditeurs de livres (L’ANEL).

Frédéric reported that French publishers have come a long way over the last few years, thanks in great part to the work of L’ANEL which has been helping publishers learn about accessible digital publishing. L’ANEL’s 110 publishers have made advancements in accessible publishing, and there is a much higher awareness of accessibility issues. However, there is no cohesive/singular education for French publishers (like the APLN), which makes consistent, progressive education more challenging.

After the Accessible Books Initiative and funding from the Canada Book Fund concludes, there are concerns that the development and growth of accessible publishing will not be able to continue at its current pace. But, whatever happens, there is a need for more collaborative work between the French and English sectors.

Alternate Format Production & Libraries

Next, we heard updates from the alternate production and library sectors.

Daniella Levy-Pinto (Manager of NNELS)

Daniella Levy-Pinto, the Manager of NNELS and an expert on assistive technologies, discussed NNELS’ growth over the past few years, from an accessible repository for alternative formats to a leader in accessible publishing and reading.

NNELS prioritizes equitable access and works closely with users of accessible formats to help improve the accessible publishing landscape in Canada. She discussed the projects NNELS has been working on in the last year, including working with publishers and publisher associations on making more accessible ebooks as well as braille files (including some with tactile graphics), reading system testing, testing and developing a new electronic braille file type in collaboration with the American Printing House for the Blind, Humanware, and DAISY, and exploring digital tools to create human sounding narration, among others. Daniella also reported that NNELS is embarking on a project in partnership with Fondazione Libri Italiani Accessibili (LIA), in which LIA will use their platform to perform quality assurance testing of EPUB files.

NNELS’ goal is to continue to contribute to an accessible reading ecosystem. While there have been advances in the past few years, barriers remain, such as: not all reading platforms are accessible and accessibility metadata is frequently missing or incorrect. Therefore, NNELS will work with stakeholders to ensure that everyone is able to access the information they want and need.

Laurie Davidson (Executive Director of the Centre for Equitable Library Access)

Laurie Davidson, the Executive Director of CELA, and an experienced librarian and technologist, shared an overview of CELA’s work, including: providing accessible reading materials their users, who have a wide range of needs; working on an audiobook player that can be shipped to users; and offering services to CNIB.

CELA is focused on continually learning how to best serve their users, meaning that they are asking: what is accessible enough? And, when they receive born accessible EPUB files, what should be done if accessibility issues are found in the book? CELA is working with NNELS to answer these questions.

They are also focused on making accessible materials of the highest quality, such as cost-effective, quality braille which does not duplicate any existing content. Additionally, CELA is researching what features make for the most accessible human-narrated audiobooks (i.e., what about footnotes and endnotes; where does AI and synthesized speech fit in; etc.).

CELA is constantly working on serving their users better, and while it would be ideal to have accessible titles come to them directly from publishers, a lot of work remains before this will happen consistently.

Mélanie Dumas (Directrice de la Collection universelle de Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)

Mélanie Dumas, Directrice de la Collection universelle de Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, reported on some of the work that they do with accessible materials at BAnQ, such as offering access to reading materials to persons with print disabilities through Service québécois du livre adapté (SQLA), and work with partners to remediate books.

She also noted the challenges that remain, like the lack of accessibility metadata. Many readers with print disabilities borrow books from their local libraries, and when libraries are unable to test content on their own, metadata and the accuracy of that metadata is essential. She reported that promising work has been done in conjunction with the Association of Research Libraries-Center for Research Libraries (ARL-CRL) joint task force on accessibility metadata.

Mélanie concluded this segment by highlighting that collaboration is the key to success–so much work is being done by so many different stakeholders–and coming together (at events like the summit) will strongly serve the accessible publishing landscape in Canada.

Standards Sector

Wendy Reid, Accessibility and Publishing Standards Lead at Rakuten Kobo and Chair of the W3C Publishing Working Group, provided updates on new developments in the area of standards, which are really important to all of the work done in accessible publishing.

On EPUB 3:

EPUB 3.3, a new version of EPUB 3, was released last year. This will not have a great impact on publishers’ workflows, as the main updates are:

  • There is a new document structure to the specification itself–it is now easier for people to consume. The previous version was comprised of 6 different documents, and it has now been simplified to 2 documents–EPUB 3.3 (Core) and EPUB 3.3 Reading Systems. (Everything related to production is on EPUB 3.3. Core.)
  • EPUB 3.3 added 2 new content types which can be included in an EPUB file: OPUS (an open source audio codec also designed for the web, with streaming, storage, and a wide range of support for different bitrates and sampling rates) and WebP (a modern image format for the web, which allows for smaller file sizes with the same quality as JPEG or PNG)
  • And finally, there are now detailed sections on privacy and security.

The new EPUB version is backwards compatible, and if publishers are currently producing EPUB 3 files that pass EPUB Check, they are likely already producing EPUB 3.3 files.

The EPUB Accessibility 1.1 Specification was updated as well, including:

  • For the Schema.org metadata, “AccessibilitySummary” is now only recommended, and not required;
  • Flexibility was added around the WCAG conformance metadata;
  • And discussion of internationalization requirements, in order to address the accessibility needs of users independent of what languages they read.

Other work on standards continues, including the Fixed Layout Accessibility Specification, and the Virtual Locators Task Force.

DAISY Initiatives

Next, we were updated on DAISY initiatives by Sarah Hilderley, an accessibility expert and advocate who works in communications for the Inclusive Publishing website, which is itself a DAISY initiative.

DAISY, a global consortium of organizations committed to worldwide change, creates and shares numerous services, software, webinars, and documents which are integral to the world of accessible publishing.

Some of their valuable (and regularly updated!) projects include:

  • Ace by DAISY: an automated accessibility checker that can be used to check the accessibility of EPUBs;
  • The SMART tool: a manual EPUB conformance checking tool people can use to check their books’ conformance with EPUB and WCAG requirements;
  • The DAISY Accessible Publishing Knowledge Base: an online guide sharing techniques and information about how to correctly code digital books; and
  • WordToEPUB: a tool that can be used to convert Word Documents (among other types) to well-formatted EPUB files.

In addition to these tools, DAISY also works closely with partners around the world; for example, they chaired a working group for the Publishing Accessibility Action Group (which is a great complement to the APLN website), and published a toolkit for Global Accessibility Awareness Day

To keep up to date with all the great work happening at DAISY, everyone is encouraged to sign up for the Inclusive Publishing newsletter.

Education & Remediation

Next, we heard about education and remediation from Adam Wilton and bob Minnery. Adam is the program manager of the Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired (PRCVI) and the Accessible Resource Centre-BC (ARC-BC), and bob is the Manager of Alternate Education Resources Ontario (AERO). bob and Adam are also the chair and vice-chair, respectively, on the board of the Canadian Association of Educational Resource Centres for Alternate Format Materials (CAER).

For alternate format producers of educational materials, accessible means that they must provide material to standard and on time. In order to meet the required timelines, they must first, obtain the material in April-June for September; then, get a syllabus from the teacher so material can be produced as per the teaching schedule, or pay to have the material transcribed to standard by an external vendor. Each step has potential pitfalls they run into annually. For example, the teacher may not send the material in by June (they might not even be hired until August), or the syllabus may not arrive or may arrive late; or something could go wrong with an external vendor. As a result, they are in perpetual triage mode. However, with more and more publishers working toward born accessibility, they are hopeful for the future.

As producers of alternate format materials, who spend the bulk of their time remediating existing books, they are considering their role when we begin to see the publication of more truly born accessible content. The hope is that this borne accessible content will serve the needs of 80% of the population with print disabilities, who require machine readable text, robust navigation, accurate reading order, image descriptions, etc. If that becomes the norm, they hope to be able to dedicate their work to the remaining 20% of people who have specific access requirements, such as tactile graphics and models, sonifications, materials that work with switches or joysticks, and more. This is one exciting aspect of the future we are all working towards.

Public Libraries

Lindsay Tyler, the Senior Manager with the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA), and Riane Lapaire, the Braille and Accessibility Testing Coordinator for the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS), then provided an update on work being done in public libraries, specifically as a part of the Public Library Accessibility Resource Centre Project.

The Public Library Accessibility Resource Centre Project (PLARC) is collaborative project funded by the Government of Canada, co-led by NNELS  and CELA in partnership with eBOUND. The goal of the project is to create a consolidated resource centre focused on the education and training of library staff, across the country, on the importance of accessibility. Work includes:

  • Creation and development of ca and BibliosAccessibles.ca; and
  • Surveys, focus groups, webinars, advocacy, and presentations at conferences, all designed to reach library staff on accessibility.

In 2022, PLARC:

  • Presented and participated on expert panels on various areas in the library such as frontline staff, user experience, social media, and document accessibility;
  • Collaborated with eBOUND initiatives such as Bibliovideo’s work on accessible Canadian children’s books
  • Conducted the “Is Your Public Library Accessible?” Study (from July to December, 2022) consisting of people with diverse backgrounds and disabilities. Participants reflected on the accessibility of their library in monthly in-person and/or virtual visits. Three common themes from the study include:
    • Accessibility often depends on the participants interactions with library staff. Staff can make the experience great by providing helpful services or they can be an accessibility barrier themselves when the interactions are inhospitable
    • The accessibility features and barriers identified at the beginning of the study were still present at the end. This includes, but is not limited to, a lack of accessible parking, shelving that is too high or low, and hard-to-read print signage and labels.
    • At the end of the study participants noted that their libraries needed to make more of an effort to provide a fully accessible experience, and loudly promote what they already have worked on.

The PLARC project website provides a wealth of resources for libraries to consult. To date, there are 84 curated resources (17 French, 67 English) and 23 created resources (19 English and 4 French) availabe. This includes a Procurement Guide for Accessibility of Licensed Resources for all libraries.

Work is still underway on the PLARC project, and more resources and learning opportunities are planned for 2023.

Government Updates

Employment and Social Development Canada

Finally, we had some updates from government representatives, starting with Employment and Social Development Canada, who provided a brief some information on the Equitable Access to Reading Program. Note that there is no new information here, but we wanted to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

The following is taken almost word for word from the last year’s budget where they announced the Equitable Access to Reading Program:

As announced in Budget 2022 last April, the federal government has proposed funding for Employment and Social Development Canada to launch a new Equitable Access to Reading Program to boost the production of accessible format reading materials through innovative partnerships. This will promote the economic and social inclusion of persons with print disabilities and help to create a barrier-free Canada.

Employment and Social Development Canada has provided the following update on the status of the formation of this new program:

We received access to the funding from Budget 2022 in December [2022]. We will begin engagement with persons with print disabilities in the coming months, and later with stakeholders including industry, disability organizations, and service providers. This engagement will inform the design of the program which will need to be validated by Cabinet before launching in 2024-25 (and we will need to do another submission at that time to access the funding for the program).

Canada Book Fund Update

An update provided by Sarah Mayes, the manager of Support for Organizations for the Canada Book Fund, which provides federal funding for collective projects that benefit the Canadian book industry through the Department of Canadian Heritage:

Our reflections on how accessible publishing will fit into the Canada Book Fund going forward continue. Your input on gaps and opportunities in the Canadian book publishing industry at this point would be very welcome.

In 2022-23, the Canada Book Fund provided funding through the Accessible Digital Books Initiative for accessible audiobook production and business development for individual publishers, as well as collective projects with a wider benefit for the Canadian publishing sector.

  • 72 accessible audiobook projects approved totalling $2.67 million
  • 8 approved business development projects, totalling $198,300
  • 8 collective projects were approved totalling $1.16 million

For audiobook projects, publishers were required to complete an accessibility checklist and share copies of the final audio files with a library service that specializes in serving readers with print disabilities.

On the collective project side, a number of large scale conversion projects led by publishing associations wrapped up in 2022. These projects also had requirements around making converted digital books available to readers with print disabilities. In the intake for projects starting in 2022-23, the program saw the continuation of some major capacity building initiatives for the industry, but also a shift towards new efforts to market and promote accessible titles and formats.

Accessibility metadata and the discoverability of accessible titles and features on sales and library platforms available in Canada remains a challenge that continues to be raised with the program. The call for collective projects for the final year of funding in 2023-24 was oriented towards seeking projects in these areas. 17 collective project proposals have been received under that funding call and are under assessment currently.

Given the $2 million budget for the last year of funding, there will be no call for audiobook projects for individual publishers in 2023-24. Individual publishers were, however, able to continue to apply for business development projects focused on accessibility and the program deadline just closed at the end of January.

Over the coming year, the program will be working with clients to ensure that all projects can be fully completed by March 31, 2024. As this is the end date of the five years of funding, there will be no opportunities to extend end dates for projects or reprofile unspent funds to 2024-25.

The team at the Canada Book Fund wishes you continued success in your work advancing accessible publishing in Canada and looks forward to continuing to work with many of you in the final year of the Accessible Digital Books Initiative.

Working Sessions: Key Findings

The remainder of the Summit consisted of Working Sessions–attendees broke into smaller groups focused on specific topics, and addressed a set of questions.

The Working Session Topic groups were:

  • Metadata: Search, Discoverability, and Display
  • The Needs of Publishers
  • Distribution, Procurement, and Platforms
  • Copyright, Licensing, and Marrakesh
  • Certification & Quality Assurance of EPUB Files

These sessions were held in the afternoon of the first day, and for the entirety of the second day. The full set of discussion notes for each topic can be found on a shared Google Drive. Below, we will share highlights and key findings, but we encourage readers to use the full discussion notes to closely review the topics that are important to them.

Groups were provided with the following questions to form the basis of their discussions, but were encouraged to focus their conversations on whatever came up.

  1. What are the strengths and assets in this area? What successes and advances have occurred in the past 5-ish years? How has the Accessible Books Initiative and/or funding from Employment and Social Development Canada impacted things in this area?
  2. What are the big gaps? Weaknesses? Challenges? What has stagnated? What remains undone?
  3. What must happen to solve the stagnation and continue advancement? What connections need to be made? Who is best suited to take things on?
  4. What is sustainable in each industry? What foundational things have been established that can be counted on? Think about all aspects of sustainability: environmental, financial, resource-wise, etc.
  5. What is not sustainable in each industry? Think about all aspects of sustainability: environmental, financial, resource-wise, etc. How do we ensure that people can keep up with evolving standards and technologies? What happens when people trained in accessibility move on?
  6. What happens after March 2024? How do we keep things going?

Metadata: Search, Discoverability, and Display

The challenges around metadata are arguably some of the biggest issues discussed during the summit, which is compounded by the fact that some of the most important stakeholders in this area, like vendors and distributors, were not at the summit (however, their presence will be prioritized going forward). Currently, metadata does not always persist all the way down the supply chain, and therefore is frequently not shared with the user in the way the publisher originally planned–and this is a conversation that vendors and distributors need to hear about, as it will be very important for them to contribute to a solution.

At the summit, we heard there is a lack of clarity, education, and even standardization about what accessibility metadata is and how it should be used. In order for metadata to be added, implemented, and used correctly, summit attendees discussed the fact that multiple stakeholders along the supply chain need some guidance and training–this includes publishers, conversion houses, freelance ebook creators, and even libraries and other distributors. Some summit attendees who work directly in this area indicated that they would continue to do professional development around metadata, which is important, especially since it was acknowledged that publishers are not always including it–and if they are, errors are common.

One interesting idea discussed how valuable it would be to do research into the wishes and preferences of users–and this is not something that is unique to the Canadian ecosystem. The existing values for ONIX and Schema metadata are not necessarily all “human readable”, and there is no standard about how this is translated to the reader. For example, some books are “reflowable”, meaning that the text can be resized, the font can be changed, the text colour and background can be modified, etc. But the word “reflowable” (which is the value included in the metadata of the book) might not be meaningful to all readers–and there is no standardized way of conveying this information. So, research into the best way to make the metadata values human readable will be useful, as will research into what metadata users find most important, what they might ignore, if correctly implemented metadata would have an impact on user choice, etc.

One positive outcome of the summit is that key people were able to develop a much better understanding of what they need to discuss with vendors and distributors. Another promising outcome was people recognizing that there is a lot more room for collaborative work between publishers and libraries.

There are some complicated challenges ahead in the metadata realm, but attendees at the summit definitely felt that these will be solved as long as we keep at it–which so many of us are!

Distribution, Vendors, and Platforms

A key discussion point in the topic of distribution was around metadata, which we’ve just shared in the above section. Suffice to say, distributors, vendors, and reading system and platform developers need to be involved in this metadata conversation.

There are often competing priorities when it comes to distribution– i.e., should publishers spend their energies driving sales? Or incorporating accessibility metadata? While attendees did not come to a definitive conclusion here, they held valuable conversations on the topic. For example, they discussed how feedback from users (people with lived experience of a print disability) should be sought; they are an important part of the customer base, and their input here will be useful in guiding publishers and organizations.

As mentioned, attendees who have relationships with distributors and vendors are now better equipped to have accessibility-focused discussions with them. Additionally, some attendees who work with or in libraries noted that they would highlight the matter of accessible e-book procurement and discoverability. Currently, a key challenge that must be overcome is the lack of accessibility metadata included with digital books. Distributors and vendors cannot expose what does not exist, and that is why work on accessibility metadata is such a priority.

Copyright, Licensing, and Marrakesh

This was a somewhat new topic at the Accessible Publishing Summit. As we move toward a reality of new books being born accessible, we wanted to get people talking about the impact of born accessibility on the copyright exemption and the Marrakesh treaty (even if we produced more questions than answers).

This topic concerns how born accessible titles may impact the way books are shared internationally, via the Marrakesh treaty, as well as how born accessible titles will potentially impact the work of alternate format producers (like CELA, NNELS, SQLA of BAnQ, PRCVI, AERO, and more). Currently, the copyright exception in Canada permits making accessible format copies without copyright holder permission; the exception does not apply if the work is commercially available in the format specially designed to meet the needs of the person with a perceptual disability. As born-accessible content (in formats such as audio and EPUB) becomes the norm from publishers, it is critical to understand the implications around the Marrakesh Treaty and sharing of this content internationally.

Here are some of the highlights from this complex discussion at the summit:

Much of the conversation was focused on the education sector (based on the expertise of the attendees who participated in this working group). Some key points were raised around the accessibility of supplementary materials included with scholarly texts; one idea that group had was to perhaps ask/require educational publishers to provide alternate format producers with “desk copies” for review. This would be valuable for publishers, alt-format producers, and users, since it would allow publishers to receive feedback on the accessibility features present in their books, and it would allow alternate format producers to get a head start on remediation, all resulting in better products for users.

There was also discussion around the impact of digital infrastructure–while the copyright act covers the provision of accessible materials, there is no certainty around the rest of the ecosystem (like reading apps, sales platforms, learning management systems, integrated library systems, and more). These areas of the publishing ecosystem are beyond the Canada Book Fund, but this discussion really got people thinking about the industry-led approach, and how the full ecosystem is bigger than just publishers.

In the context of the Copyright Act, publishers tend to have the same questions as alternate format producers in terms of understanding the mandate to produce under Section 32. This is notable because it highlights how there is common uncertainty among different stakeholders.

The Needs of Publishers and Capacity Building)

While publishers have made great headway in the last few years, capacity building in Canada remains a critical step for the sustainability of accessible publishing work. There is a lot of precarity and uncertainty in the industry, particularly when it comes to accessibility. For example, staff trained in accessibility sometimes move on into more lucrative careers after learning about accessibility and coding. There are also challenges around keeping up with evolving standards; summit attendees highlighted concerns around publishers’ capacity to incorporate accessible features into all future titles (not to mention backlist remediation), as developing a permanent knowledge base in-house can be a great undertaking.

The business case is front of mind for many attendees, and similar to what was discussed in the Distribution, Vendors, and Reading Systems topic above, there are competing priorities. A publisher does not always have enough time to learn about accessibility metadata and also undertake comprehensive marketing–and again, this ties into capacity. Resources are limited, and not all publishers are–or feel that they are–equipped to keep up.

For publishers in the French market, there is an added layer of difficulty: first and foremost, there is a need for more training materials. There is no equivalent APLN for French publishers, and while L’ANEL is doing their best to offer training, it is more scattered than what English language publishers have. And of course, in addition to the lack of available training, they have the same challenges around building and sustaining capacity, and managing competing priorities.

Nevertheless, confidence has been built among the community, and summit attendees agreed that continued education is possible. However, based on what we heard at the summit and what we have seen from our work at NNELS, it seems clear that not all publishers are aware of the resources that are out there, like possible eBOUND’s Accessible Publishing Learning Network site and Benetech certification program, NNELS’ ongoing offers of training, offerings from publisher associations, DAISY’s tools, etc. Awareness building of the available opportunities and resources must be undertaken.

Certification and Quality Assurance Testing:

The key discussion in the certification and quality assurance testing groups was around costs and resources needed to do this work. Interestingly, at the summit, there was minimal discussion about the actual need for quality assurance testing (which perhaps indicates that the need is a given), or how it should be undertaken and approached. The discussion at this summit was largely about the Benetech Certification program currently offered/ran by eBOUND, and some discussion of Fondazione LIA’s title-by-title certification process.

A challenge in this area is that many publishers are still not knowledgeable about accessible publishing, and many are even still making PDFs. For these publishers, certification and QA is currently out of the question as they have not yet developed the capacity to systematically produce EPUB files, let alone ones that incorporate accessibility feature. As discussed in the Needs of Publishers group, training and capacity building is still a huge priority, as is the retention of knowledge (i.e., when knowledgeable staff moves on).

More and more, accessibility is being incorporated into publishing school education, so hopefully this trend continues, and results in a generation of people working in publishing for whom accessibility is a given. Until then, those who have skills and knowledge about accessible publishing must continue to increase awareness of quality assurance testing resources, like the checklists on the APLN, the SMART tool from DAISY, and GCA certification through eBOUND. It is important for readers with print disabilities to be able to rely on the fact that books promising accessibility are indeed accessible, and quality assurance testing is key.


A common thread running through almost every working group topic was, of course, funding. If funding for incorporating accessibility into digital publishing concludes, and industry is still not fully ready to take on born accessible publishing, accessibility may begin to fall by the wayside, especially if legislation is not part of the equation.

In general, there was a lot of concern around the conclusion of funding, given the realities of publisher capacity, and the financial bottom line of incorporating accessibility. When it comes to things like fixed layout publications, image heavy books, poetry, standards are still evolving–and keeping up with this won’t be easy–ongoing professional development is a big need.

Summit attendees discussed how incentivizing accessible funding would be beneficial, perhaps through tiered funding, awards, or other innovative approaches. Additionally, the idea of attempting to keep existing funding with Canada was discussed; numerous publishers currently outsource their EPUB conversion work to overseas companies, and shifting this work into Canada would be a powerful change. In the Canadian context, funding is a common concern, and there is a hope that funding for accessibility can be baked into continued funding for publishers and publishing-related organizations in Canada, even if it lays outside of specific accessibility initiatives.


This fifth year of the Accessible Publishing Summit generated perhaps more questions than answers–but this was not a surprise. There is a lot of uncertainty in the accessible publishing landscape: there are concerns about funding and capacity, questions about how to sustain knowledge building and growth among ever-evolving standards and technologies, how to minimize outsourcing, what can be employed to incentivize the inclusion and consideration of accessibility, how to build awareness of available materials, and more. But, among all the questions and uncertainty, one thing was clear: people in the room–and many, many more people in Canada beyond the summit attendees, are passionate about accessibility. Many key stakeholders know just how important it is, and will do all they can to ensure that accessibility does not become an afterthought.

Publishers and other stakeholders in Canada have made powerful strides over the last 5 years, with the help of funding from the Canada Book Fund and Employment and Social Development Canada. The conclusion of the Canada Book Fund’s Accessible Digital Books initiative was front-of-mind for many attendees this year, and while there is concern about the ability of stakeholders to continue advancing the state of accessible publishing without this funding, there was also a feeling of confidence in the room. Confidence in the work that has been done, in the expertise and ambition of people who are currently doing the work, and in the knowledge that support can be found in the community we have built. Whether or not funding continues, or legislation is enacted, people who are passionate about accessibility are committed to the issue, and they will continue to push for awareness, training, and the advancement of accessible digital publishing, to the extent which their capacity allows.