2024 Accessible Publishing Summit: Summary Report

About the Summit

On January 29-30, 2024, NNELS and the BC Libraries Co-operative brought together over 70 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). They met in Toronto to participate in a two-day summit focused on accessible publishing in Canada.

This was the sixth Accessible Publishing Summit, and the mission was similar to the past years of the Summit: 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. And this year, there was one additional objective: to develop guidance documents with actionable recommendations for a few key stakeholder groups. The Accessible Publishing Summit is an amazing opportunity for sharing and documenting collected wisdom, ideas, and perspectives.

Review the agenda here.


As in past years, the 2024 Accessible Publishing Summit brought together dozens of experts who have passion, expertise, and experience in different areas of accessible digital publishing. From librarians working toward ensuring the procurement of accessible titles, to publishers who are continually developing their workflows in order to prioritize the production of accessible digital books, to experienced users of assistive technologies: everyone in attendance had a chance to hear from other experts, share their own perspectives, and ultimately continue to build and develop the community which was initially formed at the first Accessible Publishing Summit, in 2019.

The two-day summit consisted of live demonstrations from users with lived experience of print disabilities, moderated panel discussions on a variety of topics, short presentations, updating attendees on some key information, and almost a full day of “Working Sessions”, where attendees had time to discuss issues and develop ideas and solutions. The Accessible Publishing Summit is designed to provide a space where people can share their expertise and learn from others, with the goal of ensuring that there is a common understanding of the different issues and challenges being faced in the many areas of accessible publishing. Having developed a shared base of knowledge, attendees are equipped to work together on advancing the state of the accessible publishing landscape.

The Experiences of Readers with Print Disabilities

In the first session, members of NNELS’ Accessibility Testing Team demonstrated the process of searching for, discovering, downloading, accessing, and using content that meets a variety of needs across different platforms. These eye-opening demonstrations are highly valued by attendees every year, and this year was no different. Whether they were using a computer, and searching scholarly databases for academic articles, or using a device to search libraries and retail sources, the presenters all faced numerous challenges which they explained in detail. Recorded versions of the demonstrations are available on the NNELS YouTube:

Panel Sessions

On the afternoon of the first day, four panel sessions were held. A wide range of experts discussed key topics around accessibility initiatives, funding, the business case, the road to becoming a publisher who makes accessible books, and the perspective and experience of the user. In the sections below, a brief summaries of the discussions are provided; full notes from each panel session are available here: 2024 Accessible Publishing Summit Panel Notes & Recordings.

Panel 1: The End of Accessible Books Initiative

Moderator: Leah Brochu

Panelists: Deborah Nelson (eBOUND), Laura Brady (all the projects), Daniella Levy-Pinto (NNELS), Mélanie Dumas (BAnQ), and Laurie Davidson (CELA).

Budget 2019 announced an investment of $22.8 million over 5 years for the development of an initiative to support the sustainable production and distribution of accessible digital books by Canadian independent publishers through the Canada Book Fund. Known as the Accessible Books Initiative, it sparked a flurry of projects in Canada centered around accessibility. It has been a boon for accessible publishing in Canada, and is now coming to a close in 2024. In this panel, attendees heard from people who are close to the work of the accessibility initiatives as they discussed accomplishments as well as the future of accessibility initiatives.

Panelists agreed that a lot of great work has been accomplished: individual publishers have made great strides; organizations like eBOUND have built the capacity for ongoing accessibility projects like certification; and awareness of accessibility needs has increased across the board. With the funding concluding, there is a concern that accessibility work may not be prioritized, and so whoever is able must continue to be a champion for accessibility.

Panel 2: Publishers: Reaching toward Accessibility

Moderator: Emma Côté

Panelists: Rachel Comerford (Macmillan Learning), Véronique Fontaine (Éditions Fonfon), Kay Rollans (Brush Education), Lindsey Hunnewell (Wilfrid Laurier University Press), and Nicole Lambe (House of Anansi Press / Groundwood Books)

This panel was designed to highlight success stories, as well as the challenges of publishers currently working towards accessibility. Some publishers are killing it when it comes to accessibility — planning marketing around this work, engaging with people with disabilities, etc. Some are not. Summit attendees heard from five representatives who shared their experiences and insights on how accessibility work is progressing.

The panelists discussed their accomplishments over the past few years, from Benetech certification, to the creation of internal documentation which helps with knowledge retention and capacity building, to a general increase in the production of EPUB files instead of just print books. With respect to accessibility funding, most publishers indicated that they would be able to continue to create accessible front-list titles, as they had built up their knowledge and skills over the years. However, extensive backlist conversion and audiobook creation would not be as sustainable without funding.

When it comes to accessibility, it is important that everyone on the team is aware of the need for it, and committed to the goal. For the most part, the publishers agreed that their teams were supportive of accessibility work, but there are challenges when it comes to more complex, image-heavy titles. Nevertheless, the panelists will continue to strive to publish as accessibly as possible.

Panel 3: Accessibility and the Business Case

Moderator: Richard Orme (DAISY)

Panelists: Wendy Reid (Rakuten Kobo), Gabrielle Etcheverry (Livres Canada Books), Jean-Benoît Dumais (Les Libraires), Heather McDonald (London Public Library/Atlantic Publishers’ Marketing Association), Kieran Leblanc (Book Publisher’s Association of Alberta)

The business case is front of mind for a lot of folks, so in this panel heard about how accessibility is not bad for business; even though it comes with challenges. There are both tangible and intangible benefits to businesses that dedicate resources to digital accessibility.

Panelists discussed how incorporating accessibility is important both ethically and legally; more and more organizations are looking for accessible products, and customers want to ensure that companies they give money to are prioritizing accessibility. Companies are learning that an improved user experience is leading to increased sales and usage. So, people and organizations should strive for accessibility not only to meet standards and legal guidelines, but to improve and simplify the experience of their entire customer base.

Panel 4: The User Perspective

Moderator: Riane Lapaire (NNELS)

Panelists: Laetitia Mfamobani (NNELS), Mélissa Castilloux (Independent), Ka Li (NNELS), Patrick Bouchard (NNELS), Michael Krupp (NNELS).

As readers, users of assistive technologies, and NNELS employees, these panelists have had a lot of experience with reading books and other digital content. In this discussion, we heard about: changes/improvements they have seen over the years (in regard to reading), the barriers that still remain (things like DRM), what they are excited about, what they are disappointed by, and more.

In the discussion, panelists discussed the progress and improvements they have seen in accessible publishing over the last few years. While advances have definitely been made, there is still work to be done. Metadata display and other discoverability measures must be worked on, in order for publishers to showcase the work they have been doing. They also discussed the simple importance of accessibility – part of accessibility and inclusion is being able to read books when they are released, with no delay, like those who read print can do. For many reason, accessibility must continue to be a priority.

Working Sessions

At each Accessible Publishing Summit, attendees come together in small groups and discuss advances, challenges, and issues in their respective areas of expertise, with the goal of making connections and building on each other’s knowledge. From these sessions, attendees come away with new ideas and perspectives which they use to inform their work and continue to advance the state of accessible digital publishing.

This year, in addition to sharing their expertise and perspectives with other summit attendees, we asked the different groups to work on developing sets of action items that could be shared; the groups were formed around different “audiences” which may be looking for some concrete guidance as they think about accessibility, disability, and inclusion.

There are tonnes of individuals and organizations interested in incorporating accessibility into their work and lives, and everyone at the summit worked to develop ideas–big and small and everything in between–that organizations and individuals can take into their own work.

In this Summit Summary document, brief overviews of each group’s discussions and findings are shared below. Please follow the linked headings for full explorations of their discussions, action items, and takeaways.

The Broader Public

As the name suggests, the intended audience for this group is quite broad. The discussions and action items answer these questions: what should people know about print disabilities and accessibility, as a baseline? And, what can they do to improve the state of accessibility and inclusion in Canada and beyond? The following information provides language and ideas to help people gain a solid understanding of the important concepts discussed when it comes to accessible digital publishing, as well as some big and small ideas.

Publishers at the start of their accessibility journey

While some publishers have been thinking about accessibility for years, and have improved the accessibility of their books, many others are still new to the journey. This group focused on creating a list of resources you can use, a glossary to break down complex terminology, and steps you can take to begin incorporating accessibility into your publications.

Publishers experienced with accessibility

Publishers who have been working on accessibility for a while know that they are in a difficult position. Accessibility is one of those things where the more you know, the more you know you don’t know! This group worked on developing ideas that publishers well-versed in accessibility can implement to continue improving and advancing.

Post-secondary Publishing Programs

In this discussion, several themes emerged from thinking about how publishing is taught. The group developed an extensive list of topics that post-secondary programs could incorporate into their curriculum, and a list of potential guest speakers who could address a variety of topics.

Reading System Developers, Vendors, and Distributors

Reading system developers, distributors, and vendors are all one (or more) steps removed from the actual publication and production process of digital books. At the same time, they are also all in a powerful position when it comes to advancing the state of accessibility. They can develop systems that look for and display accessibility metadata; they can develop requirements related to accessibility; they can advocate for accessibility in the book publishing industry, and more. This is a huge–and hugely important–area of the accessible publishing landscape, and this summit group worked to identify challenges, opportunities, and actionable recommendations that people and organizations working in these stakeholder groups can learn from.


After a broad ranging conversation among diverse participants, this group developed a thoughtful set of action items that will hopefully inspire library workers and others to embrace accessibility and take steps to enhance inclusion. There is a need to advance accessibility knowledge in the library sector, and library workers are well-placed to begin to develop this knowledge.


Based on feedback, a few things came through loud and clear:

  • People are passionate about accessibility, and will continue to make it a priority;
  • A lot has been accomplished, and much remains to be done;
  • Because of the work at the summit (the Action Items and Takeaways), many people will be able to benefit and take strides toward accessibility; and
  • The Accessible Publishing Summit is a valuable event which can continue to help advance the accessible publishing landscape, in Canada and beyond.