2019 Accessible Publishing Summit: Executive Summary

In January, 2019, NNELS and the BC Libraries Co-op invited over 50 people involved the ebook production and distribution chain (including authors, editors, designers, publishers, distributors, librarians, alternate-format producers, users of alternate formats, and government representatives) to Toronto to participate in a two-day summit focused on accessible publishing in Canada. The goal was to create a space where those who have a stake in accessible publishing would be able to work together to build a community, develop partnerships, and work on the ways in which the accessible publishing landscape can be developed and improved upon in Canada.

Over the two fast-paced days, participants shared information, ideas, and insights, and discussed challenges, obstacles, and opportunities. Detailed notes on the presentations, discussions, brainstorming sessions, and demonstrations were taken, and are forming a report which will be shared soon. To pique your interest in reading this upcoming report, where plenty of powerful, engaging ideas and discussions can be found, we’d like to present a few key learnings.

Top Ten Lessons from the Accessible Publishing Summit

  1. Ebooks need to be better. They need to have more structure, more semantic tagging, more alt-text for images, and less reliance on visual cues, to name a few problem areas. The most straightforward way to achieve this is by creating sophisticated EPUB3 files.
  2. It is incredibly difficult for a reader with a print disability to read a poorly formatted ebook, whether they are using a tablet, screen reader, refreshable braille display, or another assistive device or technology.
  3. Many publishers want to create sophisticated ebooks, but do not feel that they have sufficient resources (financial or human) to dedicate time to producing them … but attendees learned that it is actually more straightforward than they expected!
  4. The Department of Canadian Heritage & the Canada Book Fund want to help enable publishers to move forward, and are actively working on ways to do it.
  5. In the meantime, there are small steps that publishers can take; things like requiring authors to provide alt-text for their images, or starting to dedicate some time to learning to produce EPUB 3 just as they once did for EPUB 2 or other ebook formats that they publish in.
  6. Users (i.e., people with print disabilities) need to be included in the ebook production process, ideally from start to finish. Their insight is invaluable as they have in-depth experience as users of digital books and alternate format materials. They can assess ebooks for accessibility (as they do for NNELS), and provide training to content creators.
  7. EPUB 3 needs to be the format that publishers produce; EPUB 2 and PDF format publications will never be as robust with respect to accessibility as EPUB 3.
    1. NB: EPUB 3 will not be superseded by yet another new format – learning to create this format will set publishers up for the future. EPUB 3 may evolve, but it will remain the standard.
    2. EPUB 3 books offer the most technological sophistication; producing high quality ebooks benefits not only readers with print disabilities, but all readers.
  8. Discovery and findability are also areas that need to be worked on; there needs to be more robust metadata available from vendors, distributors, and publishers, so that accessible ebooks are more discoverable everywhere (i.e., library catalogues, consumer sites, vendor platforms, curriculum lists, apps, etc.).
  9. Accessibility can be (and must be!) built into the entire ebook production and distribution process. Collaboration and communication are of the utmost importance, and they are being achieved through things like this summit, conferences like ebookcraft, and the working groups that summit participants are now working on.
  10. The guides and tools to make accessible ebooks exist – we just have to use them. And organizations like NNELS are here to help! In February and March, they offered EPUB Accessibility Workshops across Canada, and plan to continue to spread awareness and offer education to all.

We saw at the summit that people are eager to do what it takes to create a Canada where born-accessible books are the norm, where a print disability is not a barrier to access, and where equity and inclusion are commonplace. Together, we are beginning to take the necessary steps to making this a reality.