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by Julie Ganner AE

Presentation by Agata Mrva-Montoya at the IPEd conference.

Agata Mrva-Montoya’s engaging IPEd conference presentation, “Inclusive publishing in Australia in context”, began with an overview of why accessibility is important — not least because of the significant number of readers in Australia who are living with a print disability. 

As well as discussing the social and legal issues, she made a strong case for why we need to recognise the growing market for accessible formats, so we future-proof our businesses as editors and publishers.

Agata described the experience of Sydney University Press (SUP) as a case study of how accessibility can be implemented by publishers committed to following best practice in ebook production. It was exciting to hear that SUP can now consistently produce ePub 3 files that conform to the level AA success criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 specifications.

This is no mean feat for a publisher of illustrated books, and others will doubtless be heartened by this news. In fact, Agata noted that her 2020 survey of the Australian publishing industry found publishers of all sizes can make progress on accessibility implementation, despite a clear need for more information and training. SUP, a small publisher, has now demonstrated that accessibility can be achieved regardless of the available resources, which is most encouraging. 

As an editor, I found it useful to hear a publisher’s perspective on what is involved in producing an accessible book. Our work is, of course, only part of a much bigger picture. Agata’s overview of the publishing workflow demonstrated how editors can contribute to creating “born-accessible” publications through advocacy and planning, as well as during the copyediting and proofreading processes. Managing editors need to factor in accessibility from the project’s inception, including in publishing contracts, briefs, budgeting and production schedules. (For example, who will take responsibility for writing and editing the image descriptions, and when will it be done?)

Finally, Agata outlined the key approach that editors must take to ensure the material we work on does not inadvertently exclude some of our readers. It’s now time to widen our focus from what content looks like and become more aware of how it sounds and feels too, in formats other than standard print. This can be a difficult shift for many of us, as mainstream book editing has historically concentrated on how material looks on a printed page. 

IPEd’s Accessibility Initiative Working Party (AIWP) is working to create a better understanding of the issues involved. We define “editing for print disability” as ensuring that a reader’s ability to perceive or understand content will not be impeded by the format in which the material is presented or the sense a person uses to read — be it vision, hearing, touch, or a combination of these. 

As Agata explained, the objective is to accommodate the needs of as many readers with print disability as possible, without any loss to readers without disability. In practice, the implementation of accessibility principles often improves the reading experience for everyone. Inclusive publishing is simply good publishing.

Julie Ganner AE, Chair, AIWP

Julie and Agata co-presented the workshop, “Accessibility in mind: What editors need to know about creating accessible content” at the 2021 IPEd conference.