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By Julie Ganner AE and Dr Agata Mrva-Montoya, Accessibility Initiative Working Party

The annual conference of the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities was held online from 16 to 18 May.

Accessibility Initiative Working Party (AIWP) Chair Julie Ganner AE delivered a presentation on behalf of IPEd titled, “Creating ‘born accessible’ publications: What can editors do to help?” She discussed the work of IPEd, the different levels of editing and where editors fit into the publishing process, before examining the role that editors can play in ensuring publications are accessible to readers with a print disability.

Julie noted how time-consuming it can be for book editors, writers and publishers to find information on accessibility that is directly relevant to their work. Many of the available resources are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which address web accessibility but not the full needs of braille users, readers of children’s books and educational texts, or the managerial aspects of publishing.

The AIWP is researching solutions that work as well for print, tactile and other formats as they do for digital materials. As part of this research, Julie invited conference attendees to complete an online questionnaire about issues in standard texts that may cause unnecessary work or reading difficulty, and which could be avoided if editors were aware of them. To illustrate the kind of information we need, she posed questions for attendees to consider, including:

  • At what age can and/or should colour be introduced in descriptions for children?
  • At what age or school level are children ready to start using alternative text?
  • Is there a way of setting science abbreviations so they are read correctly by screen readers?
  • Is it necessary to edit alternative text for style and spelling conventions (e.g. from US to Australian), if it is mainly intended to be heard?

We have now begun collecting responses to the questionnaire and look forward to analysing the results.

Dr Agata Mrva-Montoya presented preliminary findings from a University of Sydney survey exploring the key issues and challenges that readers with print disabilities in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand encounter when “reading” books in various formats. More than 200 individuals responded to the survey, most of whom were from Australia (93 per cent) and reported living with a visual disability.

While audiobooks are the favoured and most frequently used format for readers with print disabilities, the choice of format also depends on the genre of book and the context in which it is read. Respondents offered many suggestions for what would improve their experience of using different formats. In the case of audiobooks, the narration attracted a great deal of feedback and suggestions, followed by poor navigation and the lack of image descriptions in audiobooks.

The findings from this survey will also be used as a source for the AIWP guidelines.

Apart from Julie and Agata, there were other presentations of particular interest to publishing professionals. Riane Lapaire from National Network for Equitable Library Services talked about the experience of publishing titles for emerging readers simultaneously in print and braille.

John O’Neill from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and Deanna Lorianni from Color to Sound described the process of producing an accessible art book with photographs and poetry that provides a multisensory experience by combining tactile printing, audio recording and braille.

Graham Murray from ReadHowYouWant talked about how accessible formats are created and delivered to readers, while Richard Orme from the DAISY Consortium outlined progress made towards inclusive publishing in Canada, Europe, Latin America and the United States.

And Sonali Marathe and her colleagues from NextSense presented a workshop aiming to demystify accessibility and show how publishers can get involved in producing accessible content.