From Julie Ganner AE, AIWP
While the Accessibility Initiative Working Party (AIWP) was disbanded in July, following the launch of Books without barriers, our advocacy continues.
In July, I gave an online talk for the Australian Society of Authors on what authors can do to improve the accessibility of their writing. One of the questions I was asked is whether I follow accessibility best practice in my own editing work. My answer was yes, wherever possible. If the client’s house style or brief doesn’t allow me to fix an accessibility issue immediately, I at least let them know about the problem. They can then decide whether and how they want to resolve it. I’ve found that in most cases, clients are willing to make a change once they realise there is an issue.
Agata Mrva-Montoya and I also gave a presentation on Books without barriers to the Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training (ADCET) in September. ADCET’s aim is to improve educational experiences and outcomes for students with disability in higher education. Over 200 people registered for the event, including academics, disability practitioners, librarians and technology officers. Attendees said they found the information helpful, particularly the advice on using different formats (such as EPUB and MS Word rather than PDF), following best practice for punctuation and avoiding “visual cheats” (such as a letter “x” instead of a multiplication symbol).
We are now preparing a workshop on accessibility for the Independent Publishing Conference in Melbourne at the end of November. Agata will also be joining a panel on accessibility and inclusion, with Dr Renée Otmar DE and Tresa LeClerc.
In the meantime, we have been heartened by the positive response to Books without barriers, both locally and internationally. We were especially pleased to hear from Hachette Australia that its editorial team has been working through the guide to implement the accessibility recommendations for its list. The team asked some excellent questions, including the following:
Q: Does the recommendation to use numerals for 2 and over apply to fiction?
A: It depends on the context, and how important the numbers are to the text. Most people process numbers more easily if they are numerical rather than written. A written number may be fine if, for example, it doesn’t matter to the story how many months have passed between events. But if a story hinges on the precise amount of something, it may be better to use numerals, so readers don’t miss the point.
Q: Does the recommendation to avoid using all caps apply to running heads and opening lines?
A: All caps are very hard for some people to read, so if you use them for the chapter opener you may be preventing some readers from engaging with the text right from the beginning of the chapter. The same for running heads. If they can’t be read, they are not going to be useful.
Q: Does the readability of italics depend on the typeface used?
A: People with visual and perceptual disabilities can find italics hard to read no matter what the typeface is. Again, it is helpful to consider the context when deciding whether or not to use them. While the occasional italicised word may not be a problem in narrative forms of publishing, it can be a significant issue in others, particularly for important information. Remember that if someone struggles to read the text, the net effect is the opposite to what you intended, as the reader may miss the very word or phrase you were trying to draw attention to. And chunks of italics, including headings, should always be avoided, as they can be difficult to read for almost everyone.
Q: Books without barriers recommends adding full stops to abbreviations such as “am” and “pm” for people who use screen readers, but also mentions minimising punctuation wherever possible, to reduce the load for braille users. Does the abbreviation between “am” and “pm” increase the load for braille users?
A: Good question! Yes, some of the punctuation advice to support people with low vision or perceptual difficulties is not ideal for braille users. Transcribers also prefer unspaced em rules for dashes, for example, rather than spaced en rules, as the spaces use additional braille cells. However, while the additional punctuation slightly increases the load for a braille user, someone with low vision or a perceptual disability may miss or misinterpret information if they can’t see the punctuation, so it is more important to cater for their needs in this instance.
I will be giving a talk on accessibility for editors in February next year, presented by EdNSW. If you have any additional questions, or areas that you would like me to cover in my presentation, please contact me with your suggestions at email@example.com
Editor’s note: Last month, Julie Ganner AE and Dr Agata Mrva-Montoya were shortlisted for the Accessible Books Consortium’s (ABC) 2023 International Excellence Award for Accessible Publishing. You can read more about their shortlisting in the October issue of Gatherings.