Accessibility for Trade Book Publishers

The venerable world of trade books has had accessibility options since the early 19th Century invention of Braille. However, only in the digital age has it been possible to make all books accessible to the visually impaired.

Guest blog by John Parsons

In the 1820s, Charles Barbier and Louis Braille adapted a Napoleonic military code to meet the reading needs of the blind. Today’s familiar system of raised dot characters substitutes touch for vision, and is used widely for signage and of course books and other written material. By the 20th Century, Braille was supplemented with large print books and records. For popular books these tools became synonymous with trade book publishers’ efforts to connect with visually impaired readers.

However, these tools—particularly Braille—has significant drawbacks. Before the advent of digital workflows, producing a Braille or even a large print book involved a separate design and manufacturing process, not to mention subsequent supply chain and distribution issues. But that has changed with the digital publishing revolution.

All Books Are “Born Digital”

With notable exceptions, trade books published since the 1980s started out as digital files on a personal computer. Word processors captured not only the author’s keystrokes but, increasingly, their formatting choices. (In the typewriter era, unless you count backspacing and typing the underline key, italics and boldface were the province of the typographer.)

On the PC, creating a larger size headline or subhead, or a distinct caption, evolved from a manual step in WordStar or MacWrite to a global stylesheet formatting command. When these word processing files made their way to a desktop publishing program, all the 12-point body copy for a regular book could become 18-point type for a large print version—at a single command.

Other benefits of digital-first content included a relatively easy conversion from Roman text characters to Braille, although that did not solve the actual book manufacturing process.

What really made the digital revolution a boon to accessibility was the rise of HTML—and its publishing offspring, eBooks. Web or EPUB text content can be re-sized or fed into screen readers for the visually impaired, but that’s only the start. It can also contain standardized metadata that a publishing workflow can use to create more accessible versions of the book.

Workflow Challenges

Trade books tend to be straightforward when it comes to accessibility challenges, but there are caveats that publishers and their service providers must address. The simplest of course is a book that is almost entirely text, with no illustrations, sidebars, or other visual elements. In those cases, the stylesheet formatting done by the author and/or publisher can be used to create accessibility-related tags for elements like headlines and subheads, as well as manage the correct reading order for Section 508 compliance.

Where things start to get tricky is when a book includes illustrations, or even special typographic elements like footnotes. To be accessible, the former must include descriptive alt text, which is usually best provided by an author, illustrator, or subject matter expert. Increasingly, just as writers became accustomed to adding their own typographic formatting, they may also include formatted captions containing this valuable, alt text-friendly information.

For other visual elements, service providers must fill in the accessibility gaps that authors cannot easily provide. This may include a certain amount of redesign, such as placement of footnotes at the end, to ensure continuity of reading, and defining the logical flow of content and reading order for page elements like sidebars. Service providers also add semantic structuring, alt text image descriptions not included by the author, and simplification of complex elements like tables.

It’s All About Format

Book publishers are already well ahead of the curve when it comes to accessibility. As mentioned in a previous blog, the page-centric PDF format is problematic. Fortunately, except for print workflows, trade publishers do not use it for their end product. In most cases, books are also produced in EPUB format, which is a derivative of HTML. These formats are accessible by default, although they need to be enhanced to meet the requirements of WCAG 2.0 standards. The gap is small, however, and can be easily bridged by focusing on design, content structuring, and web hosting.

Book reading for the visually impaired is no longer restricted to the popular titles, and compensatory technology of past centuries. With the advent of digital publishing, and the workflows that support and enhance it, accessibility for all books is an achievable goal.

 


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Mike Groth

Michael Groth is Director of Marketing at Cenveo Publisher Services, where he oversees all aspects of marketing strategy and implementation across digital, social, conference, advertising and PR channels. Mike has spent over 20 years in marketing for scholarly publishing, previously at Emerald, Ingenta, Publishers Communication Group, the New England Journal of Medicine and Wolters Kluwer. He has made the rounds at information industry events, organized conference sessions, presented at SSP, ALA, ER&L and Charleston, and blogged on topics ranging from market trends, library budgets and research impact, to emerging markets and online communities.. Twitter Handle: @mikegroth72

Accessibility 101: What Does "Accessibility" Mean for Publishers?

Cenveo Publisher Services is a champion of digital equality. Over the coming weeks, we'll dive into some details about what accessibility means for publishers and review how to get started (or continue) with "born accessible" publishing initiatives.

Let's begin.

 
 

Making content accessible involves a number of services depending on the content type and markets your publishing program reaches. What is consistent across all content and markets, is well structured and tagged content. 

Stay tuned as we dive into the details for

  • documents
  • EPUB
  • games
  • websites
  • elearning courses

Feel free to share your questions and thoughts in the comments box below.

 

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Champion Digital Equality

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Mike Groth

Michael Groth is Director of Marketing at Cenveo Publisher Services, where he oversees all aspects of marketing strategy and implementation across digital, social, conference, advertising and PR channels. Mike has spent over 20 years in marketing for scholarly publishing, previously at Emerald, Ingenta, Publishers Communication Group, the New England Journal of Medicine and Wolters Kluwer. He has made the rounds at information industry events, organized conference sessions, presented at SSP, ALA, ER&L and Charleston, and blogged on topics ranging from market trends, library budgets and research impact, to emerging markets and online communities.. Twitter Handle: @mikegroth72

Content Accessibility 101: NIMAS Basics

Since the early 19th century invention of braille, the concept of making written content available to the blind or visually impaired has been a noble aspiration of a civilized society. Making that concept a practical reality is another matter. Even as new, more automated technologies arise, the challenges of accessibility remain formidable.

Overview of documents and content required for the NIMAS fileset.

The rise of digital media has made the problem more acute since, like print, digital is an intensely visual medium. In his 2012 book Accessible EPUB3 (O’Reilly/Tools of Change), author Matt Garrish cites the phrase “digital famine,” meaning that only about 5% of books produced in a year are ever made available in an accessible format. “Although there are signs that this rate is beginning to tick upward with more ebooks being produced, the overall percentage of books that become available in accessible form remains abysmally small.”

For K-12 and higher education, the accessibility gap has dire consequences.  However, accessibility can mean significantly different approaches. According to a recent report from the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), not all those 21 and younger who are legally blind use the same reading medium. Only 9% use braille, while 29% are visual readers and 8% are auditory readers; alarmingly, 35% are non-readers. In other words, compensating for visual impairment can take many forms: tactile, auditory, and assisted or enhanced visual techniques for those with partial sight.

One source; many outcomes

Thankfully, these differences all point to a data-centric approach which can, in theory, resolve the accessibility issue for publishers. Words and images, particularly images with rich, descriptive metadata, are almost all inherently digital today. By authoring or converting this digital source data to a structured, machine-readable format, publishers can output to multiple formats as a matter of economic feasibility and even profitability—not just because accessibility is a compliance mandate.

According to the National Center for Accessible Educational Materials (AEM), there are four major specialized output formats for adapting printed instructional material to the diverse needs of the visually impaired. The first is braille, an alphabet of dot patterns that can be embossed on paper or rendered via a display device. Large print is self-explanatory—and theoretically most adaptable to ebooks and other digital display media. Audio—particularly the computerized text-to-speech variety—is third, followed by “digital text,” a general category encompassing any text and image descriptions that can be rendered by specialized or even general-purpose digital devices.

Since each of these four output choices follow predictable rules and logic, there is a definable way to use a structured “master file” approach—creating the content once, and outputting as needed to as many formats as the market requires, with a minimum of manual intervention.

Enter NIMAS

By authoring or converting this digital source data to a structured, machine-readable format, publishers can output to multiple formats as a matter of economic feasibility and even profitability—not just because accessibility is a compliance mandate.

AEM is the developer of the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard or NIMAS (pronounced “nai-mass”), an XML-based specification for organizing and structuring textbook and other educational content. NIMAS is in turn a subset of an older XML standard known as Digital Accessible Information SYstem, or DAISY, used to create Digital Talking Books or DTBs. Books stored in NIMAS XML can be easily rendered in any of the four basic output formats, and made available to schools or programs for visually impaired.

In the U.S., schools receiving federal funding support are required to provide materials in NIMAS format, and to facilitate the resulting output formats for their students. Increasingly, publishers must meet that requirement, and are looking for ways not only to comply with the federal mandate but also to increase the output flexibility of their overall operations.

We can help

Interested in learning how Cenveo Publisher Services can help your publishing organization manage content conversion to NIMAS and generate NIMAS filesets for delivery to the National Instructional Materials Access Center? Just click the button below and let us show you how we make it easy to support all your readers.

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Mike Groth

Michael Groth is Director of Marketing at Cenveo Publisher Services, where he oversees all aspects of marketing strategy and implementation across digital, social, conference, advertising and PR channels. Mike has spent over 20 years in marketing for scholarly publishing, previously at Emerald, Ingenta, Publishers Communication Group, the New England Journal of Medicine and Wolters Kluwer. He has made the rounds at information industry events, organized conference sessions, presented at SSP, ALA, ER&L and Charleston, and blogged on topics ranging from market trends, library budgets and research impact, to emerging markets and online communities.. Twitter Handle: @mikegroth72