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Advances in technology have helped not only to open up new markets for publishers, but also to offer vast new opportunities for published works to become more accessible to a wider variety of people.

The growing availability of ebooks provides a wonderful opportunity for people with print impairment - whether blind or partially sighted, dyslexic, or without sufficient dexterity to handle printed materials - to become customers for mainstream published  products. Until now, special versions such as large print or braille have been required, often at great cost and after considerable delay. There will soon be no good reason for people with print impairment to be excluded from the mainstream market.

Books are becoming more accessible directly, particularly in trade publishing (RNIB research shows that in 2012 84% of the most popular 1,000 books in the UK were available in braille, audio and large print using accessible ebooks) - but in some areas responding to initial requests from or for print disabled people is as vital as ever. The Publishers Association is working on several initiatives to help publishers;respond to requests on behalf of people with reading impairments, particularly visually impaired people, in order to facilitate access to their material.

Accessibility Action Group

The PA chairs the Accessibility Action Group which comprises publisher and advocacy groups, currently:

  •  RNIB
  •  Jisc
  • The PA

  • Dyslexia Action


  • IDPF

who work together to ensure a focus on accessibility from all elements of the supply chain. The PA also co-ordinates the work of the Audiobook Publishers Group and eBook working group.

Joint statement on accessibility and e-books

The mechanisms by which an ebook is made accessible involve all the actors in the supply chain from author to reader; no single actor in that chain can solve the challenge of accessibility by itself. The Publishers Association, Dyslexia Action, EDItEUR, Jisc, RNIB and the Society of Authors are keen for other organisations especially technology providers and e-book retailers to join them in support of a Joint Statement on Accessibility and E-books, the first version of which launched at London Book Fair in April 2012. The statement outlines how publishers and advocacy organisations for those with print impairment are also looking to work together with developers of e-book devices and platforms, the book supply chain, people with print impairment themselves and learning providers and libraries to enable all readers to access new books as they are published in e-book form.

Collaborative working

Load2Learn, founded by RNIB and Dyslexia Action with development funding in 2011-2013 from the Department for Education and now supported by RNIB, enables learners who cannot read standard print, including those with dyslexia and who are blind or partially sighted, to read the same books at the same time as their classmates. It is free, for use by staff who are supporting learners in the UK that have a print disability. The site includes dedicated information for publishers.

Legislative developments: UK and International

UK:   A Statutory Instrument on Disability came into force on 1 June 2014, enabling provision provided accessible copies are not already commercially available at a reasonable price.

International:  The Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) aims to increase the number of books worldwide in accessible formats - such as braille, audio and large print - and to make them available to people who are blind, have low vision or are otherwise print disabled. The ABC is a multi-stakeholder partnership, comprising the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO); organizations that serve people with print disabilities; and organizations representing publishers and authors. It supports the objectives of the Marrakesh VIP Treaty: capacity building (helping developing countries to produce/distribute books in accessible formats), inclusive publishing (promoting 'born accessible' resources) and the TIGAR service (an international database and book exchange).


I.  The PA has lent support to London Book Fair accessibility events over the last few years. LBF 2015 included:

  • a pre-LBF update on EDUPUB from Bill McCoy, IDPF, and Colin Smythe, IMS for publishers from all sectors
  • The AAG Accessibility Toolbox, which focused on practical ways to include accessibility within publishing workflows and showed attendees how accessibility can be built into their workflows from the very start.

AAG Accessibility Toolbox Presentations
Robin Seaman - Benetech    
Noel Duffy - Dolphin    
William Chesser- VitalSource
Shilpi Kapoor - BarrierBreak
Bill McCoy - IDPF

The AAG's annual LBF event on Wednesday 15 April was, as usual, a stimulating and well attended session. Chaired by The Publishers Association's Emma House, Director of Publisher Relations, the morning was split into three sections: Content Creation, Distribution and Rendering. Publishers were given practical ideas to incorporate into workflows, and were introduced to third party suppliers who can assist with accessible publishing. 

Robin Seaman, Director of Content Acquisition at Benetech, outlined the work of the DIAGRAM Center and in particular POET, an open source tool for creating and providing guidelines to writing image descriptions for images in existing DAISY and EPUB books.  Shilpi Kapoor, Director and Founder at Barrierbreak, spoke to the work her company is doing with publishers and other bodies to assist them in creating accessible content.  Barrierbreak supports and assists publishers as they face the challenge of inclusive publishing.  Noel Duffy, Managing Director of Dolphin Computer Access Ltd, talked the delegates through some case studies of people who have benefitted from the accessibility tools that Dolphin have developed and in particular Dolphin Publisher, a tool for creating talking books with human narrated or synthetic voices.

William Chesser, Vice President Business Development and Global Markets for VitalSourceTechnologies, conveyed the commitment the whole Ingram Content Group has towards accessibility and how the distribution of accessible econtent is top of its priority list.  Bill McCoy, Executive Director IDPF & Chairman Readium Foundation, spoke on rendering accessible EPUB 3 content via Readium and the work of the Readium Foundation, its numerous projects and the challenges ahead.  Robin Spinks, Principal Manager for Accessibility at RNIB, explored various devices and their relative accessibility. His own experiences were very much to the point, and delegates were fascinated to gain a first hand understanding of the accessibility of these.

II.  A Briefing for Senior Operations Directors on 28 April 2015 at The PA gave attendees from member and non-member companies alike an overview of legal requirement, how to strategise and set an accessible publishing policy, how to organise in-house workflows and process, and what technical teams need to be prepared for. 

Legal & Copyright Briefing - Florian Koempel, PA Consultant
ABC Publishing Forum - Jim Russell, Accessible Books Consortium  
 Load2Learn - Tracy Pearson, RNIB  
Accessible Publishing - Alistair McNaught, Jisc 
Book and Journal Publishing National Standards 
Case Study I - Ronu Miah, HarperCollins 
Case Study II - Huw Alexander, Sage Publishing 


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