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 accessibility 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.
Along with other trade associations, the PA chairs the Accessibility Action Group. The AAG comprises publisher and advocacy groups, currently Jisc TechDis, RNIB, The PA, Dyslexia Action and EDItEUR, 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 accessbility by itself. The Publishers Association, Dyslexia Action, EDItEUR, Jisc TechDis, 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, 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 ebook 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 ebook form.
Accessible Publishing, a set of best-practice guidelines to support publishers world-wide as they make books accessible to people with print impairment and advice, was launched by international standards group EDItEUR on 11 April 2011 at the London Book Fair.The guidelines are part of the Enabling Technologies Framework which EDItEUR is delivering with the DAISY Consortium. Funded by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), it is endorsed by the International Publishers Association (IPA), Federation of European Publishers (FEP) and the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM).
Publisher Lookup UK is a collaborative website offered by the PA and the JISC TechDis service. It is designed to help those in education who work with disabled learners to get them an electronic version of published texts as quickly as possible; check to see if your house is included. The PA and JISC TechDis have also devised a Guide to Obtaining Textbooks in Alternative Formats. Research commissioned by TechDis underpins a Report on accessible e-book platforms, and a related good practice guide (available here).
RNIB provides regularly updated advice and technical guidance for publishers at http://www.rnib.org.uk/publisheradvice and information about eBooks and accessibility at http://www.rnib.org.uk/ebooks. There's a wonderful short video on YouTube of people with sight problems talking about the joys (and some of the frustrations) of reading eBooks here. With the Right to Read Alliance, RNIB has also produced Can everyone use your ebook reader? which outlines the features an eBook reader (device or app) should have in order for it to be accessible to someone with a print disability.
Text to speech
The PA, with the endorsement of the Society of Authors and the Association of Authors' Agents, recommends that text to speech is routinely enabled on all e-books across all relevant platforms, at least where there is no audiobook edition commercially available - The Publishers Association Recommendation on Text to Speech is available here. Most ebooks now comply with this recommendation, a reflection of its success to date.
Load2Learn, founded by RNIB and Dyslexia Action with development funding in 2011-2013 from the Department for Education, 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. For more information for publishers click here.Legislative developments
The UK Government wishes to implement Draft Statutory Instruments (SIs) relating to proposed copyright exceptions including disability by April 2014.
An agreement reached in September 2010 between stakeholders to facilitate access to reading materials for the print-disabled resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding endorsed by both publishing and print-disabled communities in the presence of the European Commission. It outlines a system whereby works in accessible formats can be more easily distributed across EU member states through a network of trusted bodies, with a goal of a noticeable increase in cross-border distribution of accessible versions of works within a year of signing. The next phase focuses on establishing a network of Trusted Intermediaries; RNIB has signed a MoU from TIGAR, the Trusted Intermediary Global Accessible Resources Steering Committee.
On the international stage, in mid-2013 the World Intellectual Property Organisation reached agreement on the substantive provisions of a new international Treaty to require member states to provide copyright limitations and exceptions for blind and other visually impaired people, and to allow export of works.
The PA has lent support to London Book Fair accessibility events over the last few years. LBF 2014 includes:
- an Accessibility round table session as part of the Digital Minds Conference on 7 April
- a session on Accessible ebooks: a journey through the ebook supply chain on 9 April, 1-2pm in the Cromwell Room, and
- a session on Are your ebooks accessible? ebooks and platforms, 10 April, 11.30am, Digital Theatre.