An interview with Stacy Scott, Chair of the Accessibility Action Group

Stacy Scott

At the start of 2021, Stacy Scott became the Chair of the Accessibility Action Group hosted by the Publishers Association.

Stacy currently leads the RNIB Bookshare UK Education Collection service which provides accessible, digital educational materials to learners with print disabilities; working directly with over 1,100 publishers and imprints; providing over 705,000 titles and growing.

In Stacy’s professional and voluntary roles, she undertakes substantial work advocating for access to inclusion and equality in education for those with sight loss and other print disabilities, at both a national and international level. Stacy’s work centres around working with stakeholders, publishers and content producers, to ensure that those with disabilities have equal and unhindered access to the content they need, be it for education, work or leisure.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the arts and how have you ended up in publishing?

My memories of being a student do not recall to mind nights of partying, or meeting new friends in the student bar. Instead, as a blind student, my experience was very different… My wild student days were spent desperately trying to get hold of books in a form that would make them accessible for my needs. That is, to have them on a computer so that I could listen to them through text-to-speech

This meant that I would spend all my free time, taking print books and scanning them into the computer. Often this resulted in the book not scanning well, or me spending hours processing and scanning a book, just to have access to one quote, or handful of pages.

I took, what some would say to be, the most drastic of action. I quit those subjects where books and reading were necessary; signed up for a degree in Mathematics; threw out my scanner and hit the bar!

Things have moved on a great deal since then and the world of inclusive publishing and ‘born accessible’ content has arrived. My prior experience placed me on a career trajectory that led me to advocating for all those who need access to study materials via a quick and accessible method. This brought me directly into the heart of publishing, to platforms such as RNIB Bookshare, and to Chair the Accessibility Action Group for the Publishers Association.

As Chair of the Accessibility Action Group, what are your priorities for the year ahead?

There has been much improvement over the past decade, but there is much still to do. Some of the key challenges I want the AAG to focus on this year include putting accessibility on the map, knowing who is working on the inclusive design of their content and what approaches they are taking. In relation, how to better make this known to those who would most benefit from the content, either through accessibility statements; marketing; putting the content on relevant platforms; and having accessibility features conveyed in the metadata. In addition, to ascertain what restrictions exist for publishers in making their content readily accessible. To bring together a network of interested bodies to share information and progress measures, to see a wider spread of accessible content built into publisher workflows.

We have the technology; we can build on the knowledge; and we can make the printed word accessible to everybody.

Stacy Scott

What are the challenges and opportunities around digital accessibility?

This is one of the key questions and exploratory points for the AAG this year. My consideration is that some of the challenges lie in the ‘fear of the unknown’, cost, ownership and the all-important ‘know how’.  

For publishers and content producers, building accessibility into the main workflow is far easier and more cost-effective to do than going back and trying to unscramble the egg. We have now reached a point where this is much more realised, but the ‘so what now’ question still exists for many publishers. Many have the will, but don’t know the way. 

Guidance is still needed to set publishers on the right path, from the first step and this is where the opportunity to devise strong and creative programmes of training comes into play. There is so much information out there and there will be a challenge in gathering it together and knowing what works best, but there exists a great chance now to work together to find solid and sustainable solutions. Solutions for future publications, but for existing works as well. It is the opportunity to work together to make these solutions work. We have the technology; we can build on the knowledge; and we can make the printed word accessible to everybody.

In addition, there is much to shout about in the accessibility arena, with many countries across the globe devising solutions and methods all the time. The AAG hopes to bridge the gap, in bringing stakeholders together to share experiences and prevent the reinvention of the wheel scenario.

Have you had any responses from children or educators about what impact the RNIB Bookshare service has had?

RNIB and the Bookshare team are always keen to gather feedback from learners, teachers, parents and publishers. We have many wonderful stories to tell of how the service and the publisher contributions have helped them, available to read here:

We have some amazing publishers on RNIB Bookshare, sharing their content for print disabled learners. Some publishers have supported us from the beginning and others more recently sharing thousands of titles from their back catalogues.

Who or what made you into a reader?

Discouraged by having extremely little access to books as a child and my painful experiences of scan, read, scan, repeat at University, I came to love books later in life. Still, better late than never, as they say. Now, I cannot focus or relax unless I have a good book on the go.

I do have one lovely memory from childhood, of a support teacher reading the Adventures of the Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton to me. This was a bribe to encourage me to finish learning my Braille homework, but it was a lovely treat none-the-less.

Being of a restless nature where I can’t sit still for more than ten minutes, my ‘go to’ choice is a good audiobook, to enable me to multitask, even if that is only petting the dog! Give me a bit of history; take me to a land far away; teach me about different cultures and beliefs, and I am content to listen to a book for hours. Having a good narrator with the perfect voice goes a long way for me, such as the emanant Stephen Fry, or the brilliant, late Stephen Thorne.

I would never have predicted that I could ever enjoy books and now I can’t imagine a world without access to the knowledge reading can bring; the talent of an author; and those wonderful stories that keep you turning the page, or listening for another 20 minutes more; when you’re late for everything, because you can’t tear yourself away.

Accessibility Action Group

The Accessibility Action Group has been running for 10 years and brings publishers together with advocacy organisations who are committed to supporting the development and distribution of accessible publications.

If you would like to find out more, please contact Mollie Haynes.