Accessibility Q&A with Agata Mrva-Montoya

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21 May marks Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2020, an opportunity to promote digital access and inclusive content for people with print disabilities.

Copyright Agency is committed to fostering inclusivity in the books and publishing sector. We are a member of both the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities and the Australian Inclusive Publishing Initiative (AIPI), supported through our Cultural Fund. These initiatives promote collaboration both in and beyond the industry, with the goal of making “born accessible” publications more producible and more available to those who need them.

One industry representative working towards this goal is Sydney University Press (SUP), which has been involved in the AIPI since 2018. In January of this year SUP announced that it had become a signatory of the Accessible Books Consortium’s Charter for Accessible Publishing, thereby committing to making its books fully accessible to all users.

Agata Mrva-Montoya has worked as Publishing Manager at SUP for the past five years, and is currently lecturer and Degree Director, Master of Publishing, at the University of Sydney. We spoke to her about SUP’s aims and progress to date, and the developments she’d like to see unfold in the accessibility space.

Making “born-accessible” books is about ensuring access to information for all; accessible books benefit all readers, not just those who are visually impaired.

Agata Mrva-Montoya
Why did SUP sign the Charter for Accessible Publishing?

We became a signatory to show our commitment to making our books available in accessible formats, and to reviewing our progress in improving our processes and the quality of our digital books. It was also an important step in recognising our work in the implementation of accessibility standards over the last few years.

Moreover, the commitments associated with the charter helped us tie up a few loose ends – we published our accessibility policy on the website and identified a point of contact to assist with accessibility-related queries. It also provided us with the opportunity to promote SUP as a source of accessible books and share with others what we have done so far, which I feel is really important. Our aim is to become a model of best-practice accessibility in the publishing industry in Australia and support other organisations, such as the AIPI, in their work towards increasing the availability of publications in accessible formats.

How has SUP’s accessibility journey unfolded thus far?

We started producing eBooks inhouse in 2013, and from the beginning we included ALT text as part of the production process. Since then we have been refining various aspects of our workflows and the level of accessibility of our books. Our involvement in the AIPI since 2018 and the expert advice from the Royal Institute for Blind and Deaf Children (RIBDC) was crucial in improving the quality of our metadata and alt text. Our collaboration with Infogrid Pacific was instrumental in making sure our ePub 3 files were WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant, and they have been helping us further enhance the efficiency of our workflows. The release of the Ace by DAISY App in 2019 allowed us to implement accessibility testing into our workflow. We are now working together with Infogrid Pacific on improving the accessibility of our PDF files, which we distribute to academic libraries.

Have you encountered any challenges along the way?

Absolutely. Understanding what’s required to make an accessible book in the first place wasn’t easy, especially in the early days of getting involved in the production of eBooks. We could not have refined our workflow without the advice from the RIBDC or the support of Infogrid Pacific.

The implementation of accessibility standards has been a gradual and iterative process, getting better as our knowledge of accessibility requirements improved and new technologies emerged. The beauty of using a format-neutral workflow to do a book layout is that we can easily release improved versions of our digital books as the capability of the platform improves. Having time and resources to update the backlist has been a challenge, but we are gradually working through the list of titles and releasing them into our distribution channels.

What developments do you hope to see in inclusive publishing or accessible content?

I hope to see more publishers implementing inclusive publishing workflows, with accessibility standards embedded from the beginning of the book’s lifecycle in both editorial and production processes. In the case of SUP, we ended up including the need for the provision of alt text in our contracts, recognising that authors of scholarly books are best placed to create an image description and convey why the image is included and what it shows.

While producing accessible content is within publishers’ purview, we also rely on the complex ecosystem of eBook distributors, software and hardware providers; it would be good to see the other parts of the distribution chain work together towards improving access to books for people with print disabilities. Some of the key eReading applications are not accessible at this stage, which is a problem. I would also like to see ePub 2 being entirely superseded by ePub 3, which is a far more accessible format.

Why is it important for publishers to embrace accessibility?

Despite the developments in digital technologies, the blind, visually impaired and print disabled persons have limited access to reading material, with the World Blind Union estimating that less than 10 percent of published works are available in accessible formats. This “global book famine” affects opportunities for learning and participating fully in the cultural, economic and social life of society.

It has been estimated that in Australia there are over 575,000 people who are blind or vision impaired and more than 2 million with dyslexia – and with the aging population, this number will grow. Making “born-accessible” books is about ensuring access to information for all; accessible books benefit all readers, not just those who are visually impaired. It is also about future-proofing digital formats so that as the technology and software change, publishers can easily release content in new formats.

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