Publishers and Agencies
There is no single entity or set of laws to ensure that book publishing happens in an accessible way. There are, however, multiple organizations and agencies that work to encourage and assist publishers, both large and small, in their efforts to make accessibility a central part of their process. There are also recognized publishers whose work in expanding accessibility has been exemplary.
Accessible Publishers & Agencies
There are many publishers and agencies in Canada and around the world working toward making books 'born accessible'. Here are just a few who are leading the way.
Accessible Publishing.ca, developed by National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS), is an online repository for information and resources that help a variety of publishers and organizations work toward the goal of born-accessible publishing and improving access to e-books. Resources include the following guides in both French and English:
In 2021, Annick Press confirmed its commitment to inclusivity and diversity in publishing by becoming one of the first children's publishers to receive Benetech's Global Certified Accessible™ (GCA) certification. Annick's first "born-accessible" e-book was Harvey and the Extraordinary, a novel for readers aged 8 to 11, written by Eliza Martin and illustrated by Anna Bron.
Benetech is a non-profit dedicated to reducing social and economic inequity in partnership with the communities they serve through 'software for social good'. Benetech's initiatives transform how students, jobseekers, and older adults across the world read, learn, and work. Benetech believes that access to information is a human right, and that no-one should encounter barriers to education, literacy, or employment due to differences or disability, and yet more than ninety percent of books and published materials cannot be read by people with print disabilities. A person who is blind or has low vision cannot see text, someone with dyslexia may not be able to unscramble words on a page, and a person with arthritis may not be able to hold a book or turn its pages. Benetech's Born Accessible initiative helps content creators and publishers produce e-books that are accessible to all. Born accessible titles meet international accessibility standards and Benetech's specific criteria.
Benetech's Global Certified Accessible Certification™ (GCA) is an initiative that certifies e-books for accessibility through a two-step program. The first step is a workflow reorganization and review of materials to assist in creating born-accessible content. The certification itself requires annual renewal to make sure the publisher's files align with the accessibility report. With a trusted third-party validation of publisher content, everyone with a stake in providing accessible materials - textbook-purchasing committees, students, professors, teachers, distributors, consumers, and retailers - can help ensure all readers have access to the information they need to succeed. Benetech's GCA certification also aids publishers in building born-accessible content. These publishers have produced files in accordance with the EPUB Accessibility 1.0 Conformance and Discovery specification and standard level of WCAG AA and meet Benetech's internal GCA certification standard.
BookNet Canada is a non-profit organization that develops technology, standards, and education to serve the Canadian book industry. Founded in 2002 to address systemic challenges in the industry, BookNet Canada supports publishing companies, booksellers, wholesalers, distributors, sales agents, industry associations, literary agents, media, and libraries across Canada with research, sales and library data, and standards.
eBOUND Canada is an agency that works with publishing houses and is a distribution and digital resource hub that offers webinars and tutorials intended to expand the accessible reach of publishers. eBOUND also offers conversion services to help Canadian publishers digitize their print books. Aware that the industry and accessibility standards are constantly changing, eBOUND adjusts its own services accordingly. According to CEO Deborah Nelson, the agency's goal "is to have 80 percent or more of our publishing clients producing accessible content by 2024, supporting the goal of Canadian Heritage, whose generous support has made this work possible."
In 2019, eBOUND partnered with the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) to increase the number of accessible digital books, e-books, and audiobooks available in Canadian library systems. In 2019-2020, the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP) and eBOUND Canada, through a grant from the Canada Book Fund, analyzed the current production and distribution practices of accessible digital books in Canada, and the potential for these books in the Canadian English-language market. Recommendations included the implementation of a national standards and certification program, which would include defining the characteristics of an accessible digital book. A national strategy was developed for awareness and training around accessible books for the publishing industry and related sectors.
The fully accessible report was published in April 2020. An EPUB version is also available.
ECW Press Independent Canadian publisher ECW Press was awarded Benetech's Global Certified Accessible™ (GCA) certification in 2021. All the e-books in the press' catalogue are screen-reader friendly and built to meet the needs of people with print disabilities through a certified born-accessible production process. This includes the use of structured navigation and headings, embedded print-book-edition page numbering, described images, and built-in discovery data to describe each book's accessibility features. Digital and art director Jessica Albert has been responsible for overhauling ECW's digital production through the application of accessibility standards.
House of Anansi Press
Founded in 1967, House of Anansi is an independent Canadian press based in Toronto that has a strong focus on BIPOC authors and on promoting books that "reflect the changing nature of our country." In 2020, House of Anansi became the first Canadian publisher to be certified via Benetech's GCA certification as part of the Canadian Federal government's initiative to support the distribution of accessible digital books via the Canada Book Fund.
Profile: Laura Brady
Laura Brady's awareness of accessibility began with her family's involvement in the training of service dogs. Now one of Canada's foremost accessible publishing experts, she produces accessible ebooks and consults on accessibility work and best practices internationally. Brady currently works as a consultant on inclusive publishing to publishers, and publisher-support organizations while also consulting for the government, accessible format libraries, and teaching about accessible publishing in workshops, webinars, and university courses. She serves a range of accessible publishing groups, including the Accessible Books Consortium, W3C, and eBOUND Canada.
It's her work as a connector between people in different parts of the publishing and accessibility worlds that she views as her most important role, however. "I may not always know the answer to a question," she says, "but I'll know the person who does." Bringing a holistic accessibility lens to all she does, Brady tries to impress the value of accessibility upon everyone around her.
Among the current challenges facing accessibility, she points to the misconception that accessibility is an extra, or "nice to have," rather than a fundamental and foundational part of producing content. She also points to a lack of people with needed expertise, lack of capacity for accessible production, considerable expenses for production, ableist attitudes, mixed government messaging, and a lack of impactful legislation. Brady hopes that the future of accessibility will include greater awareness and adoption, and that the need for an accessibility-specific focus will decrease as accessibility is increasingly folded into general publishing standards.