What it means to be accessible

Photo of Farrah Little.

Farrah Little is a librarian, former web designer, and accessibility enthusiast. She is currently the Content Coordinator at the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS), a national digital library of accessible format materials that works with public libraries and publishers across Canada to ensure equal access to reading materials for all Canadians. Farrah manages digital book production and distribution for NNELS. She enjoys inspecting ebooks for accessibility and thinking of ways to improve accessible book production workflows. She lives in Vancouver, BC where she frequents its many excellent coffee shops with a book in hand.

Photo of Sabina Iseli-Otto.

Sabina Iseli-Otto is the Public Services Librarian at the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS), a national digital library of accessible format materials that works with public libraries and publishers across Canada to ensure equal access to reading materials for all Canadians. She works with public libraries to help local readers find technology and books they want to read in whatever format works for them. Her favourite discussion topics are the commercial availability exception in the Copyright Act and the privatization of public library space. She lives in rural Alberta where she doesn’t belong, and loves talking with people about books and revolutions of all sizes.

Farrah and Sabina will be leading a workshop at ebookcraft 2018 called We Tear Apart Your Ebooks: How, why, and what you can do to stop us

Is literature sustenance? As librarians, we certainly imagine so, and with access to the written word: we grow.

Every writer (we librarians subsequently imagine) writes to inform or change the life of another. Why else share a story? Why else be human?

Books feed our minds and our private hours. From our shallowest to our deepest depths, they help inform our selves, our friendships, the ways in which we are in the world, and the ways in which we can expect to affect it.

Imagine if you were told you could read anything you wanted but, unfortunately, all the books were in a protected library. If you had the correct lock-picking kit (or lock-picking friends), you could get to all the books but not all of them would be readable: the words would be jumbled, the print might be too small, or the pages impossible to turn. A library of horrors.

An accessible book is one that can be used and understood by everyone. The majority of print and electronic books are not accessible to people with vision, mobility, or comprehension impairments who read using technologies such as DAISY players and text-to-speech apps. In our work, we help public libraries connect their readers to the books they want to read using the technology they have at hand.

In our dream for a bright future, we’ll no longer need the words “accessibility” or “accessible” because books and information will be inherently usable by everyone. People with print disabilities will no longer need to identify themselves as “disabled” in order to read books in formats only they can use. They’ll also no longer need to make a special request through a special service for a specific book to be produced in a special format and then wait patiently (or impatiently) for weeks or months to download a book that everyone else was able to quickly purchase themselves or borrow from their library.

If books are published accessibly, and all library borrowing platforms and reading systems are accessible, then books truly will be available to everyone. Rather than being outliers or outsiders, people with print disabilities will become part of the publisher’s main market and will be able to buy or borrow the same books their friends and family members are reading. The goal for all of us is “mainstreaming.” In the words of advocate Sharlyn Ayotte, “In the online world, blind individuals are equal and invisible so long as accessibility standards are respected. Businesses are able to reach us as customers, and we as blind people have greater access to the liberating power of information in order to inform us of our product, program, and service decisions.”

In public libraries, we want all of our readers to have access to all of the books we purchase, and we don’t want them to have to tell us about their medical history before we can grant them access to special collections. We want publishers to receive the revenue they’re due, and we want to focus on finding great books for our reading public.

The starting point for an accessible book is a well-structured EPUB file (ideally DRM-free, but we won’t dive into that discussion here). Proper markup allows a file to be used effectively by DAISY players, refreshable braille displays, ebook-reading applications, and other tools.

The internet abounds with guidance on how to create an ebook that is well-structured and therefore understandable to machines and the humans who rely on those machines to read. The best place, we think, to start learning about proper structure and markup is the DAISY Consortium’s Accessible Publishing Knowledge Base.

When the books are there for everyone, we can all interact with life’s currents and participate together in its conversational eddies. We welcome all kinds of conversation in our eddy, and hope it feeds something back into the rich river of life, stories, and literary abundance.

If you’d like to hear more from Farrah Little and Sabina Iseli-Otto about how librarians approach your ebooks, register for ebookcraft, March 21-22, 2018 in Toronto. You can find more details about the conference here, or sign up for our mailing list to get all of the conference updates.