Braille Monitor                         May 2021

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The 2020 NFB Inclusive Publishing Conference Recap

by Kennedy Zimnik

From the Editor: Kennedy is a nonvisual access technology specialist who grew up in Frederick, a large county in western Maryland. He went to Towson University where he studied information systems. Some of his favorite things to do outside of work are playing a drum set, working to become a D.J., and going to music festivals. Kennedy knows his technology, and he has a real gift for writing. Here is what he says:

I received my bachelor’s degree in information systems from Towson University, where I first learned about digital accessibility under the instruction of Professor Jonathan Lazar. Dr. Lazar is a longtime friend of the Federation, committed to accessibility, and integrates the tools of accessibility into the mainstream curriculum. As a result, I learned the importance of designing with accessibility in mind from the very beginning. Moreover, as a sighted person, I understand the benefits accessible documents have for sighted people as well as those who are blind or have low vision. I came to work at the National Federation of the Blind shortly after graduating, and it has been rewarding using my talents and training to create access to information that leads to greater opportunities, not only for blind people, but for everyone. Unfortunately, not everyone has come to understand this fact, and there is a significant need for providing professors and publishers training on the tools and strategies used to create accessible post-secondary instructional materials.

According to Essential Accessibility in 2017, “Eleven percent of all college and university students in the United States today have disabilities, which adds up to more than 2.25 million students.” When digital content is not accessible, it prohibits blind and low vision students from actively participating in the learning that will enable them to reach their highest potential.

In order to facilitate a commitment to the development and provision of accessible post-secondary educational materials, the National Federation of the Blind Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access (CENA), with support from the Maryland Department on Disability (MDOD) through the Non-Visual Accessibility Initiative (NVAI) grant from the state of Maryland, established an Inclusive Publishing Conference Planning Committee of accessible publishing professionals and publishing company representatives to assist with the development and execution of an inclusive publishing conference.

NFB CENA hosted an inclusive publishing conference on October 1, 2020, that provided educators and publishers training on the tools and techniques required to create content that everybody can use, regardless of disability. Our conference featured presentations from fourteen experts in the creation of accessible digital content. We emphasized that all content can be “born accessible.” Born accessible is a term that describes digital content that has been created, or “born,” in a manner that is fully accessible to users with disabilities. This applies to documents, websites, videos, and other multi-media content. A host of publishers, librarians, educators, and technology developers attended the conference.
To appeal to the greatest number of attendees, the conference was split up into two tracks: educational and technological. The educational track was created for teachers, students, professors, and others that were new to born accessible, and it introduced digital accessibility concepts and how to implement them without prior training in accessibility. This track covered the following topics:

The technological track was created for people who have some experience with digital accessibility and wanted to expand their knowledge. This track was a deeper dive into the backend of digital accessibility and consisted of the following topics:

We brought the two tracks back together for a publisher’s panel discussion among Laura Ciporen, senior digital product developer, McGraw-Hill; Rachel Comerford, senior director, Content Standards and Accessibility at Macmillan Learning; Ben Schroeter, product manager, Accessibility at Pearson; and Tzviya Siegman, information standards principal, Wiley. The conversation started with each publisher discussing its overall philosophy on digital accessibility and the strategies it uses to incorporate accessibility into its publications from start to finish. The panelists moved into a discussion of how the need for the implementation of virtual education strategies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the need for the immediate provision of accessible instructional materials and online courses. This was a difficult transition because many teachers were new to virtual schooling and especially digital accessibility. The discussion then moved to EPUB and the benefits of using EPUB file types instead of PDFs. Basically, EPUB files allow for more in-depth interaction with the content through page navigation, extended descriptions for images, and dynamic content. The publishers acknowledged a few technology vendors that provide a high level of access to their content. A few of the vendors discussed were Red Shelf, VitalSource, and Bookshare. Finally, the panelists discussed the quality assurance processes and procedures they use for the development of new content.

The principle of born accessible was prevalent throughout the inclusive publishing conference and is an idea that can and should be implemented into the design and development of all digital content. During the session, "Best Practices for Insuring Accessible Content for Your University Courses," the presenters did a great job of demonstrating strategies to ensure that accessibility is considered when designing assignments. For example, they described the accessibility pros and cons of MS Word accessibility versus PDF accessibility, and how whenever possible, students should be provided Word documents instead of PDFs.

Each session had a tremendous amount of information to share, and we would like to express our sincerest gratitude to all of our presenters:

We depend heavily on the feedback from our post-conference surveys to help shape our future trainings. The following is some feedback from our Inclusive Publishing Conference participants:

The main goal of the inclusive publishing conference was to introduce and enforce the idea of creating content that is “born accessible” so that as many people as possible can access the content. It isn’t just about people with a disability; having accessible content means it is better and more accessible for everybody. I encourage you to visit to learn more about upcoming events related to digital accessibility.

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