For the last four years, as Vice-President and then President of the International Publishers Association, I promoted accessible publishing around the world, talking with key stakeholders of the book industry and addressing multiple audiences about the commitment of the IPA to this important matter. My main goal was to explain what accessible publishing is and what it means, to communicate its significance, and to convince publishers to go accessible by signing the Charter for Accessible Publishing of the Accessible Books Consortium. Being actively involved with the issue has made me passionate about it, and I am thrilled to be able to continue working to increase the number of accessible publications. I would like to thank the Chair of IPA’s Inclusive Publishing and Literacy Committee, past president Michiel Kolman, for his invitation to coordinate our efforts in favour of accessibility.
I have come to believe that accessible publishing is something all publishers should and must embrace.
Publishers should embrace accessible publishing because of its moral significance. Books bring us joy, inspiration, and knowledge, and they make us think, imagine, and create. Books are magical, but sadly over 285 million Visually Impaired People (VIPs) worldwide1 have access to less than 10% of published works2. Imagine never having the opportunity to read everything that shaped you to be the person you are now. As publishers we have the moral obligation of allowing everybody to enter this magical world of books, including any person with a visual impairment.
I know many publishers may not see this as a priority. The threats to the core of our business, especially copyright infringement and threats to the freedom to publish, can already be overwhelming enough to worry about something for purely moral reasons. But that is the thing. Accessible publishing is not about charity. It is about doing the right thing, also in terms of our business models. This is why I also say we must embrace it. Accessible publishing is inherent to modern publishing, and I will show it through four compelling reasons.
First, for most types of publications, when born accessible, it is easy and low cost. Thus, books have to be envisioned, from their very conception, in accessible formats. The technology already exists, and it will continue to develop, making it easier and even more affordable for publishers facing greater accessibility barriers. Furthermore, as the industry faces a staggering need of digital transformation, something we have seen in the last two decades and that has become more than obvious during the COVID-19 Pandemic, accessible publishing is a tiny step in the digital path publishers are already taking.
Second, we work hand-in-hand with authors because we want their brilliant ideas to be read. Thus, we have to see the millions of VIPs as a giant pool of potential readers. Through multiple conversation with VIPs, I can assure you that they are willing to create their own personal libraries of the books they love, that they are eager to explore the hundreds of genres and discover the ones they find most fascinating, and that they will invest in their personal growth, in their knowledge, and in their education, because they have not been able to do it before. Basically, by being inclusive, publishers and authors will increase our base of readers.
Third, accessible publishing will also keep publishers competitive in the long term, as ethical consumption habits increase among younger generations3. Regular customers will remain loyal if they know publishers care about doing the right thing. Publishing is a noble profession, and accessible publishing is a new way to show it.
Finally, If I have not yet convinced any publishers reading this to go accessible, then the European Accessibility Act will. Publishers wanting to participate in the European market after 2025, will also have to provide their publications in accessible formats. And I am sure that similar legal frameworks will be enacted in other parts of the world. Accessible publishing is a reality. We have to start now, and a good way of doing so is by signing the Charter for Accessible Publishing (which you can find in several languages here) and following its eight commitments. I am certain, from my own experience as a publisher, that they are much easier to accomplish than anybody thinks they are, and they will start putting publishers in the right track.
In a nutshell, publishing in accessible formats should not increase costs, and it will allow publishers to enter new markets, stay competitive in the long term, and remain compliant to new inclusive legislations.
Let us break the myths and discover that accessible publishing is inherent to modern publishing. Embracing accessible publishing is the first step. Publishers will then have to focus on increasing the number of works available in accessible formats, helping develop efficient technologies together with experts and key stakeholders, and creating accessible markets for those publications. I look forward to seizing these opportunities.
*Post prepared in collaboration with Benjamin Curley
1 - “Global Data on Visual Impairments 2010”, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/blindness/GLOBALDATAFINALforweb.pdf?ua=1
2 - “Marrakesh Treaty”, World Blind Union https://worldblindunion.org/programs/marrakesh-treaty/
3 - ‘True Gen’: Generation Z and its implications for companies, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/consumer-packaged-goods/our-insights/true-gen-generation-z-and-its-implications-for-companies, November 2018.