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Accessible Publishing Summit: Advocating for Born Accessible Books

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Current estimates are that only 5 to 10 percent of all published materials in any given year are available in accessible formats. The National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) believes we can do better.  NNELS, and our partners, are advocating for an ecosystem in which all published materials in Canada are available in accessible formats at the time of publication – aka, born accessible.

Born accessible books are created at the outset in a way that readers with print disabilities can read them using whatever assistive technology best works for them. Some of the grant-funded initiatives currently being worked on by NNELS are designed to advance the conversation and work toward improving the accessible publishing landscape in Canada.

Awesome Attendees and Powerful Participation


In January of 2019, NNELS gathered over 50 people from the ebook production, publishing, and distribution supply chain in Toronto to participate in the first Accessible Publishing Summit, a two-day meeting on accessible publishing. Attendees came from across Canada, with a few coming from the U.S. as well; all braving the chilly Canadian winter. A massive snowstorm, which buried the city in a record-breaking amount of snow, patiently waited until the summit had begun, and all the participants who came from away were safely in Toronto!

The key goal of the summit was to create a space where those who have a stake in accessible publishing would be able to work together to build a community, develop partnerships, and work on the ways in which the accessible publishing landscape can be developed and improved upon in Canada.

The passion for accessible publishing held by participants was clear from the start; there was 100% attendance on the first day, which can be a rarity for this kind of event! Over two full days, participants actively engaged in numerous discussions and brainstorming sessions, worked up lists of ideas, and talked through existing and potential challenges. For a great breakdown of the events of the two days, please take a look at Sarah Hilderley of Inclusive Publishing’s excellent blog post. And, for an overview of what went on at the summit, as well as some of the key lessons, check out our Executive Summary and report.

After the Summit: What’s Next?

Following the summit, participants filled out a survey, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. 92% of attendees agreed that we had gained a deeper understanding of accessible publishing; 82% felt that we had identified some “next steps” for advancing accessible publishing in Canada; and, 92% felt that we had built a sense of community for future collaboration.

The development of a strong community and network was one of the key goals of the summit, and quite a few attendees commented that they were able to build connections and collaborate with people and stakeholders they may have otherwise never have had a chance to meet. Here is what some of the summit attendees had to say:

“I came back to the office with the intention to put the questions of accessible books at the heart of our priorities.”

“I think that having so many people from a diverse range of communities within the umbrella of accessible publishing worked really well in creating an exchange of dialogue.”

“The group was united, and everyone had a sincere desire to make progress during the summit. People from different horizons understood each other.”

NNELS is excited to continue building on the incredible work achieved by participants at the first Accessible Publishing Summit. Thanks in part to a grant from the federal government’s Social Development and Partnership Program – Disability Component (SDPP-D), NNELS will be coordinating next steps and hosting a second Accessible Publishing Summit on January 26 and 27, 2020.

The road to widespread born accessible publishing will not be easy; however, we are committed to working with our partners and with the ebook production and distribution industry to make it happen, and this is just what we are doing with our Accessible Publishing Summits.

To learn more about this and other exciting initiatives, please visit our website at www.accessiblepublishing.ca and the grants update page.

The National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) is a digital public library of downloadable titles for Canadians with perceptual disabilities, supported and fueled by a growing network of readers, community organizations, librarians, publishers, and accessible format producers in Canada and abroad. NNELS is funded and supported by provincial and territorial governments, and is available to any public library user with a print-disability in Canada. Please visit nnels.ca for more information.

[Image source for snow-covered cars: Bert Dandy; https://toronto.citynews.ca/2019/01/29/toronto-record-breaking-snowfall/]