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March 24, 2016

The BISG Guide: A vital accessibility resource for publishers

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I had the pleasure of presenting an overview of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing at the EPUB Accessibility and EDUPUB Summits in Baltimore, MD this past February. The guide is expected to become the go-to accessibility resource for publishers.Officially published in English, it has already been translated into French, German, Spanish, and Italian. A Korean translation is expected soon.

What is accessible publishing?

Accessibility means making content able to be consumed, navigated, and understood by everybody, no matter how they are able to access it. It is often taken to mean making it able to be used by the blind, who might need to use assistive technology like a screen reader or Braille. But it actually means much more than that, making it accessible not only to print-disabled users (including the dyslexic) but the deaf, people who can’t use a touchpad or a keyboard, etc. It turns out that just as we all benefit from curb cuts, closed captioning, and Siri (all developed for accessibility), making ebooks and other content accessible makes it easier for everybody to navigate and consume.

The good news for most publishers: if you’re already creating EPUB 3s, you’ve already done much of the work.

Properly structured EPUB 3s are inherently accessible, with a few refinements like image descriptions and some metadata being all many typical books need. (Technical and media content need other refinements, of course.)

Ideally, people needing accessible content should be able to buy the same version of a publication that everybody else does. EPUB 3 makes this possible.

Creating a baseline recommendation for accessibility

The Accessibility Summit drew participants from around the world to contribute to the development of a baseline recommendation for accessibility, a subject that suffers from conflicting recommendations and widespread confusion among publishers. It’s important for people to understand that it is not only possible, but practical, to build accessibility into standard publishing workflows, and that making content accessible makes it much better for all users. Another priority of the Summit was to make progress toward the development of guidelines for making EPUBs more accessible, enabling the development of a Certification Program for EPUB that will recognize publications and systems that meet those guidelines.

If you are interested in additional accessibility resources for publishers, I recommend taking a look at a more in-depth article I wrote here, or downloading the BISG Quick Start Guide for yourself.


Bill Kasdorf is a co-editor of the BISG Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing and chair of the BISG Content Structure Committee.

About Bill Kasdorf

Bill Kasdorf, kasdorf.bill@gmail.com, is Principal of Kasdorf & Associates, LLC, a publishing consultancy focusing on accessibility, XML/HTML/EPUB modeling, information infrastructure, and workflow. Bill is active in the W3C Publishing Business Group, Publishing Working Group, and EPUB 3 Community Group; chairs the Content Structure Committee of the Book Industry Study Group and is co-editor of the BISG Guide to Accessible Publishing; and is Past President of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP). He is a recipient of SSP’s Distinguished Service Award, the IDEAlliance/DEER Luminaire Award, and the Book Industry Study Group’s Industry Champion Award. Bill has written and spoken widely for organizations such as SSP, IPDF, BISG, DBW, IPTC, O’Reilly TOC, NISO, AAP, AAUP, ALPSP, and STM. General Editor of The Columbia Guide to Digital Publishing and Guest Editor of the January 2018 issue of the Learned Publishing journal devoted to accessibility, he is the author of the chapter on EPUB metadata and packaging for O’Reilly’s EPUB 3 Best Practices and the chapter on EPUB in the book The Critical Component: Standards in Information Distribution, published by the ALA in collaboration with NISO. He serves on the editorial boards of Learned Publishing and the Journal of Electronic Publishing. In his consulting practice, Bill has served clients globally, including large international publishers such as Pearson, Cengage, Wolters Kluwer, Kaplan, and Sage; scholarly presses and societies such as Harvard, MIT, Toronto, Taylor & Francis, Cambridge, and IEEE; aggregators such as VitalSource; and global publishing and library organizations such as the World Bank, the British Library, the Asian Development Bank, OCLC, and the European Union.

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