Brianna Walker, Head of Content Management at Taylor and Francis received WIPO's Accessible Books Consortium International Excellence Award for Accessible Publishing on behalf of Taylor & Francis. In the second of our two interviews with this year's winners, Brianna talks to us about receiving the award and Taylor & Francis' work on accessibility.
James Taylor (JT): Tell us a little about Taylor & Francis
Brianna Walker (BW): Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities, and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life. We are one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly content spanning all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioural Sciences, Science, Technology and Medicine. From our network of offices around the world, Taylor & Francis Group professionals provide expertise and support for Taylor & Francis, Routledge, Dovepress, and F1000Research products and services.
Taylor & Francis launched an Accessibility Working Group (AWG) in 2019 to support changing customer and legal requirements and we are committed to ensuring all our digital products and websites are accessible to as wide an audience as possible. In addition, Taylor & Francis works closely with key advocates of accessibility, including BookShare in the USA and Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in the UK. We also joined the AccessText Network in January 2021, which provides accessible materials to students at post-secondary institutions in the USA and Canada.
JT: What does it mean to you to win the Accessible Books Consortium Excellence Award?
BW: It’s always wonderful to be recognized within your industry and this award means so much to my colleagues and to myself. The work we do is important for the communities we serve and winning this award has helped to highlight our efforts more widely to the accessibility community. We are grateful for that! It also an honour to have been shortlisted alongside House of Anansi Press and University of Michigan Press, who are both doing great work around accessibility too.
As our engagement with accessibility grows, so does our purpose, and everyone involved with accessibility at Taylor & Francis is deeply committed to providing the best quality and most accessible content we can.
JT: Where/when did Taylor & Francis’ accessibility journey begin?
BW: Our commitment to accessibility has been growing steadily for more than 10 years. There are dedicated colleagues on the AWG who joined the company long before I did who have been promoting accessibility in their departments for years, whether that’s marketing and web design, or Production. When I first joined Taylor & Francis back in 2011, one of my first jobs was to run our accessibility inbox, which provides alternate formats for customers with a visual or print impairment. So, accessibility has been part of our work for a long time.
However, in 2019, a few colleagues and I began discussing how to improve our eBook specifications with accessibility in mind. This was in response to the European Accessibility Act, which requires eCommerce and eBooks to be fully accessible. That led us to try and consolidate those various accessibility efforts across the business and form a stakeholder group to share ideas and knowledge and to create specific tasks around accessibility improvements. We’ve been steadily growing in volume, with more than 20 colleagues currently active, representing both books and journals production, operations, editorial, legal, marketing, sales, web development, and technology. We have a lot of accessibility champions throughout the business now too, many of whom aren’t active participants on the AWG, but who want to make a positive impact on our customers.
JT: What have you done to make your books and publications more accessible?
We’ve worked hard over the past few years to implement significant change across the business, by releasing best practice guidelines, raising awareness, and improving our digital content. Tangible work includes:
- Launching an alternative text program for books products, that involves authors submitting alt text with their final manuscript. More than 300 books have now been published with author-written alt text, and several hundred more are in production;
- Trialling author-written alt text for our Journals;
- Reworking internal processes to distribute accessibility metadata using ONIX to third party eBook sellers;
- Implementing quarterly updates to our eBook Specifications, which are supplied to conversion vendors. These specifications contain instructions for WCAG-compliant eBooks;
- Publishing an Accessibility Statement, which received a Silver ASPIRE score of 71% in January 2021, placing us in the top 3 publishers for accessibility statements;
- Introducing text to speech software ReadSpeaker on Taylor & Francis Online, our Journals platform;
- Publishing companion website guidelines to ensure ancillary materials are accessible.
- Conducting audits of existing companion websites, in order to create a development plan and deprecate outdated sites;
- Publishing VPATs for product platforms which were previously missing them.
- Improving the accessibility of taylorfrancis.com, including the publication of a new accessibility statement for the platform;
- Converting more than 360,000 Journal articles on Taylor & Francis Online from PDF into ePub3. All newly published articles will be converted automatically, allowing customers to choose between PDF or ePub3;
- increasing the amount of titles supplied to both BookShare (US) and RNIB Bookshare (UK);
- signing up for the AccessText Network.
JT: Were there, or are there still, misconceptions about tackling accessibility issues?
BW: I think so, yes. The biggest misconception is probably that it’s too difficult, or it can’t be done. At Taylor & Francis, one of the greatest successes of the AWG is that we’ve managed to raise awareness about the importance of accessibility and the impact of non-accessible content and platforms for our customers. We have two executive sponsors now, which we didn’t have at the start. We’re also expanding past Taylor & Francis, to share accessibility knowledge with our parent company, Informa. I feel lucky to work at a company where the culture has shifted from a lack of awareness to colleagues actively reaching out with questions or suggestions.
It’s important that other publishers know that it is possible to implement accessibility considerations across any company, large or small. It does take time and it does require some central organization to bring people together.
The second misconception I hear regularly is that digital content is inherently accessible. There seems to be an assumption that because screen readers exist, digital content will automatically work with them. Those of us who work with digital content know the challenges of ensuring good quality against the accessibility principles (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust). If you don’t actively create alternative text for your images, or ensure a good reading order, for example, then the files are not accessible. This holds true across all forms of content, from social media messages, email communications, video, audio, and of course eBooks and websites too. Active participation and commitment to the accessibility principles is key.
JT: The subtitle of our session at Frankfurt Book Fair was ‘Will you be ready for the European Accessibility Act in 2025? Will Taylor and Francis be ready?
BW: This is a difficult question to answer since the EU member states aren’t required to adopt the law until 28 June 2022, and so have not yet defined what is expected of publishers. However, Taylor & Francis is doing everything we can to prepare for the EAA and I am confident in our progress, especially as it relates to newly published content.
I mentioned before that we are working with authors to supply alternative text for images within our eBooks. We are also undergoing the Global Certified Accessible accreditation, which will lead to improved eBook Specifications and better quality ePub3 files from our vendors. Furthermore, we are working hard to deliver an automated validation workflow for our ePub content, to ensure final submission files are fully accessible prior to publication, and that all relevant accessibility metadata is included with those files. This scalable solution will enable us to monitor the quality of our files and ensure only those files which meet our accessibility standards are published.
Conversely, our backlist consists of more than 150,000 eBooks, which is a challenge in terms of cost and time. We calculated it would take more than 10 years to include alternative text for our entire backlist, and the cost of doing so is incredibly high. We will supply alternative text on request, however, for any backlist titles needing it. Instead of focusing on alternative text, we have taken the decision to remediate more than 65,000 ePub2 files into the more accessible ePub3 file format, over a 2-year period. This project will ensure our entire archive is available as ePub3, using lessons learned from our Global Certified Accessible accreditation.
We are doing everything we can to prepare for the EAA, but more importantly, we’re doing everything we can for our customers globally, to ensure they have the best reading experience possible.
JT: What are the next steps in your accessibility journey?
BW: We have hired an Accessibility Officer who will join the company in November and will be responsible for carrying forward our accessibility strategy across all departments. This person will be taking the reigns from me and organizing our AWG, with a firm focus on customer requirements.
While the AWG has been incredibly successful with our initiatives thus far, I expect the introduction of the Accessibility Officer will turbo-charge those efforts, as this role will solely focus on accessibility across the whole of Taylor & Francis.
JT: Are there any particular experiences you would like to share or do you have any messages for other publishers?
BW: I know this has been said before, but accessibility really is a journey, and persistence is key. At the start of our journey, we often felt unsure of where to begin or how to proceed, because there are so many areas of a business that should include accessibility considerations. The AWG was incredibly useful, however, because once you bring knowledgeable people together who can impact change, then real progress can be made. It’s important to have accessibility champions in the business who can speak to their managers or colleagues about the importance of the work and the impact it has on customers. At Taylor & Francis, we spent the first few months just researching and investigating the legal landscape, best practice and even what other publishers were doing. Through regular internal company updates and outreach to senior management, we were successful in placing accessibility on the roadmap. It’s an impossible task for one person, so the best advice I can give is to build that stakeholder group, listen to your customers’ needs, and keep moving forward, however long it takes.