In late July 2017, NNELS was among a number of organizations invited to apply for a grant from the Government of Canada through the Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Component (SDPP-D) to develop partnerships and produce alternate formats for Canadians with print disabilities. In mid-December we were notified that the BC Libraries Co-op would receive $1 million to carry out the activities in a revised NNELS proposal. Work began in January and a public announcement about the project was made on February 15th. The deadline for the completion of the work was originally set to March 31st but was revised on March 19th to May 31st, 2018.
Most of the projects are nearing completion and final reports on each of them will be distributed before the end of May. This interim update is for members of our partner organizations.
- E-text Production
We hired six people with vision impairments to learn how to produce ebooks and help improve both book quality and the NNELS workflow. This work was complete as of March 31. During the project, weekly activities related to book analysis and production were led by our team of Production Assistants in Alberta. Through email and discussion forums (discuss.nnels.ca), the new production assistants analyzed EPUB files, explored the functionality of reading and editing tools, and learned by working on books of their own choosing, some of which are complete and available in NNELS. Some projects are continuing, thanks to momentum: in particular, a team from the Ontario College of Art and Design is working with one of our now-former production assistants to explore how a university-level physics textbook could be accessible through audio, tactile, and visual modalities.
We loved this experiment. We have ideas for next steps for involving readers of accessible formats in book production and hope to work again with the outstanding people who helped us so much. Our thanks to Karoline Bourdeau, Daniella Levy-Pinto, Ka Li, Richard Marion, Steve Murgaski, and Ryan Ollis. Thanks also to the production assistants in Alberta: Leah Brochu, Jenn Lortie, and Rachel Osolen.
- Accessible Publishing
We organized seven workshops with EPUB accessibility expert Laura Brady of Brady Typesetting. These workshops took place in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax, and Toronto. A total of 73 publishers, editors, and alternate format producers attended, with about ten more requesting access to a video recording. Special thanks to provincial publishers’ associations who helped with promotion, and to Alternative Education Resources for Ontario (AERO), and Bob Minnery there, for organizing and sponsoring local arrangements for the Toronto workshop.
Laura Brady also analyzed EPUB files for 21 Canadian publishers, creating comprehensive three to five-page reports for each publisher, full of accessibility and coding suggestions.
The workshops and audits both contained a lot of information and were overwhelming for many people. We learned that most publishers are still producing EPUB 2 files, probably out of habit, and very few publishers know much about accessibility. Also, many publishers outsource their ebook production to overseas companies. Many ebooks, whether outsourced or produced in-house, are missing basic accessibility functionality such as headings for navigation and descriptive text for images.
Our collective goal is for books to be published accessibly so that they do not require further intervention to be read with assistive technology. We are a long way from reaching that goal. There is a lot of pressure on publishers to learn and implement accessibility changes, and they are nervous about the cost and time required to implement everything being recommended to them. Many publishers do not know a lot about HTML and CSS, let alone standards such as ARIA. We need to chunk lessons into short, prioritized, and digestible lists, and find ways to support publishers in making changes. We have some ideas for what to do next.
Coincidentally, this project was supported by our purchasing work: while we were prescribing a standard for accessible publishing, we were offering to pay publishers for any EPUB 2 or 3 files that they had already published. This was a good approach and we suspect it encouraged publishers to work with and sell files to us.
These projects also gave us some recognition in advance of our presentation to publishers and editors at the ebookcraft conference in Toronto in late March, organized by BookNet Canada. Laura Brady opened many doors for us: she was a conference co-organizer, she presented alongside us, and she initiated a number of conversations which we expect will be fruitful for years to come.
- Print-Braille Children’s Books
This project benefited from the extended deadline: these 15 print-braille children’s books are still in production and we’re looking forward to seeing the results. We’ve chosen great books, and the team at the Vision Impaired Resource Network in Winnipeg is using an innovative approach to create a fully accessible reading experience: stay tuned.
- National Braille Study
Mary Ellen Gabias, President of the Canadian Federation of the Blind, has been volunteer-leading a team of five writers: Michelle Creedy, Danny Faris, Holly Hoffmann, Kerry Kijewski, and Marcia Yale, and one research assistant, Lilith Lee, to propose a sustainable long-term strategy for making braille accessible to all Canadians in print and digital forms. The report will discuss how to manage decisions about storing and mailing braille material, and the comparative costs and benefits of building library collections, supporting digital collections, and printing on demand. The extended deadline has allowed for extra writing and editing. When complete, the report will be available in both French and English.
- Recording Kits for Libraries
Thanks to support from the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), we’ve had a really great team for the past few months: two people with audio recording experience and two librarians have created a plan and instructions for volunteers to record audiobooks in Canadian public libraries. We have ten recording kits complete with good quality headset-microphones, USB keys, quick instructions, and a bright red shipping case. These kits are in the final stages of assembly and are about to be sent to the first libraries that have expressed interest so far. They can be sent to any library in Canada that wants to record an audio version of a children’s picture book. Working with this team, and with CCB, has been an immense pleasure.
- Purchasing EPUB & Audiobooks
Thank you to members of the Alliance for Equality for Blind Canadians (AEBC) and the Canadian Federation of the Blind (CFB) for their help with making purchasing suggestions, and encouraging members to request books.
To date, we have purchased 17,767 EPUB files (we committed to 14,000) and 3,435 audiobooks (we committed to 3,000) and we are currently adding these files to the NNELS repository. With the weight of the Co-op behind us, we were able to get favourable pricing from vendors, and work with eBOUND and Demarque to purchase a large amount of Canadian ebooks in both English and French. We’ve also been able to work directly with a number of Canadian publishers, many of whom were probably able to sell files to us because the accessible publishing work that was happening alongside this project.
We also commissioned 30 narrated audiobooks, some of which were requested by AEBC and CFB members. We have notified some of the requestors that their books are now available, and there are more to come.
Finally, the extended deadline gives us more time to work with the Camp Bowen Society for the Visually Impaired. Their team is using machine learning tools to help us improve our production workflow, and we are supporting them to develop that technology. They are also producing 50 books in accessible formats, contributing a number of narrated titles, and making much-needed improvements to the NNELS website, particularly our catalogue searching.