Why Accessibility in your Publishing Workflow Matters Right Now

As a strategic partner providing business technology consulting, Ribbonfish is often asked to focus on systems integration, streamlining and improving workflow for teams. As a result, we follow the latest discussions around accessibility with great interest.

In a recent BookBrunch article – A Picture Might be Worth 1,000 Words, but There’s Only Room for 50 – Mark McCallum, Business Development Director at codeMantra wrote about the legal drivers:

“The requirement to make content accessible has grown from a low murmur to a loud roar over the past three years. The Marrakesh Treaty, now ratified by 31 countries, came into force on the 30th of September 2016, and the EU required all member states to implement legislation supporting the Treaty by 11 October, 2018. This regulation adds to the existing US Section 508 and No Child Left Behind Act. To this legislative drive can be added the commercial imperative of U.S. higher ed course adoption requirements, of the near ubiquity of assistive technology and a greater cultural awareness of the cost of exclusion, summed up by Tim Cook’s statement: ‘accessibility rights are human rights’. Where recently making content accessible was tactical – an addressing of immediate needs, it has now become a strategic necessity.” (Read the full article via BookBrunch – subscription required.)

In this guest post Mark provides an update on the business imperatives driving accessibility, why you cannot afford to ignore it, and practical steps you can take. His conclusion? It is good business sense to improve publishing workflow accessibility.

“In addition to the US laws cited above, the UK will require any organisation with publicly available content to make it accessible by September of this year. So, there are now international legal requirements alongside the moral case for providing fully accessible content. However, the scale of work and cost involved in updating all products has led to inertia or slowed progress. Nonetheless, as different countries take a more litigious and/or enforcement route to making content producers compliant, the risk for publishers to backlist revenues in particular has become starker: publishers need to establish what accessible content actually means, and how that can be delivered whilst protecting revenues?

When translated into plain English accessibility compliance means all the content in a document should be labelled for easy consumption by any read aloud software. Since 2016 codeMantra has been providing document accessibility solutions to corporations, NGOs and governments using our proprietary machine learning-based remediation algorithm and comprehensive cloud-based technology validation.

But before you embark on systems development, there are certain steps you can take to identify where you are so you can take a proactive approach to complying with the relevant legal frameworks.

In terms of content, you should ensure that:

  • All headings, subheadings and paragraphs should be marked
  • All images should have a description
  • All tables should have clear spans of individual rows and columns

Stepping away from your own perspective and into that of accessible content users is a powerful way to transform internal thinking. For example, visual cues offer many advantages that we take for granted. Images can provide context and their position on a page can show relationships between ideas. The reading order is key and document sections can break up concepts or provide pace. Think about how this will translate to machine-read services. What does a non-compliant document look like? It won’t have image descriptions or active hyperlinks. There is no document hierarchy or navigation capability. A compliant document will have all of these elements.

For the reasons cited above, if you’re an educational publisher, a member organisation with online CPD or another kind of online course provider you need to act now.

But before you embark on a scaled project how can you assess the scale of the work you need to do to be compliant? Start by understanding your priorities and needs and complete an accessibility audit.

These ten questions are what I ask clients to consider:

  1. How many documents or pages do you have?
  2. What format are they in? (e.g. PDFs, web page, etc)
  3. How are they structured at the moment?
  4. Check alt text: who writes it and where to insert?
  5. What are your image descriptions like – if you have them?
  6. What challenges will this throw up for machine reading software and accessible content users?
  7. What’s your budget for addressing the required changes?
  8. Assess your front and back list. Which areas or types of file do you want to prioritise?
  9. Which are the files that need remediating?
  10. What is a realistic timeline for the work?

Our typical digitisation accessibility compliance workflow comprises five stages:

  1. Ingest content (large document transfers, integrate to document systems, organise and secure on the platform, set up consistent and organised workflows)
  2. Suggest amendments (including headings, paragraphs, images, captions, lists and tables)
  3. Human quality assurance stage
  4. Alt-text written
  5. Validation process (including reporting, summary information and WCAG2.1 & PDF/UA standard compliance)

It is inevitable that tough decisions will need to be made on which content is prioritised. If you have already established an efficient, accessible front list workflow you’re doing well. Finding commercially viable remediation processes for back list will be key to protecting revenues for product which, if not compliant, may find itself cut-off from major markets.”

Mark McCallum is Business Development Director at codeMantra. Experts in document process automation since 2004, they have built accessibility expertise since 2016 and now process over 10 million pages with over 500k pages focused on accessibility compliance. Follow Mark on LinkedIn or contact him if you’d like to discuss how to improve document accessibility.

To find out more about how Ribbonfish can help support you with improving your business technology systems, read our success stories