University of Michigan Press’s Accessible Publishing Initiative

by Jonathan McGlone on December 4, 2015

[On behalf of the University of Michigan Press E-Book Accessibility Task Force]

Recently the University of Michigan Press publicly endorsed the accessible publishing guidelines outlined by the Society for Disability Studies. These guidelines encourage publishers to ensure that accessibility is “built in” to new titles—that accessible file formats, text descriptions of multimedia, and available alternate versions are standard products of the publishing process. The Press strongly believes in this universal design approach, and since June 2015 have been working behind the scenes to support these guidelines. This work is part of a longer history at the Press, and a big part of our future.

Accessible publishing is not entirely new for Michigan Publishing, the parent organization of the University of Michigan Press. Our open access online publications, including Digital Culture Books, Maize Books, and Michigan Journals are accessible to all—free and in an accessible format. Furthermore, for many years we have met the needs of individual readers with print disabilities by participating in Bookshare and also providing accessible PDFs upon request–this year alone we fulfilled over 50 requests for accessible PDFs. However, we understand that this is not enough. We therefore formed an Accessibility Task Force in summer 2015 to assess our existing electronic books and to make recommendations for improvement. By 2016, we will complete our assessment and introduce new processes and guidelines to support accessibility in all titles published by the University of Michigan Press.

To implement the next phase of our accessibility work, we are modifying our publishing process to incorporate accessibility from the earliest stages to the final release of a project. This means endorsing accessible EPUB 3 as the preferred output format. We also plan to work with authors while preparing manuscripts for submission, to help them provide accurate and meaningful description of audio and visual media so our publications are not merely compliant with accessibility requirements but also intellectually useful for all. We are redesigning our author guidelines and editorial review process to reflect this commitment. The change we make now will ensure that our future publications align with both the letter and the spirit of accessibility guidelines.

A new Accessibility Statement on our public website highlights our current efforts as well as the services we already offer to readers with print disabilities. These services are a crucial stopgap mechanism and a pragmatic approach to making our backlist titles accessible while we focus on “built-in” accessibility for new titles. The first new titles to fully reflect the processes currently under development and meet new accessibility guidelines will be from our disability studies series, Corporealities: Discourses of Disability, with other titles to follow shortly after. The current effort is just the beginning of the next phase of accessible publishing at the University of Michigan Press.

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