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Last Modified: July 3, 2024
Graphic with the message: Accessibility in Scholarly Publishing with University of Calgary Press
Accessibility in Scholarly Publishing with University of Calgary Press


In this latest installment of our blog series exploring Alberta publishers’ accessibility journeys, University of Calgary Press’s Marketing Specialist, Alison Cobra, sheds light on some of the challenges faced by scholarly presses when it comes to accessible publishing, lessons learned during their Benetech certification process, as well as their inclusion in the BPAA’s recently launched Accessible Alberta program.

Founded in 1981, the University of Calgary Press is an academic publishing house that publishes peer-reviewed scholarly titles across all areas of the social sciences that connect local experiences to the global world. Their professional imprint, LCR Publishing, presents technical works, guidebooks, and manuals that fall outside the strict requirements of the academic monograph and do not require additional peer review. 

In their literary series, Brave & Brilliant, the Press publishes cutting-edge fiction, poetry, plays, and cross-genre work that lifts up unheard voices and challenges the status quo, and their non-fiction imprint, Bighorn Books, presents fascinating true stories for general audiences, ranging from the inside scoop on Alberta politics to the hidden history of the film industry and beyond. Following their recent Benetech certification, the Press aims to publish over 15 accessible titles each year.

University of Calgary Press’s Accessible Publishing Beginnings

“As book lovers ourselves, we want anyone who wants to read our books to be able to do so. No matter a person’s individual abilities and needs it should be their right to have access to the same reading material as everyone else,” says Alison Cobra. 

“One way to accomplish that is through our Open Access publishing model, and another is by making our EPUBs as accessible as possible. Some of us have made use of different accessibility tools in our own reading and know how important these features are in facilitating access to books for research or for leisure reading.”

Like several other Canadian publishers featured in this series, the University of Calgary Press has also taken part in accessible eBook conversion projects over the past few years, converting many of their backlist titles into accessible format. This February (2024), the Press became Benetech certified and will publish their forthcoming books using a born-accessible workflow.

Pursuing Certification

“We’ve benefitted from many professional development initiatives arranged by the BPAA that have helped us learn how to make more accessible EPUBs and were excited to work with Benetech to continue improving the accessibility of our books,” notes Cobra. “We worked closely with Regina McCreary of Human Powered Design on this, and it was very gratifying to see our EPUBs develop and to know that more readers will be able to enjoy them or use them in their research as we continue to work on implementing the latest accessibility features.”

With regards to accessibility, complex diagrams and graphs can pose a particular challenge in scholarly publishing. 

“There is a careful and artful balance to describing these in a way that is succinct and yet still captures the full, granular detail of these illustrations,” Cobra remarks. “Learning how to capture and communicate the information from such illustrations has been a wonderful learning experience, and a skill we look forward to continuing to hone as best practices and new accessibility features become available.”

One of the Press’s biggest takeaways from their certification journey was learning about how accessible EPUBs are used by different reader groups to suit different needs. 

“A very large percentage of the population will at one time or another have needs that make reading traditional print books inaccessible or difficult to access, and it is of great importance that EPUBs be made as accessible as possible for all readers, whether they be reading for pleasure, studying, or conducting scholarly research.”

Workflow Changes and Latest Titles

A big change in the Press’s production workflow has been in the area of alt-text and long description creation. Cobra notes, “Some manuscripts are submitted to the Press for peer review with all their final images already in place, and others continue to develop through the peer review and editing processes, so it’s taken some finesse to figure out precisely when to create the alt text for each book.”

Among some of University of Calgary Press’s recent accessible titles are Remembering Our Relations: Dënesųłıné Oral Histories of Wood Buffalo National Park by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation with Sabina Trimble and Peter Fortna, and Prairie Interlace: Weaving, Modernisms, and the Expanded Frame, 1960-2000 edited by Michele Hardy, Timothy Long, and Julia Krueger.

“[This book] contains not only alt text for the images, but also QR Codes that readers can scan in the print edition or click on in the EPUB edition to listen to oral histories from ACFN Elders. Not only does this make the book more accessible, but this allows us to publish a book that uses accessibility technology to improve the transmission of Indigenous Knowledge in the format in which it is meant to be shared.”

The alt-text for Prairie Interlace was written by accessible publishing expert Laura Brady. Cobra adds, “We’ve also released the book in French under the title Prairies entrelacées: Tissage, modernismes et cadre élargi (1960-2000) and Elina Nierojewski-Vélez of Vélez Translations translated the alt text for the Press so that we can release a more accessible EPUB version as well – our first such book in French.”

Planning Ahead

The University of Calgary Press aims to continue improving their accessible publishing knowledge though professional development sessions offered within the industry, and to keep updating their knowledge as ebook technology and best practices evolve further.

“Books should be readily available and accessible for everyone who wants them and we’re dedicated to continuously learning how to make our books available to any reader who might be interested in them.”

The Press is also part of the recently launched Accessible Alberta: eBooks for Everyone collection, which is updated quarterly with new accessible titles from Alberta-based publishers. 

Cobra remarks, “This is a marvellous collection that showcases the wonderful work of the publishing industry in Alberta. We’re proud to be a part of it, and to be working together with the BPAA to make Alberta books more accessible to all!”


Featured Books

Remembering Our Relations: Dënesųłıné Oral Histories of Wood Buffalo National Park

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (CA)

Published: Dec 22, 2023 by University of Calgary Press
ISBN: 9781773854113


Prairie Interlace: Weaving, Modernisms, and the Expanded Frame, 1960-2000

Published: Nov 30, 2023 by University of Calgary Press
ISBN: 9781773854878


Prairies entrelacées: Tissage, modernismes et cadre élargi (1960-2000)

Published: Feb 28, 2024 by University of Calgary Press
ISBN: 9781773855509