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Last Modified: April 22, 2024
Graphic with the messaging: Publisher Spotlight: Brush Education’s Accessible Publishing Journey


In this second instalment of our blog post series exploring the accessible publishing journeys of Alberta-based publishers, Brush Education’s Managing Editor, Kay Rollans, shares the challenges of making textbooks accessible, reflects on the publisher’s Benetech certification experience, and delves into their latest accessible titles.

Brush Education is a higher-education publisher that has been publishing exceptional learning resources for college, university, professional, and general audiences since 1975. At the time he purchased the company in 2011, Glenn Rollans, the publisher at Brush, brought four decades of publishing experience in academic, higher ed, K–12, and trade sectors to the company. Under his leadership, Brush has remained committed to bringing a crucial, independent voice to the Canadian learning landscape with their high-value resources that identify and respond to the needs of learners and other audiences in a variety of areas, including medicine, education, Indigenous studies, counselling and psychology, and the social sciences, in both print and accessible digital formats.

Currently, Brush has about 40 accessible titles in their catalogue and aims to publish 5–10 more accessible titles per year in the future.

Why Accessibility Matters to Brush Education

“Accessible publishing is important to Brush for a very simple reason: We publish learning resources, and everyone deserves to learn,” states Kay Rollans. “We also believe that everyone deserves to choose for themselves what they want to learn. By publishing our books in accessible formats, we remove barriers that exist for many when it comes to picking up a traditional print book and engaging with communities of readers and learners. Accessible books ensure that everyone is able to learn what they want, when they want.”

In 2020, Brush Education began working on the accessibility of their titles with the Book Publishers Association of Alberta’s Accessible Digital Publishing Initiative, a government-funded project that provided the opportunity for small presses to convert their backlist titles into accessible formats.

“As an educational publisher, this process was challenging in large part because of the complexity of the majority of our titles. Unlike most novels and monographs, textbooks tend to be heavy on all of the things that make accessible markup challenging: images, diagrams, flow charts, tables, ordered and unordered bullet lists, language shifts, indexes, asides of different kinds—a couple of our titles even have videos. Many of our titles have hundreds of illustrations, and some have upwards of 1000, which makes alt text production a huge endeavour, whether we’re producing it in-house or proofing text created out of house.”

A major challenge for independent publishers, and especially educational publishers, is the limited number of resources available to devote to remediating their backlist.

“The complexity of our backlist titles and the amount of time and resources required has meant that our backlist conversion is ongoing,” says Rollans, “but we’re really proud of the many titles we have been able to convert, and we absolutely could not have done that without the support of the BPAA and the Government of Canada. That support is what got us started and what is allowing us to keep going, and to start producing born-accessible frontlist books.”

Pursuing Certification

Regarding some of the reasons that prompted Brush Education to pursue Benetech’s GCA (Global Certified Accessible) certification, Rollans notes, “We’re committed to making resources from which anyone can learn, to the extent that the capacity of our small team allows. A secondary, but also important, reason is that accessible books offer more functionality and convenience to all readers than inaccessible books do.”

In 2022, Brush completed their GCA certification through eBOUND Canada’s partnership with Benetech, allowing them to enhance their workflow and produce born-accessible frontlist titles.

“Every book comes with its own quirks and challenges, and the main thing is to do what you can, ask questions, keep learning about how to improve, and show that learning in the new books you produce,” Rollans remarks. “Benetech’s certification program facilitated through eBOUND has been really useful in this regard, as it gives publishers so much opportunity to make and learn from mistakes during the certification stage. They also continue following up with certified publishers in the years after certification, with eBOUND sending industry standard updates and Benetech completing annual spot-checks that help publishers keep on top of the changes in accessibility requirements and best practices.”

“This corner of publishing is changing rapidly, so it’s really important to have that kind of support. We just passed our one-year mark of certification. I was really pleased to see how our workflow stood up to Benetech’s check, but unsurprised that we still have some things to iron out.”

Latest Accessible Titles from Brush

One of Brush’s recent accessible titles is Truth and Reconciliation Through Education: Stories of Decolonizing Practicesedited by Yvonne Poitras Pratt and Sulyn Bodnaresko.

Rollans highlights the importance of this book: “This is a really unique book that combines practical teaching models based on Indigenous-led reconciliatory frameworks with first-hand educator stories of transformational learning—both their own and their students’—through the integration of reconciliatory practices into their teaching.”

“The book includes words in several Indigenous languages—Cree, Inuktitut, Tsimshian, Michif—as well as a few words in syllabics, all of which screen readers don’t yet handle very well, so this was something we had to navigate. In the end, we opted to mark up these language shifts in the hopes that they will, one day, be supported by the reading platforms. In the meantime, though, we’ve included a note about this gap in the accessibility summary.”

Another latest title, available in both print and accessible EPUB, is Leslie Vermeer’s Last But Not Least: A Guide to Proofreading Text.

“It’s a book that deals heavily in visual issues, layout, and formatting, it was a challenge to produce accessibly.” Rollans shares the challenges they faced readily, and adds,  “We’re excited about the solutions we found, using alternative text and judiciously placed screen-reader-only elements, to communicate the minutiae that are at the heart of proofreading—spelling, punctuation, text formatting, and so on—in screen-reader-accessible ways.”

This year, Brush is also looking forward to publishing Christopher Naugler’s Common Clinical Presentation, which provides a comprehensive guide for clinicians, medical students, and other health care professionals with a structured approach to navigating 169 of the most common clinical presentations, complete with streamlined and practical extended descriptions of complex diagnostic-algorithm flow charts.

Moreover, the second edition of Carole Massing, Bonnie Anderson, Carol Anderson, and Sarah DeWhurst’s The Educational Assistant’s Guide to Inclusion in a Diverse Society will also be published later this year.

“As a book about inclusive education, we are proud to be releasing this book in a born-accessible format,” says Rollans.

The Future

Brush has taken the initiative to create several resources to aid in their existing publishing workflow. One is their in-house EPUB proofing checklist, which is regularly updated with any new issues and standards changes. Rollans has also started creating an author resource that explains the importance of accessible publishing, the role of alternative text in accessible publishing, and the basics of how to create alt text for images with different levels of complexity in the hopes of providing extra support for Brush’s authors in the future.

With regard to keeping up with the latest changes in the accessible publishing sphere, Rollans notes, “We’re really glad to be part of the Benetech GCA program in this regard—it helps us keep on top of updates to accessibility standards and offers support in terms of keeping our workflow up to date.”

Brush Education is also one of several Alberta-based publishers that are included in BPAA’s Accessible Alberta: eBooks for Everyone collection, which aims to highlight Alberta-published accessible eBooks spanning various genres. About the importance of this collection, Rollans remarks: “Accessible books are only accessible if the people who need them can find them. Alberta book publishers have invested years in tuning up production processes to not just create quality accessible EPUBs, but also to produce the metadata that allows readers to identify books that will meet their accessibility needs. Unfortunately, at this point, this metadata doesn’t always reach the reader, as access points and reading platforms are still catching up with the increasingly large-scale shift to accessible book production. Accessible Alberta: eBooks for Everyone is an important and timely project for Alberta book publishers that will better connect readers with the books and authors they want and need to read. We hope, too, that this project marks the beginning of increased visibility for accessible EPUBs across all venues and platforms. We’re excited to be a part of it.”


Featured Books

Truth and Reconciliation Through Education: Stories of Decolonizing Practices

Published: May 29, 2023 by Brush Education
ISBN: 9781550599336
Last But Not Least: A Guide to Proofreading Text

Leslie Vermeer (CA)

Published: Dec 11, 2023 by Brush Education
ISBN: 9781550597875
Common Clinical Presentations

Christopher Naugler (CA)

Published: May 01, 2024 by Brush Education
ISBN: 9781550599428