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Last Modified: April 10, 2024
Graphic with the messaging: Why Accessibility Matters: BPAA’s Journey to Creating the Accessible Alberta eBooks for Everyone Collection
Why Accessibility Matters: The BPAA’s Journey to Creating the Accessible Alberta eBooks for Everyone Collection

Introduction and Beginnings

Accessible Alberta: eBooks for Everyone is a collection of Alberta-published accessible eBooks spanning multiple genres, with each title including features that provide an accessible reading experience for all. This interview with the Book Publishers Association of Alberta’s executive director, Kieran Leblanc, explores the inspiration behind the collection, emphasizes the importance of accessible books, and delves into the BPAA’s existing work in the accessible publishing sphere.  

While accessibility should be prioritized without reason, the statistically inclined would find it significant to note that 10% of Canadians have a print disability, which limits their ability to read in a traditional print format. Combined with less than 10% of Canadian published content in Canada being available in an accessible format, it means that print-disabled Canadians struggle to find titles in a format that works for them.

Accessible Alberta stemmed from the goal of making reading more accessible for all,” says Kieran Leblanc. “The BPAA has worked with publishers to incorporate accessible publishing practices into their workflows, and we were able to leverage the great work Alberta publishers are doing in this area.”

In 2015, the BPAA partnered with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) to produce accessible audiobooks. The project led the Association to dive further into the world of accessible publishing, learning lessons and facing challenges along the way.

Over the past five years, Alberta publishers have ramped up the creation of accessible eBooks and audiobooks, making sustainable workflow changes to their production processes, including in the areas of alternative text creation, compliance with accessibility standards, and the enhancement of accessibility metadata.

Leblanc states, “Through this project, we hope to not only increase access and discoverability of Alberta stories for all readers, but also to inspire all of Canada to follow Alberta’s lead.”

Accessible Publishing Initiatives from the BPAA

The BPAA has undertaken several initiatives in the accessible publishing sphere over the past few years, prioritizing accessibility to ensure equal access to great stories and learning resources for all Canadians. 

“With accessible books, Alberta publishers telling Alberta’s Story can reach more readers in the format that works best for them,” says Leblanc. “Offering titles in accessible formats is also a win for Alberta, showcasing leadership in accessible publishing and highlighting the crucial role our publishers play in our culture, economy, and job creation.”

Notable accessibility projects from the BPAA include:

Accessible Digital Books Initiative

Through the Accessible Digital Publishing Initiative (2020-present), the BPAA and eBOUND Canada facilitated the conversion of over 800 member-publishers’ titles into quality-assurance-tested EPUB3 files that meet internationally recognized WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) and EPUB accessibility standards. The accessible eBooks are made available to Canadians with print disabilities through the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) and the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS). The files are added to the three eBook collections available via Cantook Station in Alberta libraries and are made available to publishers for distribution.

“Alberta publishers and the BPAA are extremely grateful to the Department of Canadian Heritage for launching this visionary initiative with significant funding available to the publishing industry through the Canada Book Fund,” remarks Leblanc.

Professional Development

Since 2016, the BPAA has supported their member-publishers’ accessibility journeys through ongoing professional development opportunities. These learning opportunities include one-on-one training as well as webinars to support the integration of accessibility into publishers’ workflows, ensuring they are up to date with the latest accessibility standards.

Other Catalogues & Collections

“In each of our projects we are committed to identifying accessible titles clearly,” notes Leblanc. 

Accessible titles are clearly marked in all entries and indexes in the BPAA’s yearly Read Alberta Publisher and Alberta Books for Schools print catalogues. Additionally, through the BPAA’s online Alberta Books for Schools database, titles can be sorted to filter accessible titles only. The Association’s Read Alberta Books Ads in Alberta Views magazine also identifies titles which are available in accessible formats. 

The Future of Accessible Alberta

Regarding some of the challenges the Association faced over the course of their accessibility work, Leblanc recalls, “It was relatively early days in the accessible publishing landscape in Canada when we embarked on our first conversion project. We had to develop a workflow, understand standards, provide assistance and professional development for our members and association staff, with really no model to follow.”

Despite the hurdles, there have been many strides in building capacity for accessible publishing in Canada. A significant challenge the industry faces now is the discoverability of accessible content. 

“Accessible Alberta is one solution to this challenge,” says Leblanc. “For readers, discovering the right format can be a challenge. Alberta’s librarians play a crucial role as conduits in connecting readers with the right resources and content for their needs. Accessible Alberta will allow librarians to better assist readers in finding their preferred format.”

Moving forward, the BPAA aims to grow the Accessible Alberta collection and to add newly released accessible titles from their quarterly eBook collection intakes. 

“We will also continue to support the work our publishers are doing towards born-accessible workflows and creating more accessible content, through professional development and other support. Backlist titles which are converted will also be added to the collection as they are remediated.”