Over the past few years, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives have risen to the forefront of the publishing industry. The New York Times says the book publishing industry remains overwhelmingly white and college-educated after a decade — or more — of prioritizing strategic DEI goals.
For journal publishers, the Coalition for Diversity & Inclusion in Scholarly Communications (C4DISC) was founded in 2017 to acknowledge, assess, and address the lack of inclusivity in the industry. C4DISC offers members guidelines and tools for prioritizing DEI initiatives. Their Joint Statement of Principles notes a commitment to “promoting diversity in all staff, volunteers, and audiences, including full participation in programs, policy formulation, and decision-making.”
Often overlooked in discussions of DEI in publishing is the issue of digital inclusivity through accessibility. Digital inclusivity is made possible by a range of available publishing solutions, and it presents an opportunity for connection with new markets and audiences.
Issues in digital inclusion
Accessibility is a critical issue in media consumption today. Producing content that is accessible to people with physical, developmental, and cognitive disabilities ranks alongside DEI policies regarding race, gender, age, and sexual orientation.
The Accessible Books Consortium offers some best practice guidelines for publishers, but few organizations have signed on to its initiative. Traditionally, publishers have partnered with organizations that produce special formats (e.g., Braille) to make documents more accessible. Audiobooks and electronic formats are commercially successful and inclusive. Voice command technology (e.g., Alexa or Siri) began as accessibility tools. The enduring prevalence of PDFs in journal publishing offers opportunities to optimize content for screen readers. Publishers may not be subject to mandates for making research articles and monographs accessible, but their largest customers — universities — are required to remediate much of this material for their students.
How to make publishing accessible
Braille is the most obvious example of accessibility in publishing. But in the digital age, a variety of devices offer adjustable font sizes, screen brightness, and color schemes that give readers options for making content more personally accessible. Other changes that promote accessibility include EPUB3, for XML-based eBook formatting, closed-captioning for video content, and the use of well-structured metadata to aid in assistive technology as well as content discovery.
Alternative-text (alt text) descriptions (i.e., alt tags, alt attributes, and alt descriptions) are often ignored, but they can be included to describe images to the visually impaired. Alt-text descriptions cover details not included in the body of a text or its captions — making it a critical tool for digital inclusivity. Such image descriptions are also picked up by search engines, adding to your SEO strategy; while web content lacking alt-text can be deprioritized in search rankings.
Today, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) offer recommendations for making web content more accessible for people with disabilities. These basic guidelines should apply to traditional books and journals and all visual content, including digital and video. But publishers need not be intimidated by all the guidelines and standards nor take this on all on their own. Your compositor and service providers are adept at content accessibility and can even help you create “born-accessible” workflows into existing production processes.
Benefits of true publishing inclusion
Inclusion is the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business. True publishing inclusion expands your audience. Consider a few statistics:
- An estimated 253 million people are visually impaired.
- Up to 10% of any given population is dyslexic.
- Up to 20% of U.S. college students are disabled.
All of this adds up to significant demand for accessible content. Increasing efforts to ensure digital equality creates greater commercial success. Academic and journal publishers are keenly aware of their business and moral obligations to pursue this often-neglected channel to ensure equity in their organizations — and for their readers. For more information on mapping your accessibility journey, visit kwglobal.com/accessibility.
Contact your Sheridan or KGL representative for a consultation or visit our contact pages (Sheridan contact page / KGL contact page) to learn how we can help streamline and simplify your publishing processes.