UBC Press achieves global accessibility certification

People and Places | Strategy 4: Inclusive Excellence
Theme: Inclusion
An e-book on a tablet device | Photo credit: Aliis Sinisalu on Unsplash

In the 50 years since UBC Press first launched, the publishing landscape has changed immensely. Print books have been joined by audiobooks and e-books as the expected offerings from a modern publisher.

E-book technology itself is rapidly evolving. Earlier generations of e-books posed significant barriers to accessibility, limiting how a reader could navigate through the book or display the text on a screen. Recent developments in e-book production give readers flexibility, allowing them to access the content the way that suits their needs – for example, by enlarging the font, or jumping to the next chapter using voice commands, or reading the book in the reading system of their choice.

Publishers are beginning to remove those barriers to provide e-books that are truly accessible. UBC Press is one of the first publishing houses in Canada to achieve certification as a Benetech Global Certified Accessible™ publisher. Benetech, a nonprofit that empowers communities with software for social good, issues this accreditation to those publishers who produce e-books (in EPUB format) that meet a full range of accessibility features required to support the needs of all readers, including those with disabilities and learning differences. UBC Press completed certification through eBOUND Canada, a not-for-profit that enables independent Canadian publishers to engage in the digital marketplace.

Approximately 30 other North American publishers have received this credential certification, and UBC Press is among the first university presses – the others being Athabasca University Press, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, and the University of Michigan Press.

“It means a lot to us to be able to achieve this designation in our anniversary year,” says Laraine Coates, the Press’s assistant director, marketing and business development. “This year has been one for us to look back at what we have published and accomplished, and to look ahead to new initiatives and projects. We’re in the process of strategic planning for the Press, a key pillar of which is a focus on diversity and inclusion. Part of this is publishing works that are accessible for everyone, which will ensure the widest reach for our authors to share their ideas and their knowledge.”

When it comes to the technical side of accessible e-books, UBC Press has been moving in this direction for some time. “We’ve been working on accessible features of our EPUBs for a number of years,” says Katrina Petrik, production editor at the Press. “With the help of the National Network for Equitable Library Service and eBOUND, we spent several months reviewing the accessibility of our EPUBs in preparation for this certification step. The Benetech certification demonstrates that UBC Press e-books now meet industry standards for accessibility for readers using technologies such as screen readers and text-to-voice.”

Numbers from Statistics Canada suggest that about 10% of Canadians may have a print disability, which is a learning, physical, or visual disability that prevents a person from reading conventional print. Many people who do not currently have a print disability may develop one in the future.

 “Accessibility features help all readers navigate our books, enhancing the reading experience for everyone,” says production editor Meagan Dyer. “It’s important to note as well that through this process, our e-books have become ‘born accessible,’ meaning we don’t need to spend time and money after publication to remediate books into an accessible format.”

The University of British Columbia Press was founded in 1971 and has grown into an internationally recognized university press, renowned for the quality of its publications in fields including Indigenous studies, law and society, political science, regional history, Canadian general and military history, environmental and resource studies, environmental history, disability studies, Asian studies, transnationalism, communications, media studies, food studies, and sexuality and gender studies. The Press is known for its commitment to welcoming new frontiers of thought and innovative forms of knowledge exchange.

Please visit the UBC Press website to read more about the Benetech accessibility certification.

Through Strategy 4: Inclusive Excellence, UBC is committed to cultivating a diverse community that creates and sustains equitable and inclusive campuses.