Accessible Design in Publishing with WLU Press

By Amplify Network Date: December 06, 2021 Tags: Podcasting

Amplified is an audio blog series taking us behind the scenes at the Amplify Podcast Network to explore the different ways our team is reimagining the sound of scholarship. This month we go behind the scenes of the accessibility and design of our open access Guide to Academic Podcasting. Like all the projects here at Amplify, our guidebook was a collaboration and our learning on accessibility. To learn more about these accessible design practises in the world of publishing, I’m joined by Murray Tong and Lindsay Hunnewell of Wilfrid Laurier University Press.


Stacey Copeland: In the process of making Amplify’s Guide to Academic Podcasting, Hannah [McGregor] and I learnt a ton about accessible design. We originally wanted this outrageously loud colour palette for our network branding and for the book, and I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone who knows Hannah. Bright oranges, neon pinks, you know, big impact colours. But what we didn’t realise is colour choice can have a major impact on who can actually access and enjoy our work. Like all the projects here at Amplify, our guidebook was a collaboration and our learning on accessibility is really thanks to our team at Wilfrid Laurier University Press. If Amplify’s goal is to increase the accessibility of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences through podcasting, accessible design is key. From transcription to alt text to visual design, accessibility is essential for some and helpful to all. Welcome to Amplified – taking you behind the scenes here at Amplify Podcast Network. I’m Stacey Copeland, project manager here at Amplify, and to learn more about these accessible design practises in the world of publishing, I’m joined by Murray Tong and Lindsay Hunnewell of Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Murray Tong: My name is Murray Tong. I’m the managing editor at WLU Press, and I help out with some of the editorial content that goes into Amplify’s documents, the website and some of the upcoming publications.

Lindsey Hunnewell: Hi, I’m Lindsay Hunnewell. I’m the production coordinator at Wilfrid Laurier University Press. I am involved with both print and digital production, and I have a background in ebook and audiobook producing accessible versions of those. So I’m sort of the accessibility contact for Wilfrid Laurier for the press and how I’m involved with Amplify is I was involved with the production and helping with design work and getting it produced into a product. So right now we have it as digital products, but it will also have a print version as well. So I was involved in all three of those iterations.

Stacey Copeland: I invited you both here, as you know, to talk a bit about the process behind accessibility and design with the Amplify guidebook, the guidebook to academic podcasting that we put out over the summer. And so I was really excited to have you both talk through a bit of this as well, because a lot of what we were doing in making these decisions was over email and working through a lot of what that looks like and what the standards of accessibility and design are for Wilfrid Laurier University Press. And I learnt so much. So my first question to start us off was, I’m curious to hear from both of you in your work towards creating more accessible print and digital texts. What are some of the key accessibility questions that designers need to be considering in working with a publication?

Lindsey Hunnewell: I like to think of accessibility as something that’s helpful to everyone, but necessary to a few. So we’re always trying to build in more accessibility features if we can, because it not only helps our current readership, but it helps – it gives access to a much larger community. So some of the things we need to think about in design, the big ones are choosing colours, making sure we have alt text, making sure that if we have things like tables or graphs that we have not just that information in an image that is readable to someone can read print, but is also included in the metadata and text so that it’s readable by a screen reader so that communities that have problems with reading text only aren’t missing out on that information. At our press right now, we’ve had a mandate that we’ve been trying to work more towards a born accessible way of printing and way of workflow for our books. So what that means is instead of trying to take a print book that is already created and designed and out in the world and then trying to retrofit it to be an accessible version in digital, we’re trying to work from the beginning to start adding in these accessible features that are necessary to help this product grow and be better equipped to, like, be handled for accessible media, even from the beginning.

We need to think about colour choices. We work towards the WCAG standard, which is a Web standard for accessibility. There are certain colour combinations that are really problematic for a variety of reasons, and a lot of people have different types of color blindness. So even from the beginning, when we’re designing our covers or logos, we need to start thinking about what types of colour combinations are useful and are going to really work with an accessible mandate. So after we’ve kind of got the preliminary colour schemes and things like that, we need to start thinking about what type of elements are going to be included in the interior and in the text and with images starting from the beginning. We need a lot of really good communication between authors for input into things like alt text, alternative texts that screen reader can read, and every single image or figure needs to have this to be able to be useful to someone who has a print disability

Stacey Copeland: And Murray to follow up. Lindsey’s shared a lot of the key elements that need to be considered when we’re looking at design for publication and what that means for accessibility. I’d love to hear from you, you know, was accessibility and accessible design something that you were super familiar with early on in your editorial career? If so, if you could expand on that experience and if not, how has incorporating these considerations into your work changed your editing process and your work process as a managing editor?

Murray Tong: Good question. I think university presses, because of the university mandate, tend to have a bit more baked in knowledge about accessibility. That being said, I think getting things as accessible as possible is a bit new to everyone, and there’s still a lot to learn to get both our past books up to snuff in terms of accessibility and making our books born accessible rather than putting in the accessible features afterwards. So a big part of that for my position is reading up on the accessibility standards. Keeping in contact with Lindsey, are sort of in-house expert on accessibility, and making sure that authors understand the principles of accessibility and why we’re asking them to do these little bits of extra work. One of the key pieces, as Lindsey mentioned, is alt text for all figures, tables, photographs and so forth. It’s a bit of a lift to sometimes get authors and even sometimes myself to think about exactly what a figure or table, what kind of information it’s trying to communicate to a reader. It’s easy for sighted people to look at a figure and get that information, but to put yourself in the shoes of someone who can’t gather all that information and convey it in all text is an interesting challenge sometimes.

Stacey Copeland: You mentioned sometimes it’s a bit of a challenge to get writers and can contributors designers to really incorporate these accessibility standards in their work from the get go. What do you think is behind some of those hesitations in learning and updating toward accessibility in publishing?

Lindsey Hunnewell: I think the big challenge is it’s not that they’re apprehensive about adding accessibility. Everybody knows that and wants to work towards making things more accessible. So it’s not that they are apprehensive about it being accessible. It’s the fact that it’s a change from their regular workflow. And sometimes change is scary, and sometimes we don’t feel like we have enough tech knowledge to be able to input it. Some of these changes sound really tech heavy, but in principle they’re actually quite easy to make really small changes to your workflows to be able to incorporate them. So I think the challenge mainly is being clear in our communication about what has to happen to make their manuscript, that they have already, to make it accessible before they get too far into it. And usually it’s just a couple of tweaks here or there because even adding a few accessibility features goes a long way. 

Work with the people who have the expertise in this. Sometimes we get a little bit bogged down with trying to make something 100 percent accessible, and 100 percent accessibility isn’t really attainable because nothing is going to be 100 percent accessible for every single person. So our goal is more to make it as accessible for the largest amount of people we can. Once they realise that it doesn’t have to be 100 percent perfect, that even if we’re reaching like 70 percent, that’s 70 percent more than we had before.

Stacey Copeland: Accessibility in digital space is really starting to be more of a norm these days, right? Like even Twitter, you can put in your alt text there now, which is absolutely amazing. And then it was so easy to work with our designer for the guidebook, and for our network branding, to adapt to these standards and think more thoroughly about accessibility. You know, Hannah and I really wanted these outrageously bright colours, this colour scheme for the guidebook originally not thinking at all that would cause issues around accessibility for people who are engaging with the publication at the end of things. So having these conversations and having tools readily available for a designer to work with was super helpful and really was such a fascinating project to work through with you all. I guess one last question for you. I’d love to hear. Thinking about accessibility from the editing standpoint and from a university press or a small press, there are certainly some other small presses that maybe haven’t taken these steps toward accessibility yet. What small actions would you be recommending as their first steps toward more accessible publications?

Murray Tong: That initial contact and relationship with the author or authors is really key, getting the message of accessibility across to them and explaining exactly why we need this information, how this makes the product better and more readable, more available to a wider variety of people. That’s a win win situation for them and for the readers.

Lindsey Hunnewell: And I just like to add, we have a lot of really great organisations that are working to help build accessibility and to help people like small publishers and small presses to get started. Just connect with organisations like the CNIB, which is the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, or NNELS, the National Network for Equitable Library Service. They’re great places to start, and they can give you hints and tips on how to start working it into the workflows and scheduling for a small press. If you have a problem, there’s so many forums within our distributors and with other presses that are very willing to help you. I’ve definitely put out a question on an accessibility item I didn’t know how to handle, and I got so many responses and like everybody’s here to help each other. So I know it can be scary to start this, but just taking the first step. There’s so many people there to help you out, to get you to where you need to be, like don’t be worried about it, just start with that first step and see where it goes.

Stacey Copeland: I know for me, it really opened up broader conversations around accessibility for other components of our project as well. So being an audio podcast person, I’m always thinking how important it is to have transcriptions, for instance. But working with the press also brought up questions around visuals like artwork and accessibility of the website and hosting platform that our podcasts live on. So it’s been a really, really great process working on the Guide to Academic Podcasting together.

Murray Tong: Thank you. Happy to do it.

 Lindsey Hunnewell: Lovely. I’m glad that we got to work with you. It’s a project that I haven’t had come across my desk while I’ve been at Wilfrid Laurier, so it was really nice to like, as a resource that is living primarily online, start from scratch and have something that’s going to be actually born accessible.

Stacey Copeland: From transcripts and alt text to colour, choice and Web accessibility standards. Working with Lindsey and Murray at WLU Press has brought a whole new perspective to the way that I approach design. And yes, overhauling your workflow might sound daunting at first. But as Lindsey said, starting with a few small changes can make a big difference. You can check out our notes for a few links to get you started and stay tuned for more episodes of Amplified behind the scenes chats coming to you soon from our team here at Amplify Podcast Network.

Guest Bios

Murray Tong,  WLU Press, Managing Editor.

Murray Tong is the managing editor at Wilfrid Laurier University Press. A graduate of the University of Guelph and Simon Fraser University, he has worked in communications, journalism, and publishing for twenty years.

Lindsey Hunnewell, WLU Press, Production Coordinator. 

Lindsey has been obsessed with books since she was a young girl growing up in New Brunswick. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of King’s College and has worked as a writer, editor, and production assistant for television news and magazines. Currently she looks after print production and the audiobook program at Wilfrid Laurier University Press as their Production Coordinator. She is passionate about all things accessibility-related and looks for ways to better incorporate accessible elements into her work. In her spare time, you can usually find her at the curling rink or on the dance floor at a swing dance event.

Written and produced by: Stacey Copeland

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