What is this ‘Inclusive Publishing’?

What is this ‘Inclusive Publishing’?

Salad is good for you, books are good for you
Good for us is good for us!

I was at a school fundraising BBQ once and after placing my salad on the communal table I was drawn into a conversation by other mums critical of my salad (they just happened to be mums, don’t read any gender bias into that!). Ooh, apparently I had roasted my potatoes. Didn’t I know air-dried potatoes would have been better, plus I added an oil-based seasoning. Gosh, who knew that tossing rocket in an Evian deep-spring was the way to serve green leaves? 

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Did I just hear right? Were we just arguing over whose salad was better for us? It was ‘salad’ right. Which is good for us, full stop.

Books as Salad

I want you to imagine that books are like salad. They are so critically good for us. Full of nutrients, minerals, essential ingredients to a healthy lifestyle, and living. Books build literacy which builds education. They develop imagination which builds thought. Thought provokes challenge and philosophy that drives innovation and growth. The ability to put knowledge down on a tangible material and share it with others has been in my opinion almost as critical to our progress as fire, and potatoes in salad!

Inclusive publishing is like a special way of making our salad. It is the salad that is rich in extra ingredients but tossed together in such a way that allows for everyone at the event to eat it. It’s the salad that says “I know there will be gluten-free diners at this event and so there will be no gluten, but, I have maximised the taste so that the gluten tolerant diners won’t know the difference”.

Inclusivity isn’t about diversity

Don’t be confused here with diversity. The term diversity when it comes into the publishing conversation deals in the content of the publication, or in our metaphor the ingredients of the salads. Diversity suggests that we have all types of meats represented in the salads, and all manner of vegetables, plus grains of every description, and salads representing African and Indian, and Moroccan and Asian cuisines. Inclusivity is interested in the diners and the ability of every person present to have access and to enjoy with equity every salad upon the table.

Because, just like the selection of salads on the table, all books aren’t inclusive. In fact, according to the Australian Inclusive Publishing Initiative’s very sobering statistics, only something like 10% of ALL publications1 are considered inclusive.

An old fashioned typewriter has a piece of paper in it that says inclusivity.
What is ‘Inclusive Publishing’?

An inclusive publication is…

An inclusive publication, therefore, is a publication produced in either multiple formats or a format that allows for readers with a print disability to access and consume just the same as a reader would without that disability. 

What if all the salads had meat in them? Do the vegetarians just go hungry? Does the Celiac just have to deal with only eating the green salad? Does a blind person just live life without books?

An inclusive publication caters for ALL non-standard print publication READERS including but is not limited to: 

  • people with low vision or who are blind, 
  • people who are physically unable to hold or turn a page of a book, 
  • people with Dyslexia, 
  • people who are non-native language readers.

Inclusive Publishing is the process of producing a publication in such a way that ALL possible readers can access the publication in a form that best allows them to READ the content regardless of their physical or linguistic ability.

Tossed salad vs sprinkles on top

E-books and digital formats have vastly improved the ability to create inclusive publications. As we develop the software that generates the formats the end product improves the equity of the experience for the reader enormously. Unfortunately, though, not all digital formats adequately relate the content of the publication in the same way a sighted reader would interpret it. The methodology of producing publications currently tacks on the inclusive components to the publication at the end of the process. 

A bit like a typical green salad, where you dump the green lettuce in, then you add the tomatoes, next drop in some cheese, and at the very end grate the carrot and sprinkle it over the top. Voila, my salad is inclusive.

Well, actually, it’s accessible. By the time the last person gets round to getting some, only the lettuce at the bottom of the bowl is left. The carrot is all gone, there’s no real cheese left, and the tomato is smashed and mushy. So, sure I was able to get some salad but it wasn’t what everyone else got. The current process of simply adding meta-data and adding text to image alt tags is very hit and miss. Reflowable e-publications by their nature move page elements around according to the screen preferences and, with that data, is lost or moved and simply not available by the time a reader might require it.

Had I spent the time preparing the salad, and tossed it throughout the addition of the various ingredients I would have catered for the full experience of the very last possible diner. Meta-data would have remained with my cheese, and image descriptions would neatly cling to my tomato not get spread around the lettuce.

A wide selection of salads are presented on a table, similar to a wide selection of books in a bookstore, but are they all accessible?
Consider Inclusion from the birth of the publication

Born accessible is…

A born accessible publication is what we are fundamentally striving for. From the very inception of the book, or the plan to make that salad, the whole process caters for the experience of consumption by every possible person. It’s not about catering for those who don’t like Thai, or for people who don’t want potatoes in their salad, just as a sci-fiction book doesn’t have to cater for the historical war readers.  Born accessible is about building the salad you want to make in such a way that if anyone wants to try it, there is nothing preventing them from doing so, because you have catered to accommodate their physical and linguistic needs to read. 

Born accessible may require multiple formats, rather than just one. It may require alternative solutions to particular ingredients. Perhaps the salad comes in two dishes, one with meat and one without. If you didn’t have two dishes, perhaps the meat is omitted, or a soy option is used. These decisions aren’t just sprinkled over the top of the salad at the end of the cooking though. They are weighed up and considered throughout the process right from the birth of the product.

The argument about the best salad

It’s pointless and irrelevant wasting time arguing over who prepared the healthiest salad. The healthiest salad is a wasted salad if it cannot be eaten at all.  Books are no different. What use is a book to someone who cannot read it, not because they are not interested, or don’t believe they would enjoy the content, but because they simply physically cannot consume it.

It is a wonderful thing to look upon a spread and see a diverse range of options. Technology is improving our tools to produce books at such a significant rate that now is the time to start turning the conversation towards those who are left with less on their plate. 

The 2009 National Federation of the Blind’s Braille Literacy Report2 stated that in 2009 nearly 90% of children with no vision in the US were ‘not learning to read and write because they are not being taught braille or being given access to it’. Low literacy leads to lower education levels, leads to lower employment prospects which leads to lower financial independence. 

A US study in 2004 by Dr. Ruby Riles3 found that blind children exposed to braille at an early age grew up with similar, if not better, literacy skills than their sighted peers. And that’s with access to only 10% of the same publications that their sighted peers had. Not much choice…

Science has always been there to prove that when we consume that which is good for us we prosper. Let’s not quibble anymore about whether my cheese came from grain-fed cows that slept to whale music and frolicked in fields of grass that was pesticide-free, and ask ourselves whether everyone got a plate of it and was able to eat.

My salad is a salad, but what’s better is that I made it with everyone in mind.

  1. An Inclusive Publishing in Australia; Introductory Guide Australian Inclusive Publishing Initiative www.aipi.com.au
  1. https://www.nfb.org/images/nfb/documents/pdf/braille_literacy_report_web.pdf The Braille Literacy Crisis in America, March 26th 2009 NFB
  1. https://www.nfb.org/sites/www.nfb.org/files/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr14/fr04se22.htm Riles Ph.D., Ruby (2004), ‘Research Study: Early Braille Education Vital’, Future Reflections, retrieved 2009-04-15