Accessibility & PublishingSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Accessibility and publishing is currently a diverse set of activities designed to meet the needs of readers with disabilities and to shift toward publishing practices that better support equitable access for all.
The history of accessibility and publishing is not a simple narrative of progress, but a recursive story of progress and resistance. Major changes in technology have brought with them new possibilities for equality, new forms of inequity, and even new paradigms of ability and disability, as the print revolution eventually brought mass literacy and print disability. Manufacturers of e-readers fought against requirements for accessible devices and copyright holders fought against the transformation of their works for readers with print disabilities. The progress made in these fields has been against concerted resistance and only through the persistent campaigns of dedicated individuals, often at the level of the law. The realm of higher education has consistently been a space for pushing the possibilities of accessibility.
Efforts towards accessibility have led in unpredictable directions. The crucial technology of OCR and the popular consumer format of the audiobook are both byproducts of innovation in the service of making publications accessible. We do not know what byproducts our current accessibility efforts will produce, just as we do not know what future reading technologies will eventually parse the accessible publications we make today. Advances in accessibility may come in the form of play and of art and performance practice. Accessibility supports yet unknown technologies and acts of reading.
Accessibility supports disability as we know it and as it will inevitably change. Much of the world’s disabled population is underserved or unserved by access predicated on legally recognized disability status. The mechanisms for determining ability status may themselves have discriminatory effects, even when functioning correctly. For example, in the United States a person who has permanently lost her sight may have to repeatedly certify her impairment to retain benefits, filling out a 34 page form from the Social Service Administration every year (Samuels, 2014, p. 123). In other contexts, the scene of requesting accommodations may produce what has been called the masquerade of disability (Siebers, 2008) or “performances of proving” disability—“exaggerating a limp, carrying a cane not strictly needed, or otherwise performing to stereotypical expectations of disabled bodies” (Samuels, 2014, p. 133). And in many contexts, the idea of disability status may be unavailable for populations who are subject to debilitation including the risk and “inevitable injury” of war, unsafe labor conditions, and environmental toxicities (Puar, 2017).
Accessibility, when pursued in the fullest sense, may produce a publishing ecosystem that will better serve readers with print disabilities, readers with yet unrecognized disabilities and debilities, and reading that is differently mediated. Accessibility is for the future. At present, everyone in the information professions has a role to play in accessibility, and actors positioned at the gateways of the publishing process and publishing platforms have the opportunity to drive a great amount of change. Over the next several years, accessibility has the potential to become as mundane as the practices of citation—a given in scholarly communication that is taught and practiced at all levels and quietly undergirds larger practices of knowledge sharing and discovery. Accessibility has the potential to become a norm in scholarly publishing and to make equitable access normal.