Attending My First Accessible Publishing Summit

Having a huge love of reading and being a University student studying Publishing, literally anything and everything to do with books and publishing instantly catches my attention! So when scrolling through an endless list of school emails, I came across one from a previous instructor about a great opportunity. I couldn’t help but open it. The Professor described an Accessible Publishing Summit hosted by the National Network for Equitable Library Services (NNELS), an organization we all know well. She explained that during the virtual three day summit, professionals in the Accessible Publishing industry from all across Canada would come together and discuss and plan ways to make reading more accessible for people with print disabilities. She explained that she was invited to go, and asked if I would be interested in attending as well. Of course I said yes! I felt very honoured to attend, especially because it was by invite only. I was also asked to speak on a panel on “Publishing Education and Instruction” about my experience as a student with a disability in a Publishing program. Not only was this an amazing opportunity, but was also a chance to learn so much in a short amount of time!

The Accessible Publishing Summit was incredible for so many reasons. I had the chance to meet and network with so many people working in the Accessible Publishing industry: library services such as NNELS and the Center for Equitable Library Access (CELA), librarians across various provinces working to make sure their clients had accessible reading formats, multiple organizations creating accessible formats such as the Daisy Consortium, various Publishing Houses interested in how to make their books more accessible, book platform companies like Kobo, members from the accessible education sector such as the Provincial Resource Center for the Visually Impaired (PRCVI), and even Instructors from several Universities such as Ryerson University in Toronto and Simon Fraser University (which I am currently attending). Interestingly enough, I was one of a handful of students in attendance. The summit covered a wide range of topics including audio books, e-books, reading systems, Publisher needs, digital literacy, metadata, and Publishing education (which was the topic in which the panel discussion I was a part of fell under).

I was honestly a little nervous to speak on the Publishing Education and Instruction panel because I have never really done anything like this before, let alone in a professional setting for the industry I hope to work in. I felt like I didn’t know nearly as much as everyone else who has been working in Publishing for over ten years. After all, I am just an Undergrad, what can I bring to this that people don’t already know, and why are they going to care about what I have to say? Well, it turns out they really wanted the perspective of a student with a disability who is actually in a Publishing program – so great, that’s me! Plus my Instructor who originally got me the invite was also on the panel, so it helped me be more comfortable.

The panel consisted of myself as the student perspective, my Instructor from Simon Fraser University’s Print and Digital Minor program and the Masters of Publishing program, as well as a representative from Ryerson University, Mohawk College and the host/ mediator of the panel from Coach House Books. There was a more formal discussion around each of our experiences in these various University Publishing Programs, what the programs are missing accessibility-wise, how the programs could become more accessible, and what we hoped to see in the future. The panel discussion was followed by an informal conversation among ourselves and the audience. It was an incredible discussion that touched on many important accessible educational topics, and lasted over two hours. I was so happy to be included in that conversation, and I was able to give my perspective about what needs to be improved within these Publishing programs.

Overall, I was so honoured, excited and grateful to have had the chance to attend the 3rd Annual Accessible Publishing Summit hosted by NNELS. I networked and connected with so many incredible and impressive people, discovered how many companies and organizations are focused on accessibility, learned about the various forms of funding and collaborations between those companies, and of course how truly important accessible reading materials are for those of us with print disabilities. I hope to be able to attend many more times, both as a student in the SFU Masters of Publishing program and in the future as a professional in the Publishing industry. I love books and Publishing, and accessibility is such a huge part of my life that it is so wonderful to see what Canada’s Publishing industry is working on to make reading that much more better for all of us!

by Jillian Sloane