Accessibility is central to what we do: A Q&A with Brianna Walker, Head of Content Management at Taylor & Francis

Websites have been around since 1991, and in 1996 Tim Berners Lee predicted that, while this technology would make it possible for individuals with appropriate computer and telecommunications equipment to interact as never before,” it would also create “new challenges for people with disabilities”. This prediction unfortunately rings true, because while 15% of the world’s population have some form of disability, a recent analysis of Fortune 500 websites found that only “45 percent had good accessibility scores”. Disability rights activists have fought hard to get protections under the law, including the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which “bans discrimination on the basis of disability in the areas of employment, public accommodation, public services, transportation and telecommunications”. More recently, the European Accessibility Act has created provisions to remove barriers across a range of products and services, including eBooks and eCommerce. We sat down with Brianna Walker of Taylor & Francis to ask her how the company is working to make sure Taylor & Francis content is accessible to all. Walker is the Head of Content Management, and in addition she is a co-founder of AllInforma Illuminate, a colleague-led network within Informa championing colleagues and customers with disabilities and conditions.

Leah Kinthaert:

“Can you tell me about your work with accessibility at Taylor & Francis?”

Brianna Walker:

“As one of the largest global publishers of academic content, we take it as our responsibility to ensure accessibility is central to our publishing, to improve learning outcomes, and to ensure a more equitable and fair approach to content accessibility. In 2019, we launched the Accessibility Working Group (AWG) to support changing customer and legal requirements throughout our publishing environment: eBooks, journals, and websites. The AWG is comprised of colleagues from across the organization who share a goal to make accessible content available, with a firm focus on customer experience. Since then, the AWG has worked with different teams at Taylor & Francis to understand customers’ needs and drive changes to provide the best quality content in the most accessible way possible.”

Leah:

“What does accessibility entail at Taylor & Francis, what sort of activities have you been involved with?”

Brianna:

“The Accessibility Working Group is involved in many accessibility initiatives across the company. The Taylor & Francis Books Editorial and Production teams have published more than 160 eBook titles with alt text so far, with a further 350 scheduled for publication. Our Journals Production team have also expanded a trial of author alt text creation for Journals.”

“Our eResources and Development team have conducted audits of more than 1,000 existing companion websites, which hold ancillary materials, such as quizzes, presentations, and bonus information related to a title. The team created a development plan and deprecated outdated sites; created more accessible companion website templates and worked with editors to ensure content being added to the sites is accessible; and published companion website guidelines to ensure ancillary materials are accessible.”

“In 2019, we introduced the text to speech software ReadSpeaker on Taylor & Francis Online, our Journals platform, and integrated an alternative format request process for Journal articles. The Books program launched in 2010.”

“Recently, we published a new accessibility statement for our eBooks platform, taylorfrancis.com. In addition, our Accessibility Statement from 2020 received a Silver ASPIRE score of 71% in January 2021, placing us in the top 3 publishers for accessibility statements.”

Leah:

“Of all your initiatives, which ones do you think have made the biggest impact for blind or visually impaired people?”

Brianna:

“Our biggest impact on people who are blind, visually impaired or print disabled has been through our accessibility partnerships with BookShare, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), and AccessText Network (ATN), as well as our own in-house alternate format request process.”

“Between these three partnerships, 95% of our eBook catalogue is available in PDF or ePub formats globally. We have supplied more than 28,000 requests through our own Taylor & Francis Alternate Format Requests program since 2010. These requests are fulfilled through conversions or archive retrieval in ePub, PDF, XML or Word versions and we run this service with a 48-hour turnaround time.”

“We’re also very proud of our partnership with BookShare, which we joined in 2010. It’s an eBook library facilitated by Benetech which allows their members to access a huge collection of customized eBooks. They have over 1 million members in 94 different countries who download over 1  million accessible files each year.”

“Also, in January 2021, we joined the AccessText Network (ATN), following direct customer requests and feedback to do so. This network has more than 5,000 individual users and over 3,000 institution members and received 65,000 requests last year. Since we established the partnership with ATN, we have distributed more than 136,000 titles to them.”

“We also joined the RNIB BookShare program in 2010. Based on their reports, RNIB supports more than 33,000 learners and 10,854 organizations.”

“These numbers ultimately don’t express all of the work we are doing. We regularly receive positive feedback from university disability offices and customers who are happy with the request process and our continued support for students, who rely on alternative formats to complete their studies. I’d like to share with you some wonderful feedback and advice from Stacy Scott of RNIB Bookshare and Publisher Strategic Relationships Manager and Chair of the Accessibility Action Group – Publishers Association. This sort of feedback fuels the work we do every day:

’A picture is worth a thousand words’, but it doesn’t take a thousand words to open up your pictures and images to those who are unable to see them. Adding even any amount of Alt text, describing what your picture, diagram or graph shows, makes your content inclusive to everybody and can bring stories alive and make subjects easier to understand. Descriptions create pictures in the mind and for those who cannot see pictures, the imagination becomes the most powerful tool. As a blind Mathematics graduate, I could not have engaged in my study, had descriptions of pictures not been made available to me. Pictures are just as crucial as the written word and this is no less so for someone who is unable to see the images through their eyes. So please, add the Alt text, fuel the imagination, and make your content inclusive to all.’”

Leah:

“That is great feedback, thanks for sharing that! My next question was going to be to ask you what you are finding most rewarding or exciting about your role, and I think you may have answered that.”

Brianna:

“Absolutely, ensuring our research and content is accessible to those who need it most is what drives me, but I can say that there is something really exciting happening right now. Taylor & FrancisGroup is one of the finalists for the 2021 Accessible Books Consortium International Excellence Award for Accessible Publishing alongside House of Anansi Press and University of Michigan Press.”

“The expert jury judged the publisher nominees based on leadership and achievements in improving the accessibility of eBooks and other digital publications for people with print or visual impairments.”

“The winner will be unveiled at an awards ceremony to be held at the Frankfurter Buchmesse on Wednesday 20 October 2021. Our Taylor & Francis Accessibility Working Group would like to congratulate everyone in the business who has contributed to this achievement!”

Leah:

“Do you have anything else you’d like to share with readers who might be interested in how their organizations can further advance accessibility?”

Brianna:

“Definitely. My biggest advice is that you won’t immediately find all the answers and fix all the problems. Accessibility is a journey, but it’s a worthwhile one. A good place to start is to bring together like-minded colleagues who want to support accessibility across departments, learn from others in the industry by joining the Publishers Association Accessibility Action Group, advance your knowledge through training (the DAISY webinars are a good place to start), and most importantly, listen to your customers.”

Leah Kinthaert

Leah Kinthaert, Senior Social Media Manager, Corporate Communications at Taylor & Francis

Brianna Walker, Global Head of Portfolio in the Behavioral Sciences at Taylor & Francis

Brianna Walker, Head of Content Management at Taylor & Francis