The term of IPA Past President, Dr Michiel Kolman, on the board of the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) came to an end last month. The ABC is hosted by WIPO and is part of the practical implementation of the Marakesh Treaty. Michiel has been succeeded by Laura Brady of Canadian publisher, House of Anansi. I asked Michiel about his work on the ABC board and to Laura about her background in accessibility and her hopes for the future.
Michiel, how long have you been involved in the ABC?
Michiel Kolman (MK): I joined the board in 2018, first as board member representing Elsevier, later also as vice-chair on behalf of the rightsholders. I also started and chaired a communication working group. Before 2018 I joined ABC board meetings representing the IPA so the ABC was not new to me when I joined in 2018, neither was WIPO where I spent lots of time as IPA president.
I have been personally committed to the objectives of the ABC, making books accessible to the print disabled, which I see as an integral part of inclusive publishing. ABC came out of the Marrakesh Treaty, the most successful treaty in the history of WIPO, and whole heartedly supported by the international publishers community. During my years at the ABC I saw a rapid increase of many key activities such as the number of Authorized Entities (now over 100), the number of books in the Global Books Service (now more than 650 000 titles) and more than 100 signatories for the Charter for Accessible Publishing. The latter Hugo Setzer and I started and have been promoting over the last couple of years.
How have the discussions around accessible publishing changed in that time?
MK: When ABC started had to find its place and make sure its structures were in order. When I joined it was more a period of expansion as I mentioned above. What did not change and is quite special about ABC is the sense that all parties involved, such as the organizations representing the print disabled and the library community, together with the rightsholders, are quite united and with a common sense of purpose – these groups do not always form a united front, so to say, but at ABC there is a high level of collegiality and joint sense of mission.
Are there any major achievements from your time at the ABC?
MK: We launched the charter for Accessible Publishing and asked publishers and publishing organizations to publicly commit to accessibility. Hugo and I drove a sustained campaign to have organizations sign up and we reached 100 signatories, in part due to a collective signing up of all the leading Brazilian publishers.
I always felt that ABC had a great story to tell but that very little people heard of its mission and accomplishments. To change that I launched a communication working group and together we came with a series of recommendations which are now slowly, step by step, being implemented. For instance a stronger visibility in the social media, today also including LinkedIn.
Will you stay involved in accessibility issues?
MK: Absolutely, both at Elsevier and the IPA. At Elsevier I am pursuing our certification for accessible book publishing. At the IPA I am now chairing the Inclusive Publishing and Literacy Committee and one key pillar there is accessibility headed up by Hugo Setzer.
Finally, Michiel, do you have any tips or advice for Laura?
MK: Don’t be shy to further promote the great activities of the ABC and also positively influence other board members and WIPO itself to share the great collective work around accessibility more widely.
Laura, tell us about yourself, your involvement in publishing and engagement in accessibility?
Laura Brady (LB): I have worked in trade publishing in Canada since the mid-1990s, always in the production end of the business. I am a typesetter by trade, but now manage the typesetters, designers, and ebook developers. My interest in accessibility grew partly out of my work on the steering committee of ebookcraft, a two-day event held annually in Toronto (barring pandemic restrictions). Programming the workshops and keynotes has always had a healthy portion focussed on the nuts and bolts of accessibility and aimed directly at the people doing the hands-on work in ebook development.
What was your first connection to the ABC?
LB: I first learned of the work of the ABC through their annual international excellence award. I’ve enjoyed watching the shortlist and winners roll, which is a veritable who’s who of accessible publishing. I wanted to be one of those cool kids!
And what made you want to step up and get more involved?
LB: I fashion myself something of an accessibility busybody, partly because if I’m not regularly piping up and asking about the integration of accessibility in, say, the work my employer does, or the work of diversity and inclusion efforts, than I worry that it will get left aside. That said, it is a real honour to be invited to the board.
Do you have any objectives in mind for your time on the ABC board?
LB: One of the things I bring to the ABC board is a deep knowledge of what’s under the hood of an accessible ebook. My time spent working on standards, advising publishers as a mentor, and working with Benetech on their certification program in addition to prodigious experience making ebooks, means that I come at accessible publishing with a slightly different take than others on the board. The mechanics of how to publish accessibly are always front of mind for me.
I am also keen to publicize the work of the ABC more thoroughly in Canada. Watch for an avalanche of sign-ups to the Charter for Accessible Publishing soon!
Laura will be speaking at Frankfurt Book Fair on Wednesday 20 October from 3pm-4pm CET as part of session co-organised by Frankfurter Buchmesse, the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the Federation of European Publishers and the IPA.
Accessibility Now: Will you be ready for the European Accessibility Act in 2025?
Wednesday, 20 October, 3-4 pm, livestream on the Agora and on buchmesse.de (no registration required)
In less than four years, the European Accessibility Act will require any publisher doing business in Europe to make their e-books available in accessible formats. This practical session, co-organised by the Federation of European Publishers, Frankfurter Buchmesse, the International Publishers Association and the World Intellectual Property Organization, will focus on two simple questions: what do publishers need to do and how can they do it? The session will include the award ceremony for WIPO’s ABC International Excellence Award for Accessible Publishing – celebrating inspirational publishers and initiatives helping make books accessible for all.
Moderator: James Taylor, Director of Communications and Freedom to Publish, International Publishers Association.