Hello, everyone.

First of all, I would like to thank the EDRLab for the invitation to this DPUB Summit 2024 and the opportunity of sharing with you this tool that I am sure will help publishers to adopt accessibility into their workflows.

But, before starting, I want to introduce myself for the persons with visual disabilities that might be listening this.

My name is Ana María Bermúdez, I am a cisgender 1.73 m tall woman with big light-brown eyes and dark brown and blue curly hair. Even though my skin is medium tone, in Europe it might be considered darker and in Mexico lighter. I have a standard abled-body. That said, a little disclaimer: I acknowledge my privileges and I am approaching this topic, accessibility in publishing, from an ally point of view. Last but not least, my mother tongue is Spanish, so I apologize in advance if I make any mistakes in English or if I rely on my notes too much.

I am publisher at PRH based in Mexico City, I oversee two international imprints and collaborate in another one in the Mexican territory. During the pandemic I decided to study a masters degree in Digital Publishing. In 2022, while learning about digital accessibility, I was developing a book that turned out to be one of my breaking points in my career:(In)visibles, 24 mexicanos con discapacidad que cumplieron sus sueños. In English, (In)visibiles, 24 mexicans with disabilities that conquered their dreams, by Barbara Anderson and photography by Enrique Covarrubias. While working on this book, I realized that the protagonists wouldn’t be able to access their own stories if we published it without considering accessible formats. That opened my eyes and hands to the complexity of accessibility, how hard it is to try to move a whole industry in thinking in these invisible readers and how relevant reading is in terms of access to other human rights. But also, I discovered how powerful it is when publishers realize their unconscious bias and own the problem, so they start moving things.

From then, I started not only a new journey for me as a publisher but also a personal quest: I decided to devote myself and my expertise into paving the way to accessibility in Mexico. And that is why I dedicated my masters degree final project to developing the Guide to Implementing Universal Publishing in Mexican Publishing Houses, which I am going to talk to you about.

So, I will first present the problem we publishers face with adopting accessibility, then I will summarize the main idea of my methodology, then the work plan I propose as a solution, and finally some tools that will be helpful if you want to start this journey.

So, let’s start with the problem.

Probably most of you already know the relevance and challenges people with disabilities face all over the world and why it is important to include them in our society. Nevertheless, I will share some statistics on how disability looks in a developing country such as Mexico:

While the average population in the world is 15%, in Mexico it goes up to 17%, which means more than 21 million people. Twice the population of Portugal or the whole population of Pakistan.

While in developed countries accessible books represent 7% of the national book production, in Mexico only 1%. The offer is not only scarce but also not very varied. Most of the books are Braille books and focus on fiction classics or books for learning how to read.

Moreover,  we all know that education determines job opportunities and the income you receive from your job determines your quality of life. Well, in Mexico one in 3 persons with disabilities between 5 to 17 years, are not enrolled in school. Only 2% of this community is economically active and 1 in 2 live in poverty. But if we go back to education, one of the main reasons why people with disabilities are not allowed in schools is that there are no books for them. Actually, only 12% of primary schools have learning materials and only 1.5% high schools do.

So, everything is linked: reading access means access to education, information, job opportunities and a better quality of life.

Ok, so we agree in how important it is to have books in accessible formats so we want publishers to craft more! Governments have set laws so that becomes a reality, but also copyright limitations and crazy deadlines with not so many resources. In Mexico laws are not clear enough and there are no public policies that help publishers comply. But if we want our books to reach Spanish readers in Europe, since Spain is the biggest in the Spanish speaking market, then we also need to comply with the European laws. Also there is a language barrier in resources. WIPO and ABC have only translated one or two of their guides into Spanish. I could find information in English in pieces, and it was very specialized and hard to apply just like that. Even for me, who was first an eBook editor before becoming a print publisher, this topic was hard to access.

In consequence, this all translates into a lot of pressure and an overwhelming feeling for the industry!

In a world where digital piracy is a cancer, Mexican publishers consider it a risk to share files, even with authorized entities. In developing countries like mine, profits are scarce, there is not much room for long-term investment; especially when surviving is our top priority.

Apparently, the easiest and shortest way to achieve this goal would be to just adapt the final product into an accessible ebook. Even though it is recognized that the whole supply chain has to change in order to achieve accessibility for real, all guides and training are focused on the final step of the chain: the format conversion. Yet little is said about other parts of the editorial process. In addition, resources explain the requirements your new ebook has to meet, but not how to achieve it.

So, we publishers are stressed because we have to comply with laws and requirements and no one tells us how to take this leap in a sustainable way. We know this is an important and unoffensive but massive change that has huge relevance but it would also make us rethink our processes. This, in an industry that has changed little in 500 years, feels daunting. We do not know where to start and how to apply all of this into our workflows.

So here comes my proposal.

Its core concept is universal publishing. I tried to apply the terminology of Robert Mace’s universal design to publishing.

So, while traditional publishing has the print book at its core and digital formats are derivative, an inclusive design approach would mean adding the different types of accessible formats serving each disability. Meaning, braille, large letters, videobooks in sign language, easy read, etc. On the contrary, if we pursue the famous one size fits all and equal access, we will pick the format that allows the most users to access to the same content, at the same time and the same price. That would be the eBook.

Why: EPUB 3 is the golden format. The content display, when done properly is flexible and can be adjusted to the user’s needs, including most of those for people with print disabilities. It also works with other assistive technologies that can automatically translate into other languages or communication systems.

In addition, universal publishing has a 360° approach, including all parts of the internal and external supply chain, for it considers alliances with distributors, book outlets, authorized entities and other nonprofit organizations.

This might sound familiar, because this idea is already in use in some territories.

Diagram demonstrating the evolution from traditional publishing to inclusive publishing and then universal publishing

With that in mind as well as all the pains that stress publishers, I developed a new but different guide called the Guide to Implementing Universal Publishing in Mexican Publishing Houses. It is a step by step work plan meant for helping publishers own accessibility and ignite change.

But, how to break paralysis by analysis given such a complex goal? In Spanish we have a saying that I will try to translate: how can an ant eat a whole elephant? The answer is one bite at a time. Similarly, since we want accessibility to be a natural part of our workflows, then we could use a habit approach. And how do you add habits in your life? You need to start small. 1% each day, for several days until it gets automatic, and then you move to 2%.

So, I decided to break the mission into little parts and tasks, aligned them to the area that should execute each one and develop some extra resources that might help along the process. The result was incremental tasks corresponding to 9 axes of action that cover all stakeholders along 5 stages.

So let’s take a look at the workplan.


AMBS blog EDR Lab 2


Right now, I have only developed the first two stages because it is in these where most (if not all) the Mexican publishing houses are.

This guide was meant to be for Mexican publishers regardless of size or nature, because all available guides did not or barely considered the reality this sector faces in developing countries. But while crafting this, I realized the methodology could be useful if applied in other territories. Like the famous concept says: design for the periphery and the center will benefit. So, because of the near deadlines set by Accessibility Acts, I presume there are publishing houses in developing countries such as yours that might need the last 3 stages very soon. I am already working on it.

On the one hand, one of the benefits of this methodology is that even if a publishing house decides to stop after the first stage for whatever reason (not enough budget, other priorities, laws or deadlines do not apply to them, etc.), the tasks are designed so that this publishing house will not produce their own accessible ebooks, but leave the door open to authorized entities to do so.

On the other hand, this workplan not only focuses on producing native accessible ebook novelties and backlist remediation, but also involves areas like, HR, legal, commercial, marketing, IT, and even other stakeholders so the full book supply chain is covered.

Now, let’s talk about the extra resources.

One of the most important parts of each project is evaluation. First, you need a diagnosis, so I gathered the questions of other accessibility audits and made two questionnaires. One with open ended questions meant for analyzing employees’ sensitivity to accessibility, and one with closed questions in order to assess the level of accessibility of our books. Then I designed an overall accessibility assessment that will show you which stage a particular publishing house is. Also, it will tell you if you have moved from one stage to another, so it’s useful when evaluating your progress.

I wanted publishers to implement accessibility all along their workflows (not only the conversion stage), so I developed a Universal Publishing Protocol. It consists of two parts. First, a new editorial process that considers image descriptions and the ebook accessibility quality control. Second, a description of the new functions that each position should execute regarding accessibility. This goes from the author to the EPUB converter.

In order to help the legal team, I also proposed a process for licensing titles to authorized entities.

Another feature that I want to stress is the marketing and communication plan. Each stage has its own digital and organic marketing strategy.

Last but not least, probably the most important part for publishers in developing countries: money. I gathered low cost or cost-free providers (mostly in Spanish for now), for all services I considered in each stage and crafted a zero, low or high investment plan. So, no matter the budget you assign to this project, you can implement accessibility in your publishing house. With that, money is no longer an excuse!

If you are interested in taking a look at this methodology, it is available for download right now for free on my webpage. The Spanish version is ready in EPUB, obviously. The English version is still a raw translation draft.

In the following months I will be working on two main goals. First, finish the development of the 3 remaining stages. Second, the full adaptation of the content to a more general audience rather than Spanish speaking countries. So if you download the English version, I will let you know when the complete and ultimate version is available. But at least you can start using it now.

Well, that’s all for now.

I will be happy to hear what you think about this proposal and to answer your questions. And if you apply this methodology to your publishing house, please, let me know and write me an email or a LinkedIn message!

Thank you all for your time and attention! Especial thanks to Gautier, Marie-Laurence and Laurent and the whole EDRlab team for this opportunity and opening this Summit to LatinAmerican voices!

Digital Publishing Summit

Philantro Lab, Paris

May 31, 2024