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Amnet has long banged the drum that accessibility issues should be addressed and standardized across all digital platforms and media, and it is not alone in doing so. Publishing giants including Elsevier, HarperCollins Publishers, Harvard Business Publishing, Macmillan Learning, Penguin Random House, Apex CoVantage, to name a few, have all collectively supported moves to establish such a standard, moves such as Benetech’s Global Certified Accessible program.
Benetech is a leading software provider for the non-profit sector. It has formed a forward-thinking group with Dedicon, Royal National Institute of Blind People and Vision Australia to create the first third-party program of its kind. It tests and verifies student eBook content for accessibility, ensuring that students unable to read standard print due to blindness, low vision, dyslexia or a physical disability have equal access to the same content as their peers. Not only does it mean that publishers are able to market the educational materials as approved for both K-12 and higher education institutions standards, it also brings confidence that the books they are purchasing meet the procurement requirements that materials should be accessible. Two birds, one stone – so to speak.
The question then has to be asked, why aren’t more software providers doing this across all mediums? The answer perhaps lies with the time and skill it takes to produce a program of this nature. Global Certified Accessible follows a six-month beta program that ran with the input of educational, academic, professional and trade publications. Six months refinement and, prior to that, liaising with industry leaders in different fields to organize the program to run in the first place takes dedication – dedication that other software providers may not have the impetus to turn their attention to.
It comes back to the issue of accessibility not being a legal requirement merely a set of guidelines. Even the threat of a private lawsuit for sites and materials that don’t follow the guidelines isn’t enough to affect change. As Kari Tapie from the Instructional Technology and Assistive Technology Program at Los Angeles Unified School District points out: “It’s imperative that educational institutions prioritize accessible content that serves all students equally. I look forward to the day when all publishers make their books accessible as a first decision and not as an afterthought.”
It is one of the reasons why Benetech’s program is so forward thinking and worthy of support. As Aashish Agarwaal, CEO and founder of Amnet comments: “Benetech’s development of the certification standard for the Global Certified Accessible program is a major milestone for accessibility, Benetech and the publishing industry. Certification will assure students, teachers, libraries and others of the work and quality that has gone into these certified books. Benetech’s development of the certificate standards brings much needed clarity to the process of creating and procuring accessible content. Amnet is proud to have partnered with Benetech in this program and looks forward to helping our publishing partners integrate accessibility into their workflows to ensure that over time their publications can be ‘born accessible.’”
Benetech will hopefully be the first of many to formalize the specifications for accessibility helping publishers to create works whose starting point is equal access rather than a later development to appease procurement guidelines. Global Certified Accessible is helping to advance the publishing industry and should be applauded.
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