Brush Education’s Accessible Publishing Journey: The Complex Work of Making Textbooks Accessible

Dive into Brush Education’s thorough process of making textbooks accessible, their Benetech certification journey, and their workflow and production changes.

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Banner with the title Brush Education's Accessible Publishing Journey. The subtitle below reads, "the complex work of making textbooks accessible." Below are illustrations of two girls sitting with books opened on their laps. At the bottom left corner is the logo for Brush Education.


Welcome to the second installment in our blog series exploring Canadian publishers’ accessible publishing journeys! Where our first post explored the journey of a trade publisher, this post dives into the successes and challenges of an educational publisher, Brush Education Inc. Brush’s Managing Editor, Kay Rollans, shared the complex process of making textbooks accessible, supporting authors with alt-text creation, pursuing Benetech certification, and keeping up with the latest accessibility standards.

Brush Education is an Alberta-based publisher creating learning resources for college, university, professional, and general audiences. They aim to produce 5-10 born-accessible titles per year and currently have 39 accessible titles in their catalogue, with several more in the works!

Brush Education’s Accessible Publishing Beginnings

In 2020, Brush Education began working on the accessibility of their titles with the Book Publishers Association of Alberta’s Accessible Digital Publishing Initiative, a government-funded project that provided the opportunity for small presses to convert their backlist titles into accessible formats.

“As an educational publisher, this process was challenging in large part because of the complexity of the majority of our titles. Unlike most novels and monographs, textbooks tend to be heavy on all of the things that make accessible markup challenging: images, diagrams, flow charts, tables, ordered and unordered bullet lists, language shifts, indexes, asides of different kinds—a couple of our titles even have videos. Many of our titles have hundreds of illustrations, and some have upwards of 1000, which makes alt text production a huge endeavour, whether we’re producing it in-house or proofing text created out of house.”

A major challenge for independent publishers, and especially educational publishers, is the limited number of resources available to devote towards remediating their backlist. “The complexity of our backlist titles and the amount of time and resources required has meant that our backlist conversion is ongoing,” says Rollans, “but we’re really proud of the many titles we have been able to convert, and we absolutely could not have done that without the support of the BPAA and the Government of Canada. That support is what got us started and what is allowing us to keep going, and to start producing born-accessible frontlist books.”

Pursuing Certification

Regarding some of the reasons that prompted Brush Education to pursue Benetech GCA (Global Certified Accessible) certification, Rollans notes, “We’re committed to making resources from which anyone can learn, to the extent that the capacity of our small team allows. A secondary, but also important, reason is that accessible books offer more functionality and convenience to all readers than inaccessible books do.”

In 2022, Brush completed their GCA certification through eBOUND Canada’s partnership with Benetech, allowing them to enhance their workflow and produce born-accessible frontlist titles.

“Every book comes with its own quirks and challenges, and the main thing is to do what you can, ask questions, keep learning about how to improve, and show that learning in the new books you produce,” mentions Rollans. “Benetech’s certification program facilitated through eBOUND has been really useful in this regard, as it gives publishers so much opportunity to make and learn from mistakes during the certification stage. They also continue following up with certified publishers in the years after certification, with eBOUND sending industry standard updates and Benetech completing annual spot-checks that help publishers keep on top of the changes in accessibility requirements and best practices.”

“This corner of publishing is changing rapidly, so it’s really important to have that kind of support. We just passed our one-year mark of certification. I was really pleased to see how our workflow stood up to Benetech’s check, but unsurprised that we still have some things to iron out.”

One of Brush’s accessible frontlist titles is Truth and Reconciliation Through Educationedited by Yvonne Poitras Pratt and Sulyn Bodnaresko.

“This is a really unique book that combines practical teaching models based on Indigenous-led reconciliatory frameworks with first-hand educator stories of transformational learning—both their own and their students’—through the integration of reconciliatory practices into their teaching,” Rollans highlights.

Cover: Truth and Reconciliation Through Education: stories of decolonizing practices, edited by Yvonne Poitras Pratt and Sulyn Bodnaresko

“The book includes words in several Indigenous languages—Cree, Inuktitut, Tsimshian, Michif—as well as a few words in syllabics, all of which screen readers don’t yet handle very well, so this was something we had to navigate. In the end, we opted to mark up these language shifts in the hopes that they will, one day, be supported by the reading platforms. In the meantime, though, we’ve included a note about this gap in the accessibility summary.”

A more complex forthcoming title from Brush is Christine Sutherland’s Wheeling in Good Hands, a textbook about wheelchair massage that includes over 400 illustrations, all accompanied by alternative text.

Cover: Wheeling in Good Hands: Holistic massage for wheelchair users, by Christine Sutherland, co-founder of the Sutherland-Chan school and teaching clinic.

“It’s been a huge undertaking, and we’re excited to see it come out later this year,” says Rollans.

Workflow Changes and Production

Brush has been using a complex MS Word style sheet in their production workflow for years. Post-certification, they’ve tweaked their existing style sheet to better handle accessibility features, marking up pre-layout manuscripts with asides, language tags, and semantic styling.

Moreover, their production process involves working with a conversion house for EPUB creation, as well as conducting in-house QA of the completed files. Some QA tools that the publisher uses are Sigil, Ace by DAISY, Ace SMART, Thorium, Pagina EPUB Check, and Colour Contrast Analyser. They also include accessibility metadata in their ONIX files.

Among the biggest changes in their workflow is the integration of alt-text creation into the deliverables listed in author contracts, as well as providing support for authors in its creation.

“Our integration of alt text creation into author contracts is new, and we’ve yet to see it play out across a complete workflow,” Rollans remarks, “In the few books where authors have created their own alt text, it’s gone really smoothly—we provide them with a spreadsheet of images and captions and leave spaces for short descriptions and, if necessary, long descriptions. The authors then fill these in in their own voice.”

“This does, of course, affect our editorial process in one big way: because many of our books are so image heavy, it can add a lot of text that needs to be written, copyedited, and proofread.”

When dealing with alt-text created from third-party conversion houses, this has proven to be even more challenging. Rollans notes, “Unfortunately, that extra work is hard to avoid on backlist titles, as this isn’t something we go back to authors for—we either have to create the backlist alt-text from scratch or we have to edit alt-text created by someone unfamiliar with the book. But the backlist workload just underlines how important it is to integrate alt-text creation into the initial writing stage of the book.”

Planning Ahead

Brush has taken the initiative to create several resources to aid in their existing workflow. One is their in-house EPUB proofing checklist, which is regularly updated with any new issues and standards changes. Rollans has also started creating an author resource that explains the importance of accessible publishing, the role of alternative text in accessible publishing, and the basics of how to create alt text for images with different levels of complexity in the hopes of providing extra support for Brush’s authors in the future.

As for keeping up with the latest changes in the accessible publishing sphere, Rollans notes: “We’re really glad to be part of the Benetech GCA program in this regard—it helps us keep on top of updates to accessibility standards and offers support in terms of keeping our workflow up to date.”

Next Steps


Freehand Books’ Accessible Publishing Journey

Freehand Books’ Accessible Publishing Journey: How a Small Press Made Their Entire Catalogue Accessible

Find out how Freehand Books remediated their backlist into accessible format, earned their GCA Benetech certification, and changed their eBook production workflows.

Subject(s): Blog
Resource Type(s): Standards and Best Practices