How ECW Press Made Denison Avenue Accessible for All

Canada Reads 2024 contender Denison Avenue is a moving story told in visual art and fiction, available in several accessible formats for all readers.

  • Subject(s):

    Blog

  • Resource Type(s):

    Standards and Best Practices

  • Audience:

    Introduction

Introduction

Published in 2023 by ECW Press, Christina Wong and Daniel Innes’ Denison Avenue explores the story of a Chinese Canadian senior living in Toronto’s gentrifying Chinatown-Kensington Market neighbourhood. Shortlisted for Canada Reads 2024 and a finalist for the 2024 Carnegie Medals for Excellence through the American Library Association, Denison Avenue combines text and illustrations in a unique way—one that does not easily lend itself to adaptations into different book formats.

ECW Press’s Digital and Art Director, Jessica Albert, notes, “Denison Avenue as a physical book is split into two sections and is flippable—readers are meant to experience the illustrated half and written half separately. Turning the book over to the back cover and rotating it 180 degrees brings you to the beginning of the illustrated half of the book.”

Cover: Denison Avenue by Christina Wong and Daniel Innes. 2024 Selection Canada Reads, cbcbooks.ca.
The book Denison Avenue lying open, with the spine, front and back covers  facing upwards. The front cover can be read in the correct reading sequence, while the back cover is flipped the other way.

A map in the middle separates the two halves of the book, which can be read starting from either side.

Through the publisher’s dedicated work with the author and illustrator, as well as collaborations with associations, this book is currently available in several accessible formats, including accessible ebook and audiobook formats.

ECW’s Accessible Publishing Background

“Our accessibility efforts began in 2019 when I overhauled our digital production workflow to incorporate Accessibility 1.1 best practices into our process,” recalls Albert. “We had excellent buy-in from our editorial and production departments, who have taken on the work of arranging image descriptions (mostly written by our authors), manuscript tagging, and standardizing our typesetting process to ensure there’s a consistent and easy conversion to digital.”

In 2021, ECW Press became the second publisher in Canada to be certified by Benetech’s GCA (Global Certified Accessible) program. The Press also produces audiobooks for several independent and academic Canadian presses and has previously partnered with NNELS (National Network for Equitable Library Service) to establish a best practice guide for creating accessible audiobooks that include all front and back matter content present in the print edition of a book.

“Most of our retail audiobooks have been recorded to suit these best practices and we make our catalogue (including titles published for other presses) available to organizations like NNELS and CELA.”

ECW is also a signee of the Accessible Books Consortium’s Charter for Accessible Publishing.

Denison Avenue’s Accessibility Journey

Championed by former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi for Canada Reads 2024, Denison Avenue was also longlisted for the 2023 Toronto Book Awards.

About this book’s unique format, Albert mentions, “The illustrated portion of the book has no text whatsoever. The text half of the book includes page layouts that are often important to the content.”

A black and white illustrated page from the book Denison Avenue. The illustration depicts two versions of the same street corner from Kensington Market in Toronto. The illustration at the top of the page shows a lively version of the street, with people walking, fruits on a fruit stand, and trees in the background. The illustration at the bottom shows a shuttered, barren version of the same street.
A text page from the book Denison Avenue. The text at the top half is formatted with short words cascading down like steps on a staircase. The bottom half is regular text.

According to Albert, three digital versions of the book have been created:

The audiobook was created in collaboration with CNIB, who received funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage to create a Literary Image Description Best Practices Guide, and to produce audiobooks for a number of image-heavy titles that would conventionally not be converted into audiobook format. CNIB worked directly with the author and illustrator to write the script for the audiobook, with the author Christina Wong narrating the book.

In the latest ebook version of Denison Avenue, some key accessibility features include visible page breaks in addition to ones that are only read by screen readers, and image descriptions not just for illustrations but the layout of certain text pages as well.

Denison Avenue will be defended on Canada Reads 2024 between March 4-7. The book is available via libraries and for purchase on several retail sites. For more information about the title, visit the publisher’s website.

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