In this installment of our blog series exploring Canadian publishers’ accessibility journeys, Playwrights Canada Press’s Managing Editor, Blake Sproule, shares the process of making plays accessible, changes to the publisher’s editorial processes, their Benetech certification journey, as well as the challenges of in-house production.
Based in Toronto, Playwrights Canada Press is a publisher of new Canadian plays, as well as theatre history, criticism, and biography. They have over 150 accessible digital books in their catalogue at present and aim to publish around 25 new titles each year.
“We started making a concerted effort to publish accessible eBooks in 2018 after we submitted several titles to the National Network for Equitable Library Service for an accessibility audit,” recalls Sproule. “At the time we were making an effort in-house to better understand how to include accessibility features in our EPUBs, and this audit showed us that we were falling short of what we could be doing.”
Playwrights Canada has taken part in several accessibility conversion projects, with the first starting in 2020, and made possible through a grant from Ontario Creates.
“We hired Beate Schwirtlich of Workhorse Editorial and Production to work as a project manager converting 50 books into accessible eBooks through desLibris. She worked with existing EPUBs, PDFs, and InDesign files from our archives and prepared them for desLibris, eventually vetting and distributing our newly accessible eBooks.”
DPS (desLibris Publishing Solutions) is an accessible eBook conversion vendor, certified by Benetech—a software organization that offers the GCA (Global Certified Accessible) certification program. The program aims to certify vendors’ and publishers’ workflows to help them produce born accessible books.
Through eBOUND Canada’s partnership with Benetech, Playwrights Canada also completed their own certification journey in the fall of 2021.
Sproule notes, “Making books accessible and available to the widest audience possible benefits everyone. We want our books to be read by anyone, and providing a certified level of accessibility with our eBooks is an achievable goal.”
The Press’s biggest takeaway after certification was that accessibility standards are constantly evolving, and keeping up with them is essential to produce the highest quality accessible books.
“At the start of our certification, we had assumed our books were already in good shape after the changes we made to our process after the audit we did in 2018, but there was still a lot of work to put into them because we did not keep up with the standard,” says Sproule. “It is why annual recertification is so important. There is always work that can be done to improve the accessibility of our books.”
Over the course of their accessible publishing journey, Playwrights Canada made several changes to their editorial processes. For some of their plays, these changes included eliminating the use of hidden tables to keep lines of dialogue together.
“Previously, we would keep the table in the eBook with some formatting to make it invisible, but we realized that this causes complications for text-to-speech, plus it was creating more work during conversion. We have since eliminated the use of tables whenever possible and have started using alternative formatting starting in editorial that follows through to the final print book and eBooks.”
Other editorial changes included text styling considerations for sighted as well as print disabled readers, and the treatment of stage directions.
“With plays in particular, styling creates visual cues for how to read a section of text—stage directions are indented and/or italicized, character prompts are set in bold or separated from the paragraph of dialogue that said character delivers—all to make it easier for a sighted reader to navigate through the different aspects of a playscript,” mentions Sproule. “With all of this in mind, we started paying more attention to how books were styled in the earliest stages, making sure there was a distinction between italics and emphasis, bold and strong, switching between languages, but also in making sure stage directions were distinct from dialogue.”
“Previously, stage directions would often run in-line with dialogue, but we realized to help with accessibility they needed to be treated as separate, creating new paragraphs for them and making sure they were written as complete sentences that could be understood separated from the dialogue.”
Among some of Playwrights Canada Press’s accessible titles are The Master Plan by Michael Healey and Interdependent Magic: Disability Performance in Canada, edited by Jessica Watkin.
“The Master Planby Michael Healey is a book we just published to coincide with its premiere at Crow’s Theatre,” says Sproule. “Not only is it a great play, but it is one that used projections and information—including hyperlinks—as an integral part of its storytelling. This was fun to think through editorially to make sure those mainly visual translated well into the accessible eBook.”
“We are also quite proud of Interdependent Magic, edited by Jessica Watkin, which is a collection of plays and interviews by, for, and about Disabled theatre artists that invites readers into the magical worlds of Disability arts culture.”
The Challenges of In-House Production
According to Sproule, “An easy pitfall with in-house production is laziness.”
Independent publishing often comprises of small teams, where one person might be handling several stages of the process, including editorial, design, and production. The volume of competing tasks can make it easy to leave some of the more detailed aspects of the editorial or production work to be done during the next step in the process, or during the conversion phase from layout into final files.
Sproule remarks, “This is always a bad idea, though, because small changes that need to be made are forgotten and never made, leaving gaps for features that should be included in the accessible book.”
As for Playwrights Canada’s production timelines, uncomplicated single title plays can take approximately 4 hours to complete, as opposed to a collection, which takes longer. A more difficult title, including endnotes, images, complex table of contents, etc., can take between 8-12 hours to complete.
“These days, our books are converted by our wonderful production assistant, Avvai Ketheeswaran, who starts the QA process by ensuring the books pass through Pagina’s EPUBChecker and the Ace by DAISY accessibility check tools,” notes Sproule.
The Press’s QA process also involves a thorough proofing of the EPUBs, including an inspection of xhtml files, ensuring the correctness of aria-labels, and performing metadata checks. The team addresses any changes in-house, before rechecking the files and distributing to vendors.
Playwrights Canada Press aims to keep up with their annual Benetech recertification, and to update their processes to incorporate any new changes mentioned in Benetech’s GCA Technical Bulletins.
“Sometimes that involves making immediate changes, but some require more forethought and planning,” Sproule states. “There is always room for improvement, and we continue to convert older titles to accessible eBook standards when we can through conversion projects.”
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