Making Books Accessible – And Tone Policing Accommodation Request

I like books! I wrote a book (and think we need to reconfigure how they work professionally).

Books are, however, notoriously inaccessible to people with certain kinds of disabilities, whether it’s because of vision issues of various sorts, motor control, etc.

A group of disability studies scholars have published a letter on making books accessible, written for other scholars to use as a template for discussions with publishers who want their work. You can read the letter here in a word doc. Here’s a sample:

As a scholar working in disability studies, I am dedicated to publishing work that is accessible to all scholars, including anyone with print-reading disabilities. For this reason, it is imperative that before agreeing to publish with [name of publisher], I have written assurance that materials will be available in accessible formats at the same time as any print copies.

Then the letter moves into how to make that happen.

technical specifications: Materials must be in EPUB 3.0 or later format… 

the program “Adobe InDesign” – the program used by most large book
designers – has built-in features for checking accessibility…

is important to remember that many charts and graphs are also unrecognizable to
screen-reading software…

images, maps, and figures appearing in books should also be visually described…

It’s a good letter. I did not visually describe the images and maps in my book and I wish I had.

Here’s the problem – Inside Higher Ed‘s Carl Straumsheim tone-policed the authors of this letter for not being nice about this list of reasonable accommodations. He wrote: The guidelines, a one-page template letter, read a little like an ultimatum.

Asking for the accommodations you need; asking to make your work universally accessible, is not now and never will be an ultimatum. This kind of tone policing is simple not acceptable.

Update 1 – Some readers have interesting things to say about “tone police” has a useless phrase. I’ll write more about this in the future. I think they are right, and I’m using it as a lazy shorthand for language that replicates and reinforces hierarchy and prejudice (rather than undermines it).

Update 2 – Here is the response from the reporter, to a third party. It’s the usual, “Not my intention.” The good apology is – I see how the words I used were damaging and I’ll do better in the future.

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