Meet the Pioneers Behind the Librarian Accessibility Training Module: Charles LaPierre and George KerscherBy Shareef Phillips, posted on May 18, 2023
Celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day with Benetech
Join Benetech in celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), a day dedicated to promoting awareness about digital inclusion and accessibility. At Benetech, accessibility is fundamental to everything we do. As part of our Bookshare and Born Accessible initiatives, Benetech is committed to ensuring that information and learning are accessible to all. As we celebrate this important day with you, we would like to highlight two of our own accessibility pioneers, Charles LaPierre, Benetech’s Principal Accessibility and Content Quality Architect, and George Kerscher, Senior Advisor to the Benetech Global Literacy program, and their impact toward a more accessible future. To enhance librarians’ ability to use assistive technology, they have collaborated on creating a unique accessibility training module. Check out our interview with the two below:
In your own words, what would you say is the accessibility training module? How would you describe the module to those who have never heard of it?
Charles: The accessibility training module is a resource and guide for librarians to use and get familiar with assistive technology and those who use assistive technology to read electronic books. We have developed a training module that will help librarians to better serve their patrons by increasing their knowledge and skills giving them the tools they need to procure and offer their books in an accessible format for those with low-vision or other disabilities related to reading traditional print.
George: Many librarians have not had formal training on how to serve persons with reading disabilities. This module lays out the fundamentals all librarians should be aware of. It explains what people with disabilities use to access information. It is a wonderful starting point to learn about what librarians can do to improve access to information and reading to their patrons with disabilities.
What challenges or improvements are you hoping to address with this module? How important was it for you to develop an accessibility training module for library staff on “Reading for Accessibility and Inclusion”?
Charles: We surveyed over 250 public libraries and found that most had little to no knowledge around accessibility of their digital content. It was clear that they had little to no training on accessible books, reading systems, or even how to determine if a digital book was accessible or not. We hope this training module will help train the librarians on how to procure accessible books as well as understand how to support their patrons on how they can find and ultimately read their books independently.
George: I believe that all librarians should have a basic understanding of patrons with disabilities that creates barriers to access information. Print disabilities is the term for people who cannot access printed information because of a disability. This module provides the basics and can serve as a springboard for librarians. I hope each library will identify one or more librarians who take up the challenge to become a champion for accessible reading in their library.
What impact do you anticipate the module will have on the librarian community as a whole? How will the manual help them do their job better and better support students they serve? How can librarians access this training module?
Charles: This training module will help fill in the gap’s librarians have when it comes to accessible digital materials. We provide a quick start guide on how to download the training module as an actual EPUB but meet the librarians where they are by also providing these materials on a traditional website. We walk them through how to download and install an EPUB reading system on either their phone or computer and show the benefits of a reflowable EPUB where you can increase the font size much larger to help anyone with limited vision read independently. One does not need to be blind to benefit from a book in EPUB format. Consider our aging population, wouldn’t it be nice not to have to find your reading glasses, but instead bump up the font instead? The ability to change the font type, or color scheme to make it easier to read during the day or night. These are the benefits from a digital EPUB reading experience. Consider the scenario where a person comes into a library and complains about how difficult they find reading their books have become over the years. The librarian with knowledge from this training module can suggest an electronic version of a book and show the patron how they can customize the reading experience to their needs.
George: I hope this starts a revolution in the library space. We know that 20% of the population have a disability that prevents them from reading normal print. That population are the people that librarians hardly never see. We need to reach out to the older adults with these disabilities and help them become readers. Moreover, the young students that fall into this category needs to learn about the wonderful technology that can help them overcome their disabilities and become avid readers with the eyes, ears, or fingers.
Did you personally have any new learnings as part of the creation process?
Charles: I always learn something when taking on a project like this, learning how under-trained in accessibility our librarians are, was eye-opening, but providing them with these resources and potential benefits they can pass on to their patrons is very gratifying.
George: I was shocked that the library community was not aware that the publishing industry has gravitated to EPUB as the format for distributing commercial materials. The library community is still stuck in the PDF era, and they need to move on to embrace modern digital publishing techniques.
What other measures can be taken to improve accessibility practices across the education sector as it pertains to content?
Charles: We need to educate folks who are procuring the content to seek out and buy accessible content. In that effort we have another project “User Experience Guide for Displaying Accessibility Metadata” This work is being currently updated and will help bookstores and libraries showcase accessible books based on the accessibility metadata contained within the book.
George: Buy only born accessible materials! The user experience guide will help libraries and digital bookstores expose the accessibility of the content. Librarians must not purchase inaccessible materials.
Do you have any suggestions for educators and/or instructors on how to make their curriculum more accessible?
Charles: Use “reflowable” digital content such as EPUBs, or Word Documents. Using traditional fixed layout materials such as PDFs are not very accessible, even if they are tagged correctly that only helps a blind user access that content, but does nothing to help low-vision users or folks with dyslexia who need to change the font in order to read the content. DAISY has a free tool called WordToEPUB that will convert an accessible word document into an accessible EPUB. Also using the free tool ACE by DAISY can check to see if an EPUB has the basics of accessibility built in.
George: The material can also be published as HTML using WordToEPUB. In HTML publications, the content can also be resized and reflowed. The printed document has been the authoritative version for centuries, but we have to get used to digital information that can be customized to meet your needs. A fixed layout, such as PDF, cannot meet reading needs on devices of all shapes and sizes.
What does Global Awareness Accessibility Day mean to you? Are there ways others can incorporate accessibility practices into their daily routines to be more inclusive?
Charles: GAAD is a movement to promote accessibility to the masses. Every year it seems GAAD is getting bigger and better. More and more companies are embracing accessibility and making the products and services they make accessible. The “Shift Left” movement which brings accessibility earlier and earlier in the process instead of accessibility being added on like a band aide after a company gets sued is really starting to take off as more products, and services become truly born accessible. This is one of the main reasons behind Benetech’s GCA (Global Certified Accessible) program where we help book Publishers and conversion vendors make truly born accessible EPUB digital books that meet global accessibility standards.
George: I would love to see GAAD promote an accessible reading that allows personalization. I would think that promoting reading with eyes, ears, and fingers that includes everybody would be a very powerful thread for this wonderful day.
The project would not have been possible without the hard work of Charles LaPierre and George Kerscher. Their knowledge and expertise in EPUB technology has resulted in a robust and accessible module. The participants will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience simply by downloading the file and reading it using one of the suggested EPUB readers. This module will soon be piloted by library staff across the country.
Interested in learning more about the accessibility training module? Please visit, https://libguides.ctstatelibrary.org/dld/ReadingForAccessibility