University of Michigan library

Academic Innovation | Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Born-accessible Publishing is Good Book-making for Everyone

Close-up of a human hand holding a mobile device with the homepage for Digital Culture Books on the screen.

Michigan Publishing is committed to leading on accessibility and disability issues. When readers with visual impairments couldn’t effectively read Press ebooks, comprehensive work to address the ongoing needs of our readers began.

The University of Michigan Press has become the national leader in assuring scholarly publications can be accessed by the disabled. But they’ve also taken a second more dynamic step. They’ve imagined publications beyond mere accessibility by pioneering descriptive techniques to make illustrations and technical materials available to readers with disabilities.

- Stephen Kuusisto
Syracuse University professor

As a leading advocate for the blind and partially-sighted, Syracuse University professor Stephen Kuusisto notes, “The University of Michigan Press has become the national leader in assuring scholarly publications can be accessed by the disabled….They’ve imagined publications beyond mere accessibility by pioneering descriptive techniques to make illustrations and technical materials available to readers with disabilities.”

Making digital publications and media available to the broadest audience is a core value of the Michigan Library. Since Fall 2015, the Michigan Publishing Accessibility Group has helped the organization update its workflows, implement accessible technologies and systems, and spurred the publication of an open access book by Stephanie Rosen, Accessibility Specialist, called Accessibility and Publishing.

"Whoa, that is awesome. Okay, let's do that again, because that just described what the illustration was. Awesome, good job... Holy crap, I'm getting distracted, but I'm very happy right now because all of these are described and a blind person can follow exactly what's going on in this ebook, which is amazing. I don't know who's describing these pictures, but they need to go and describe my math books... I'm very impressed with the image description quality."

- Anonymous Michigan State University graduate student
MSU's Usability and Accessibility Research Consulting

The Press's disability studies list has also been a catalyst. Since 2015, Michigan Publishing has offered the Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities, awarded in memory of disability studies pioneer Tobin Siebers, Professor of English at the University of Michigan. This prestigious annual prize for the best disabilities studies manuscript raises awareness about the field and ensures the growth of a highly regarded list of more than 50 titles covering topics from literary and cultural depictions of disability to representation on the stage, or even in the classroom.

As of January 2019, University of Michigan Press’s Ebook collection on Fulcrum has basic textual descriptions for every image and transcripts and captioning for associated video.

One Michigan State University graduate student from an accessibility testing group was pleased with that work. “A blind person can follow exactly what's going on in this ebook, which is amazing. I'm very impressed with the image description quality."

Michigan Publishing remains committed to leading on accessibility as a publisher and a community partner for authors, publishers, and readers in the arts and humanities.