More About the University of Michigan Press

This morning I wrote a blog post about my frustration trying to read books from the University of Michigan Press. My essential point is that disability is harder than many people like to think, even within the disability community, and if you’re blind and you want to read books you experience many setbacks—so many it feels like you’ve chosen to climb a mountain. I did something I don’t like to do. I “outed” the U of Michigan Press for having a confounding and largely inaccessible ebook delivery system. I don’t like doing this kind of thing. But as I said in my piece, I’m 60 years old and I’m getting tired of inaccessibility, especially in universities.

I was grateful to receive the following note from Charles Watkinson:

Professor Kuusisto, thank you for your thoughtful post. I am commenting as Director of University of Michigan Press. While we do try and make our books available in a variety of ebook formats (including Kindle and Kobo editions in addition to ePDF, in DRM-free versions on Project Muse as well as in DRM-included formats), we are very aware that we have more to do in making our works more widely accessible. As part of the University of Michigan Library, we are particularly sensitive to the needs of a diversity of users and our disability studies editor, LeAnn Fields, has recently been involved in the recruitment of an Accessibility Specialist for the Library who will be working with us on exactly the issues you raise. This blog post comes at a particularly valuable time, as did the recent open letter/guidelines to publishers written by our author Professor Lennard Davis and his colleagues in June. Please know that we are actively working on the issue and hope to provide a better service to both our authors and readers soon.

When I say I was grateful I really mean it. Grateful means, among other things, pleasing by reason of discomfort alleviated. Mr. Watkinson is candid, thoughtful, and relieving.

There are fewer blind people in higher education than one might think. We are easy to overlook. In this instance I don’t feel overlooked.

One thought on “More About the University of Michigan Press

  1. Hello! I’m part of the team that drafted the letter that UMich Press is now (happily) publicizing. I wanted to add an extra piece of information, which is that this effort has been led all along by Catherine Kudlick of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability. Cathy has provided amazing leadership on this effort, and I could not be more excited that it is resulting in concrete effects, such as this letter that Stephen received.

    Here is the press release we wrote in order to publicize the letter when it was initially released.
    ————-

    Contacts: Catherine Kudlick
    kudlick@sfsu.edu

    Lennard Davis
    lennard.davis@gmail.com

    Margaret Price
    price.spelman@gmail.com

    In the year that marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a coalition of scholars and faculty have collaborated to create and endorse a statement establishing guidelines for accessible books. The coalition includes Catherine Kudlick, Lennard Davis, Margaret Price, Melissa Helquist, and Jay Dolmage.

    “Accessible,” according to the statement, means that all users should be able to access books with the same content, at the same cost, and with the same level of convenience.

    Although books and book series that focus on disability are emerging at a fast-growing rate, the accessibility of these books to disabled people themselves has lagged behind. Many important books are released only in print form, with electronic versions appearing months or years later—and sometimes not at all. Moreover, when electronic versions are made available, they are not always accessible to all disabled users. For example, many PDFs cannot be deciphered by screen-reading software used by the thousands of scholars (including students and faculty) with print-reading disabilities.

    “The problem of inaccessible books doesn’t necessarily stem from ill will on the part of publishers or authors,” said Catherine Kudlick, Professor of History and Director, Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. “Often, the issue is simply that people don’t know what constitutes accessibility in book form. But,” Kudlick says, “it’s long overdue – twenty-five years after the ADA people with print-reading disabilities shouldn’t have to be fighting for the right to read! We shouldn’t have to educate publishers and authors about the basics every time we need to read something.”

    These guidelines have been drafted in consultation with various organizations, including the National Center on Deaf-Blindness, as well as expert individuals, for feedback.

    The just-released document has already been endorsed by the Society for Disability Studies and the Canadian Disability Studies Association. Other organizations are expected to endorse. The document will be widely publicized beginning in June 2015, in hopes that these guidelines for accessibility will prepare publishers for complying even before pending legislation mandating electronic accessibility takes effect. The hope is that publishers will lead the way in the area of accessibility of their texts for all readers.

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