lunchBOX interview 010
Head of Content Management | Taylor & Francis
27 May, 2021
lunchBOX: Hello, good day, and welcome to lunchBOX. On the menu today we're delighted to welcome the lovely Brianna Walker, Head of Content Management at Taylor & Francis.
Brianna has been instrumental in the development of Taylor & Francis's accessibility programme in recent years. We'll learn more about the range of work that they have undertaken, and also hear tales of muddy boots, revisiting Jane Austen, and the pleasures of the 18th century luncheon. With an intriguing green lunch date.
1. Who are you and what do you do?
BW: My name is Brianna Walker, and I am the Head of Content Management at Taylor & Francis, within the Books Division. I manage a fantastic team that oversees our backlist print and eBook conversions, eBook distributions, Books archives, corrections processes, file standards and alternative format accessibility requests, amongst many other things.
2. How did you come to be involved in the world of accessibility?
BW: My sister is actually a very talented sign language interpreter in the US, and we grew up with a childhood friend who was deaf. When I started working with Taylor & Francis back in 2011, one of my first responsibilities was to manage our AcademicVIPRequests@tfinforma.com inbox, which is where we process alternative format requests for both institutions and individuals. My interest grew from there, as I realized we could make a positive impact on customers through our digital products. Fast forward to 2019 when some colleagues and I launched the Accessibility Working Group at Taylor & Francis to bring together all departments and increase knowledge around accessibility, not just within eBooks, but also product platforms, websites and journals.
3. What does accessibility mean to you?
BW: I prescribe to the social model of disability that people aren’t necessarily disabled as in the adjective meaning but are really disabled, as a verb, by the barriers put up around them. We need to remove those barriers and ensure our content is accessible for everyone. This is easier said than done, but I’m positive and optimistic about the conversations and changes going on in the publishing industry right now.
4. What has been your biggest challenge in promoting accessibility?
BW: Education is a huge challenge, especially when working with digital technologies. There is sometimes an assumption that digital content is accessible already, but it takes a lot of work to ensure your ePub specifications are good and that appropriate alt text is provided, especially at the scale we work at within Taylor & Francis where our backlist is upwards of 150,000 titles.
I also find it hard to be patient sometimes! At Taylor & Francis, we’re committed to providing accessible content and metadata, but developing our systems and workflows to do this effectively is a long-term project, which will develop over time.
5. What’s been your biggest success in relation to accessibility?
BW: Starting an author Alt Text program at Taylor & Francis. Some colleagues and I decided to work very closely with one of our Editorial Directors to trial author creation of alt text for a number of Engineering titles. We had positive feedback on this initiative and published the first 40 titles with alt text in 2020. We’ve now expanded the program and are actively working with our entire Editorial department and author base to include alt text with the final manuscript, so that our books become ‘born-accessible’ from the time of publication. We currently have 150 titles in production with alt text handed over, and this is growing daily.
The success of this initiative is completely dependent on the engagement and support by our authors and editors, so I am very grateful for their work in this area!
6. What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
BW: Working with my team, without a doubt. They’re a dependable, trustworthy, fun and caring group who really give 100% every day. I also love the challenge of working in publishing right now with the rise of open access, changes to supply chains, technology developments and of course, accessibility. The industry is at a turning point where progression is absolutely necessary and to be part of a team implementing real change through our accessibility work is wonderful.
7. How have you or your organization made a difference?
BW: We’ve worked very hard over the past couple of years to improve both our understanding and our output around accessibility. That includes:
launching the alt text program;
signing up for the AccessText Network;
improving our eBook specifications so we have top quality ePub production;
We have a whole lot else going on behind the scenes and hope to deliver further improvements, ensuring our products are accessible to everyone.
8. If you could click your heels and make one thing easier for yourself at work, what would it be?
BW: Resources to accelerate our backlist file remediation and alt text creation.
9. What is the most exciting development you’ve seen this year in the accessibility sector?
BW: The pandemic really shone a light on the need for more accessible content, but it also opened up opportunities for an increase of digital knowledge exchange. Previously, I found it difficult to attend conferences and presentations on accessibility, but the proliferation of online webinars, discussions, and conferences has opened a new door to educational efforts and the industry sharing of information. I especially recommend the DAISY Consortium webinars, which launched in April 2020.
10. Where do you see accessibility in 10 years? Any new developments you are keeping a close eye on?
BW: I’m very focused on the eBook supply chain and how publishers can create and distribute relevant accessibility metadata and files to our customers. In 10 years, I’d expect this to be commonplace, with all eBook aggregators and retailers, along with all publishers, providing this as standard. I also suspect that eBook readers will develop rapidly to provide functional improvements as well as more authentic-sounding text-to-speech.
11. How and where do you learn about new accessibility initiatives in the sector?
BW: There are some fantastic resources out there, including:
The DAISY Consortium
The Publisher’s Association Accessibility Action Group
The AbilityNet Newsletter
Accessibility In The News – Not strictly publishing related, but this newsletter is chock-full of relevant articles each week
12. What or who is your accessibility inspiration?
BW: Taylor & Francis’s parent company, Informa, just approved the formation of a colleague-led network called AllInforma Illuminate, which exists to shine a light on visible and invisible disabilities and conditions throughout all of the Informa divisional companies. I want to shout out to the Illuminate Operations team here, who are all volunteering their time to develop resources, raise awareness and improve the lives of both colleagues and customers alike, across a huge company of more than 10,000 people. The people who stand up on their own and say ‘we need a change’ are the people I really admire.
13. Which single accessibility tool do you use the most?
BW: I’m not the technology expert at Taylor & Francis so I consider my role to be more leadership and management based. Maybe I’m the accessibility cheerleader? I’ve asked our expert, James Yanchak (Manager – Production Technologies), for his recommendation, which is Ace by DAISY, as it provides a good summary of issues found within a file.
14. Tell us your favourite accessibility story.
BW: I don’t have any particular story to highlight here, though the best stories always come in the form of feedback. Like when my team receives praise for providing alternate formats quickly, so that students don’t have to wait to begin their coursework, or when authors tell us that they were nervous about writing alt text for the first time, but how easy it was and how happy they are to have contributed that to their title. Feedback really highlights how much this work impacts people across the board and how everyone can make a difference and can normalize accessibility both professionally and personally.
15. Which lunch would describe your organization and why?
BW: Taylor & Francis dates back to 1798, so this lunch would probably be the typical inn fare of the time: mutton, bread, cheese, cold cuts, cucumbers, pickled salmon, cabbage, rice pudding, gooseberry pie and so on, but with a modern twist catering to all dietary requirements. It’s traditional, full of choice, accessible to everyone local or passing through, and substantially satisfactory and filling!
16. What would be your favourite setting for that lunch?
BW: Somewhere outdoors, probably in the Lake District, with muddy boots and a fantastic view.
17. Which 10 people from any time or place would you invite to your lunch?
BW: I was racking my brains about which famous people might come to this lunch and hit upon a lot of my favourite figures like Barbara Kingsolver, Charlotte Brontë, Barbara Stanwyck, and Bill Bryson, but really, I just want to have lunch with Kermit the Frog. I’d also invite my family because I don’t get to see them often enough!
18. What are you reading at the moment?
BW: I’m working through all of Jane Austen’s books because I haven’t read them since I was a teenager. I just finished Persuasion and Northanger Abbey and I’m currently in the middle of Mansfield Park. I’m also getting through a hefty build-up of Country Walking magazine from the past 6 months (because we couldn’t go anywhere!).
19. What are the applications/services that you couldn’t live without at work or personally?
BW: Personally, that would be Netflix for entertainment, Instagram for the community of artists I follow, and WhatsApp to talk to my family in the USA. Professionally, I use Adobe Acrobat Pro regularly for fixing up PDFs for printing and for checking alt text in the eBook PDF. I also use Thorium reader for ePubs.
20. Anything totally secret to tell us? We’re amongst friends…
BW: My whole childhood and teenage years in the USA were spent planning for a life in theatre, either as a ballet dancer or designing sets (I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Scenic Design). I also studied Public Relations (BA in Journalism – Public Relations). So, as part of that work, I learned how to use Photoshop and InDesign to create theatrical props (like fake beer bottle labels) or design marketing documents like posters and pamphlets. That led to an interest in technology, which somehow landed me working with digital content at an academic publisher in the UK!
lunchBOX: From ballet to beer. The perfect way to end...
Thank you so much for taking the time to join us for lunch today, Brianna. It's been wonderful to hear more about Taylor & Francis's focus on accessibility and we look forward to following how your programme develops in the future. We also hope Kermit will accept the lunch invite. We hear that he is rather partial to gooseberry pie...
Thank you for your patronage. We know that you could choose other luncheon establishments. We'll take care of the bill...
To learn more about the accessibility initiatives at Taylor & Francis, please visit their accessibility pages.