#AUPresses21 | Four Panels on Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility

Catherine Cocks Discussion

In this series of reports, members of the Elephant editorial collective recap selected panels from the 2021 AUPresses Virtual Annual Meeting held June 7-18, 2021. We welcome further discussion of issues raised by the panelists via the Reply box below each post.

A major cluster of themes this year is equity, justice, inclusion, and accessibility, reflecting several initiatives underway to diversify the ranks of publishers and to make publishing more accessible inside and out. “The Change We Wish to See: Acquiring Editors as Agents of Transformation” and “What Can We Do to Meet the Needs of BIPOC Authors” panels, recapped by Catherine, offered a wealth of insights and practical ideas for overcoming the structural barriers that make publishing harder for BIPOC scholars and that often marginalize the scholarship they produce. "Making Content Accessible" and "A Neurodivergent World - An Introduction to Neurodiversity in University Publishing," recapped by Yelena, offered concrete strategies for how to create meaningful accommodations in ebooks and in the workplace. (Click on the links to jump to each panel.)

On the first panel, Eighteenth-Century Fiction editor Eugenia Zuroski, University of Hawai’i Press executive editor Masako Ikeda, Northwestern University Press director Parneshia Jones, University of Pennsylvania Press associate editor Jenny Tan, Gallaudet University Press editorial board chair Jennifer Nelson and acquisitions editor Katie Lee emphasized the importance of several things:

  • Building relationships with broader networks of authors and peer reviewers and tuning into conversations already taking place within scholarly communities that are currently not represented in one’s journal or list;

  • Avoiding being extractive, instead focusing on what a journal or publisher can offer to a wider array of scholars and what conversations between fields and disciplines that have previously had little interaction can offer each other;

  • Broadening the narrow confines of what constitutes “scholarship” and “expertise” in order to expand the pool of potential peer reviewers;

  • Building structures and alliances with key people to support such efforts, including financially;

  • Sustaining changes beyond the current moment, especially when an attempt at transformation fails;

  • Building relationships with new readers, as well as new authors;

  • Working with scholars from marginalized communities to rethink who gets to publish and what counts as expertise;

  • Publishing was not built to be inclusive and the pandemic has forced a reckoning, but the focus should be on sustaining transformation beyond the current moment.

Masako called on editors to “be brave and forgiving” as we build the new relationships we need to make scholarly publishing more equitable and inclusive, and Jennifer and Katie reminded us of the truth of the slogan, “Nothing about us without us.”


In a second panel, “What Can We Do to Meet the Needs of BIPOC Authors?: A Conversation between Authors and Editors,” several pairs of authors and their editors talked about what editors can do to make publishing scholarly books easier.

Author/Editor Pairs:
Karma Chavez, University of Texas, Austin, and Dawn Durante, University of Texas Press and Elephant co-editor
Jessica Esquivel, Fermilab, and Jeremy Matthews, MIT Press
Alberto Ledesma, University of California, Berkeley, and Kristen Elias Rowley, Ohio State University Press
Theresa McCarthy, University at Buffalo, and Allyson Carter, University of Arizona Press

Key takeaways:

  • Editors need to be intentional about demystifying the publishing process for BIPOC scholars, who often get less or no mentoring. Online guides to the publishing process can be very helpful, as can presentations by editors for graduate students and junior faculty. Conferences are a key site of formal and informal conversations and more presses should attend the meetings of BIPOC scholars.

  • Problems can arise at any point during the publishing process, not just proposal evaluation and peer review, and having diverse staff and freelancers can help avoid insensitive or offensive scholarship.

  • Scholarship by BIPOC authors often faces greater scrutiny because of its roots in activism or the scholars’ public engagement.

  • An editor’s support and advocacy for the project inside the press and for authors outside it can make a big difference in tenure and promotion.

  • The support of other people at the press, from production through marketing, can also help BIPOC scholars get their stories out.

  • Openness to new subjects and forms of scholarship is crucial for recognizing the expertise and supporting the success of BIPOC scholars.      


The panel “Making Content Accessible” brought together Anna Pohlod, Editorial Associate and Acquisitions Coordinator at the University of Michigan Press, Jillian Downey, Director of Publishing Production at Michigan Publishing, Erika Suffern, Head of Book Publications at the Modern Language Association, Barbara Lopez, Digital Accessibility Consultant at the University of Arizona, and Thom Holmes, Development Manager at Oxford University Press to discuss "inclusive procedures and policies so that products and content can be usable by all people, including those who use assistive devices."

Key takeaways:

  • Epub is a more accessible format than pdf, and making epubs accessible requires planning and effort on the part of publishers and authors.

  • The best ALT text comes from authors, who know what is salient about their illustrations; detailed instructions (“pretend you’re describing the image over the phone”) with clear examples of good ALT text provided early in the production process will help authors make their books more accessible.

  • When materials are designed proactively in an accessible way, it benefits everyone, not just disabled readers/users.

  • Accessibility guidelines for authors, editors, and vendors help communicate the limits of a digital product transparently.

  • There is no such thing as a 100% accessible product; identify barriers and improve products and backlist titles over time.

  • Some places to learn about changing accessibility standards include: W3C working groups, DAISY Accessible Publishing Knowledge Base, library colleagues, WebAIM, Inclusive Publishing newsletter and Twitter feed


“A Neurodivergent World - An Introduction to Neurodiversity in University Publishing,” a presentation by autism advocate Jorik Mol (https://jorikmol.com) moderated by Anam Mazhar, Senior HR Business Partner at Oxford University Press, offered a detailed discussion of neurodivergence from the perspective of a queer, autistic, dyslexic person and gave advice for how to support autistic and neurodivergent people in the workplace.

Key takeaways:

  • Many neurodivergent people are starting to consider themselves beyond a pathological framework: “we’ve always existed and we continue to exist.”

  • Nevertheless, because most workplaces are built on a neurotypical framework, autistic and other neurodivergent people experience much higher levels of unemployment than neurotypicals and hide their disorders at work.

  • Neurodivergent people of color are at greater risk of violence, punishment, and death by law enforcement and a disproportionate number of queer people with autism are sent to conversion therapy.

  • Not all autistic people act the same way; it’s important to consider the different ways autistic people process information with respect to language, motor skills, perception, executive function, sensory filter, etc.

  • The social model of disability holds that all humans have equal rights to access healthcare, education, and social resources; workplaces that wish to be inclusive need to consider how the status quo with respect to noise, lighting, smells, and complicated social hierarchies may make a workplace feel unwelcome to autistic workers.

  • Reasonable adjustments, such as a private space to process stressful moments, empower neurodivergent individuals to handle symptoms and do their best at work.

  • Most importantly, “If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person”; workplace accommodations should take each worker’s specific needs into account.