Although Matt has written that reflecting on his childhood makes him feel old, he is very much a young man who has already contributed significantly to the 'cause' of accessible information. The time he spent early in his career as an editor has served him well. In 2009 and 2010 he worked with representatives from various
DAISY member organizations on the
Specification for the DAISY Online Delivery Protocol and was one of the editors of the specification. He is one of the Z39.98-AI Working Group members responsible for the development of that standard (the DAISY Authoring Standard) and is also the editor of the EPUB 3 specification. The involvement with these projects and work with Markus Gylling, the CTO for the DAISY Consortium and IDPF, lead him to his work with the IDPF: editor of the revised EPUB specification and author of
What is EPUB 3?
An Introduction to the EPUB Specification for Multimedia Publishing and Accessible EPUB 3: Best Practices for Creating Universally Usable Content,
and co-author of
EPUB 3 Best Practices: Optimize Your Digital Books
(all published by O'Reilly Media).
With the birth of my first child looming large, I've been finding myself prone to bouts of introspection as I reflect back on my own childhood and wonder if I'll be able to give her all the opportunities that I had.
Sadly, it's mostly just been making me feel old.
So when asked if I could provide a story about how I got caught up in the whirlwind that is EPUB and accessibility, well, it made me feel even older! No, honestly my first reaction was the natural surprise that anyone was interested … and then I felt old. I like to think my story is just getting started.
As evidenced from what others have already written, there is no common path we've all followed to accessible publishing. For some, the motivation is tied up in their life experience. For others, like me, the road was found through a combination of professional experience and circumstance, driven by a desire to do something meaningful with the time we have.
But the common thread that binds the stories together is a shared awareness of the vital role that information plays in society, and the desire to work together to try to realize the dream of universal access. Information is the great equalizer, after all.
I'm certainly fully cognizant of how books opened my mind as a child. Books were a portal to discovery: they led me into a past unlike anything I found around me, and bound me to the future that is always arriving.
Books taught and informed. They entertained. They allowed me to explore ideas and concepts on my own, which ultimately shaped my perception of who I am as a person and what I wanted to do with my life. I still have many of the treasured books from my childhood, while the toys and trinkets have all disappeared in the intervening years.
I hold onto those books out of nostalgia for the thoughts they inspired, not because print is the one true form. Though I hope to inspire my child with them, I expect she will find them a quaint oddity of another generation.
It's not the printed page that makes literature what it is, after all. A book today is not like a book a hundred years ago which is not like a book a hundred years before it. Form and substance change, but our capacity to take the words and concepts they convey and build worlds in our minds from which to learn is what transcends their representation. That capacity is what binds us and informs us and gives us the continuity of a shared existence.
Every child should have the same access to those transcendent moments that books brought me. But where I will have the power to influence the life of one child directly, the work I've been able to do to help foster a more inclusive publishing model gives me the hope that many more will also benefit from the information we're making available.
The Long and Winding Road
Waxing philosophical is easy, but it doesn't explain how I ended up where I am. That story is actually much harder to tell, as life leads you down many roads.
I've always straddled the arts and sciences, so I'm certainly not surprised by my life's direction. When I was a younger lad studying pure and applied sciences in CEGEP (a kind of pre-university college), I struggled to resolve my ambitions with the expectation I had that life as an engineer would be colossally dull. (Apologies to all colossally dull engineers reading this!)
Ultimately I couldn't, so in a brash decision I decided to study English literature at university instead, figuring life would lead me where it would. It wouldn't be the last crazy decision I'd make.
I worked a number of strange jobs to pay my way through school, but eventually ended up getting my first taste of structured data at a paper-to-SGML conversion operation in Ottawa, Canada. I was endlessly intrigued by the modelling, and by the things you could do when you could predict your content structure. Needless to say, that's where my data addiction began.
Using Technology & Data to Assist Others
After graduation I moved to Toronto and stumbled my way into an editorial job, but the tedium of legal editing quickly lost appeal. Fortunately, I was able to weasel my way into the company's electronic publishing department and back to my favourite playground. That's where I discovered a deeper passion for using technology and data to assist others, as much of my job was developing workflow tools to simplify the editors' lives.
But times changed and new adventures were needed, and after some twists and turns I found myself managing the CNIB Electronic Publishing Department. I was naïve about accessibility, but cocksure about my ability to make braille production more efficient. Everything I had learned at those earlier jobs said single source production was possible, and that's what I set out to prove.
I probably would have ended up a lone wolf in the DAISY Community if I hadn't crossed paths with Markus Gylling, who sweet-talked me with a fascinating idea for a modular XML format, much like what I was trying to implement. I stopped my solo efforts and plunged headlong into helping design the Z39.98 Authoring and Interchange Format (the DAISY authoring standard), which, incidentally, is now in use at CNIB to produce Unified English Braille.
That specification also became the path into the work I'm doing now, as I left CNIB to continue pursuing standards development. When Bill McCoy became executive director of the IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum), I was humbled to be asked to fill his role as editor of the EPUB 3 revision. It was a little frightening to make the jump to a major industry specification, but it's true that if you're never willing to take a risk and step outside your comfort zone you'll never discover what you're actually capable of.
And, really, that's the long and short of me.
My time since the revision has been filled trying to help get out information about accessibility and best practices. There is still much work to be done to make accessible production a reality, and the need for DAISY's voice for accessibility remains vital in the IDPF.
But as I said at the outset, this journey is just getting started and the road ahead is plenty exciting, so hopefully my days of high adventure are only just beginning …
The photograph of the book cover of EPUB 3 Best Practices: Optimize Your Digital Books has been provided by and is included in Matt Garrish's story with permission of O'Reilly Media.
Many of us involved in some way in efforts to ensure that all publications are accessible to all people have been in the field for many years and are not exactly youths any longer. Some "crusaders", Chris Friend and Gerry Chevalier for example, have already retired. It is critical that younger people become involved and take up the cause so that one day all information will be accessible to everyone. "…the work I've been able to do to help foster a more inclusive publishing model gives me the hope that many more will also benefit from the information we're making available." When I read this statement in Matt's story I felt hopeful that there will continue to be people striving for our cause until the goal has been achieved.