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Accessibility in Book Fairs: Conclusions and Recommendations

The European Accessibility Act is aimed at increasing the accessibility of products and services for people with disabilities and the elderly. Recently, Fondazione LIA, a non-profit organization that promotes a culture of accessibility in the publishing field, published an article on the accessibility of European book fairs. It was based on the results of a survey coordinated by the Book Studies Department of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and in collaboration with the Research Department of the Italian Publishers Association. In the survey, seventeen book fairs, among them the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the Vienna International Book Fair and the Madrid Book Fair, were asked about four areas of interest: awareness, physical accessibility, digital communication channels, and initiatives intended to improve accessibility both for the general public and for professionals. But what are conclusions without recommendations? Let’s find out what book fairs can do better, according to the results of the survey.


Learn more about the accessibility of your own fair

One way in which book fairs can become more aware of how accessible their own events are is by consulting third parties about their successes and shortcomings. According to the survey, most book fairs already have established partnerships with organizations representing people with disabilities. However, only two book fairs have taken the opportunity to ask their visitors, with or without disabilities, about the level of accessibility. It is therefore recommended that book fairs ask visitors or accessibility experts for feedback on their events. In which areas does the fair already score well? What are some of the things that could be improved?

Implement the Universal Design approach

This approach involves the design of products, environments, programmes and services that can be used by everyone without the need for adaptation. About half of the book fairs that completed the survey make use of it. So there are plenty of fairs that could still benefit from implementing the Universal Design approach.

Physical accessibility

Make someone responsible for everything related to accessibility

The survey shows that all book fairs provide barrier-free entrances, halls, corridors, toilets and ticket booths. A majority of book fairs also offer reserved parking slots for people with disabilities, as well as reduced rates or free tickets. These are just a few of the ways of making a book fair accessible. If you want to make sure that everything runs smoothly, it is advisable to appoint a person who is responsible for all the various aspects.

Provide different kinds of signage

Many book fairs have taken steps to make their events as comfortable as possible for everyone, and this includes how people find their way around. More specifically, most book fairs make use of visual and audio signage, but only one fair provides tactile signage, so clearly there is room for improvement in this respect.

Offer adequate assistance during events

According to the survey, half of all book fairs have assistance available for people with disabilities. Three offer special guided tours, while only two provide sign language during events. To improve matters, book fairs could offer professional training for their employees and sign-language interpretation services.

Digital communication channels

Inform yourself about digital accessibility

This part of the survey is aimed at understanding how book fairs communicate digitally with their visitors. The results show that many struggle with this aspect because they lack a good understanding of what digital accessibility means with regard to publications, websites, social media, videos etc. In order to optimize digital communication channels, it is therefore to be recommended that fairs first get a grip on digital accessibility. Here you can find a few tips on how to make a website more accessible.

Provide subtitles and captions for all videos

There is a difference between subtitles and captions. Subtitles are used to help people watch a video in a language they don’t understand, whereas captions are designed for people who can’t hear the audio. While some fairs already provide these services and others are working on them, it’s important that all book fairs offer both subtitles and captions for all videos, especially bearing in mind the current surge in online events and conferences.

Accessibility as a topic during events

Promote accessibility in all areas of the book market by making it a topic of discussion during your events

The survey showed that only four of the participating book fairs have organized events and online seminars about accessibility for professional audiences. During these events, the main topic discussed was the European Accessibility Act and its implications for the publishing industry. Similarly, only four fairs have organized events about accessibility for the general public. It would be better if more fairs used their events to promote and communicate matters relating to accessibility, thereby contributing to the improvement of accessibility in the book sector as a whole.

In a broad sense, the survey revealed that, while most European book fairs are taking action to make their events as accessible as possible, there is still room for improvement. Fondazione LIA’s report sheds light on what still needs to be done to make more book fairs fully accessible.


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