Accessibility and Digital Content/Creation: Implications for Open Education

In the Fall of 2017, Rebus Foundation Assistant Director, Zoe Wake Hyde, took part in a roundtable discussion at University of California, focusing on making digital content and creation more accessible for people with disabilities. The gathering was convened by the Authors Alliance, the Silicon Flatirons Center, and the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, and it brought together a diverse group of participants.

That meeting generated the report, Authorship and Accessibility in the Digital Age, which is now available on the Author’s Alliance Website. Zoe’s thoughts on the experience, including the written report, offer a uniquely Rebus perspective.


The roundtable event last November was a great experience, bringing together stakeholders from all parts of the authoring ecosystem. While open education wasn’t the focus, for those working in our field, there are useful lessons to be drawn from the resulting report.

Discussion centered on the opportunities and barriers created by digital authoring tools, for creators and consumers both with and without disabilities. While not discussed in detail in the report, one point I would highlight is the impact of the permissions granted by Creative Commons licenses. Significant challenges can end up being systemically imposed by the very legal framework in which we operate. That is, a user’s efforts to make the content work for them (such as remediating textbook content) are often limited by copyright restrictions, proprietary softwares, and digital rights management mechanisms.

Creative Commons licenses address many of these issues by allowing for adaptations, but we still need to be careful as a community not to use this as an out for creating high-quality, accessible content from day one. Just because somebody can adapt content to meet their needs, there may be a temptation to think that the burden to do so falls on them alone. This cannot become our expectation.

We all have a responsibility to produce accessible digital content, using the best tools available to us, so that the work required to adapt a text for use by readers with disabilities is minimal. I highly recommend taking a look in the Authors Alliance report for some of the group’s thinking on this—specifically the section on opportunities to integrate accessibility into author workflows (page 9) and ways to improve technical authoring tools (page 12).

Other parts of the report I found interesting for our work at Rebus are the sections on authors not being aware of their role in accessibility (page 8), and on the inadequacy of current authoring tools (page 11), which identify some of the specific barriers we need to address.

If you have comments or opinions on this report, or on the broader issue of accessibility when it comes to open education and open publishing, I’d really like to hear. Tweet us @rebusfdn or email me directly, so we can continue the conversation.


Authorship and Accessibility in the Digital Age: An Authors Alliance, Silicon Flatirons, and Berkeley Center for Law & Technology Roundtable Report (Sept. 2018)

Rebus Launches Development of an Open Reading Initiative

After conducting primary research into the viability of a web-based system for open reading, we are now moving forward with its development, thanks to generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Mellon Foundation is a leader in support to the arts and humanities, directed at the long-term well-being of diverse and democratic societies.

The US$873,000, two-year grant funds our ongoing work in the conception, design, and development of a reading and research platform, based on open principles and optimizing the reader’s experience. Users will be able to read, take notes, cite, and organize their collection, helping them write or produce other outputs that best suit their needs. A big focus is on developing partnerships with libraries and university presses as we develop the software, so that our work reflects the needs of the whole ecosystem.

A previous US$75,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation supported the original research, carried out by our team over 2017. Surveys and in-depth interviews with members of the scholarly publishing community (librarians, publishers, aggregators, scholars) led to a white-paper report on the values and needs of this community. The report, An Open Approach to Scholarly Reading and Knowledge Management, serves as a framework for the current development initiative.

Established in April 2016, the Rebus Foundation is a Canadian non-profit organization. Our objective is to help create an alternative publishing ecosystem, based on open principles. This reading initiative adds an important complement to the open publishing and project management platform of Rebus Community and the Rebus Press.

Rebus Receives Second Grant from Hewlett

We have received a second two-year grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, leaders in philanthropic support for education, environment, and global development.

The US$700,000 grant will help us continue our work in the collaborative creation and publication of open educational resources (OER). The funding also supports the growth of open textbook adoption and adaptation, software infrastructure development, and new initiatives to expand our efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion. We received a previous grant from Hewlett in July 2016, in the amount of US$500,000, which funded our first two years of operations. This included prototype development of an OER project management and publishing platform, as well as the launch of twenty open textbook pilot projects.

Numerous open textbooks have now been released with support from the Rebus Community, including Blueprint for Success in College and Career and Antología abierta de literatura hispana. Others, such as LGBTQ+ Studies: a primer and Marking OER Courses: Best Practices and Case Studies are at various stages of scoping, writing, editing, beta-testing, and production. The complete list of books that have been released is on the Community website.

In working to build an open publishing ecosystem, we bring together those who believe in the value of collectively created, fully shareable, and freely adaptable knowledge. It is a large community, including textbook writers, editors, and reviewers, software developers and collaborators, academic librarians, teachers and students, as well as many others. Together, and with our tools, processes, and shared motivations, we hope to help this network become mutually sustaining. We always want to be a part of the ecosystem, but our goal is to catalyze it, not to govern it.

Rebus Welcomes New Colleagues!

Rebus Foundation’s global headquarters in Montreal is suddenly a bit more full, as three new team members have joined us over the past few weeks. Başak, Dexter, and David are bringing themselves up to speed on our current and future initiatives, and we are excited for the momentum and fresh perspectives they bring to the team. Başak takes on product management for Rebus’s open-reading initiative, Dexter works on community engagement and diversity, equity, and inclusion for Rebus Community, and David is developing our strategic marketing and communications efforts.

photograph of Başak BüyükçelenComing from the worlds of project management and team development, Başak Büyükçelen will manage the team of designers and developers working to build our open-reading platform. Başak has previously worked in customer support and relationship management here in Montreal, following a career in finance in Istanbul. Her background also includes filmmaking and entertainment management, and she is the founder of the Supper Society, a non-profit organization focused on helping newcomers to Canada meet existing residents and integrate into the local culture.

photograph of Dexter XDexter Xurukulasuriya has worked in many contexts and roles over the years, fomenting community, diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are a gender-defiant, trans-feminine community organizer and meditation instructor, with a long history of civil disobedience, direct action activism, and human rights and environmental justice advocacy. Dexter has also become our potted-plant expert, and with their help, the workspace has become much greener (and more oxygenated) in recent days.

photograph of David SzantoDavid Szanto is a former food academic with a previous history in marketing communications, book and magazine publishing, film finance, strategy consulting, and digital media. His doctoral work brought together ecology, philosophy, gastronomy, and complex performative systems, and he is an advocate for the value of pluralistic knowledge and new ways of expressing it. For Rebus, he will be working across a number of initiatives and relationships. A Montrealer since his youth, David has also lived in a variety of other cities around the world.

We’re Hiring: UX/Front-End Developer, Rebus Community

The Rebus Foundation is a Montreal-based non-profit focused on tech, books, open education, and open culture. We are looking for a UX/Front-End Developer to work on the Rebus Community, where we develop tools and resources to support the publishing of free, open, and adaptable digital textbooks.

The ideal candidate will have a minimum of 3 to 5 years relevant experience, to start in October at the Rebus Foundation headquarters, in Montreal. Salary is in the range CD$65,000–75,000.

About Rebus

We have two main projects:

  • Rebus Community, a collaboration platform that helps guide communities through the publishing process, with a focus on supporting open textbook/Open Educational Resource (OER) publishing.
  • Rebus Reader, a web-based platform for reading digital content, managing collections, making and using notes, and augmenting the reading experience overall.

Rebus is born of an idealistic vision of the web, and we believe in increasing access to knowledge and education. We love books, and spend our time re-imagining how books can be made and used in a web-connected, digital universe. Then we try to build things to make these re-imaginings come true. We believe in the power of technology, done right, to do good things, and in giving people more access to tools that help them build, share, and interact with knowledge. We are driven by this broad set of values, and it’s important that new team members share our sense of purpose.

About the project

We are looking for a UX/Front-End Developer, whose mandate will be to help shape the development of an open source software platform supporting community-driven, open textbook publishing. The project team is small but focused, with the UX/Front-End developer working closely with the product manager and a community-engagement manager, with some support from Rebus’s back-end dev team. We may occasionally work with an external design agency.

The end users of the software are a dedicated and growing community of teachers, librarians, and students, working on collaborative publishing projects worldwide. Both our team and our users are driven by the values of improving access to education and improving accessibility in educational materials. We want to find a UX/Front-End developer who holds the same values.

About you

We are looking for a someone with great UX instincts and experience, and the front-end skills to bring them to life. Our product is all about engaging a vibrant community of users and making the experience of creating and collaborating on a book easy and enjoyable. We hope to find a colleague who is passionate about open education, web technology, and digital books, and who wants to see their work have a real impact in the world. We work in a small team with big ambitions, so you’ll need to be a problem solver, a self starter, curious, and a keen learner.

Among other things, the developer should:

  • have proven UX experience
  • have strong HTML+CSS skills
  • be proficient in Javascript
  • be familiar with the open source/free software ethos
  • have an interest in and understanding of higher education and/or publishing

Rebus’s technologies are built with Node.js, PostgreSQL, NodeBB forum software, and web components. The UX/Front-End Developer will likely work with all of these technologies.

Note: You should apply even if you don’t feel that your credentials are a 100% match with the position description. We are looking for relevant skills and experience, not a checklist that exactly matches the job description itself.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Rebus is committed to building a diverse team, with people from a range of backgrounds. We believe that diverse teams help drive innovation. Equity, inclusion, and diversity are core values for us, for the technologies we build, and for the communities we support. We strive to ensure that our team reflects these values. Our work environment is also supportive of those with family caregiving responsibilities.

Next steps

Send an email to: jobs@rebus.foundation

Subject: UX/Front-End Developer (Rebus Community)

Please include your CV, links to relevant things, and an explanation of why you’d like to join us.

We’re Hiring: Node.js Developer, Rebus Reader

The Rebus Foundation is a Montreal-based non-profit focused on tech, books, open education, and open culture. We are looking for a Node.js Developer for a new software initiative, the Rebus Reader. This project is focused on developing an online platform that supports deep scholarly reading, note-taking and citation, and collections management.

The ideal candidate will have a minimum of 3 to 5 years relevant experience, to start in October at the Rebus Foundation headquarters in Montreal. Salary is in the range CD$65,000–75,000.

About Rebus

We have two main initiatives:

  • Rebus Community, a collaboration platform that helps guide communities through the publishing process, with a focus on supporting open textbook/Open Educational Resource (OER) publishing.
  • Rebus Reader, a web-based workspace that brings together a cluster of tools for reading digital content, managing OER collections, making and using notes, and increasing both creativity and productivity.

Rebus is born of an idealistic vision of the web, and we believe in increasing access to knowledge and education. We love books, and spend our time re-imagining how books can be made and used in a web-connected, digital universe. Then we try to build things to make these re-imaginings come true. We believe in the power of technology, done right, to do good things, and in giving people more access to tools that help them build, share, and interact with knowledge. We are driven by this broad set of values, and it’s important that new team members share our sense of purpose.

About the project

We are looking for a Node.js Developer whose mandate will be to help shape the development of a new open source software platform for digital scholarly reading. The project team is small but focused: a product manager, two developers and a designer, a marketing manager, and the executive director of the Rebus Foundation. We may also have support from external design agencies. The clients for the software will include academic libraries, with students and scholars as end users, mostly in higher education.

About you

We are looking for a colleague who is passionate about open education, web technology, and digital books, just like we are. We also want someone who is a problem solver, self starter, and curious and keen learner.

Among other things, the developer should:

  • have 3 to 5 years in back-end development
  • be proficient in Node.js
  • be experienced with RESTful APIs
  • have a good understanding of relational databases
  • be in line with the open source/free software ethos
  • have a good understanding of scholarly reading

Note: You should apply even if you don’t feel that your credentials are a 100% match with the position description. We are looking for relevant skills and experience, not a checklist that exactly matches the job description itself.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Rebus is committed to building a diverse team, with people from a range of backgrounds. We believe that diverse teams help drive innovation. Equity, inclusion, and diversity are core values for us, for the technologies we build, and for the communities we support. We strive to ensure that our team reflects these values. Our work environment is also supportive of those with family caregiving responsibilities.

Next steps

Send an email to: jobs@rebus.foundation

Subject: Node.js Developer (Rebus Reader)

Please include your CV, links to relevant things, and an explanation of why you’d like to join us.