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Freelance Editing: A Lifeboat for Those Living with Chronic Illness or Disability: Part 2

by Natalia Iwanek

Stethoscope next to a laptop on a white surface.

Photo by Negative Space from Pexels

On Tuesday, November 26, we published the first part of a feature on freelance editing as an option for people living with chronic illness or disability. This is the second and last part of that feature. To read Part 1, click here.

The editing community is incredibly diverse. I hope that by highlighting our varied experiences through the following two interviews, I will inspire editors to see how life-changing this career can be.

Jane (not her real name) is a freelance editor with a PhD in a highly specialized field. She describes living with a chronic illness, while freelance editing part-time and working part-time at a research job that sometimes involves writing and editing.

What made you get into editing? Was this a career goal or was it something you naturally gravitated toward over the years?

Editing is something I’ve done on the side since high school. I formalized my editing career as a business after I got laid off from a different job in 2013. Part of the reason why I continue to edit is that I enjoy it, but another reason is that, with my niche skills, it pays well per hour and with minimal effort compared to some other work that I could be doing.

In what ways, if at all, has your illness impacted your editing career? Have you had to overcome any barriers?

I have Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s is an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks the digestive system and sometimes other organ systems as well. The medications I’ve been on for the past 15 years have kept most of the worst symptoms under control most of the time, but I still get sick frequently and unpredictably and also suffer from debilitating bouts of fatigue lasting from days to weeks, again at unpredictable intervals.

Crohn’s is a complete career killer. I was unable to pursue a career in academia because of the restrictions it put on my ability to do certain kinds of research (because of the immune-suppressing medications I’m on), to travel easily (because of my inflexible treatment schedule), and to obtain affordable health insurance anywhere other than Canada. (Health insurance for anyone other than full-time, tenure-track faculty often has a yearly cap at around what my medications cost per month.) I worked outside of academia for several years but had a succession of bad bosses who did not abide by the accommodations my doctors outlined. I was pressed to work more than I could handle, ended up on sick leave, and then was punished for it.

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Freelance Editing: A Lifeboat for Those Living with Chronic Illness or Disability: Part 1

by Natalia Iwanek

Call it a sixth sense or intuition but sometimes the human body is capable of warning us of impending danger. Although strange symptoms had plagued me for years, I simply attributed them to overwork or stress and continued with my regular routine. Unfortunately, January 25, 2017, was the start of my life-altering journey.

I woke up experiencing an unusually severe stiffness in my lower back. As the day progressed, I felt a sharp snap in my spine. The pain took my breath away. Subconsciously, I knew that something had changed deep within my body and that this was no ordinary injury. Thus began years of physiotherapy, acupuncture, hospital visits, and perplexed doctors who could not understand why my spine refused to heal.

I developed increasingly concerning symptoms, such as debilitating exhaustion, memory problems, and severe allergic reactions, but doctors assured me that this was normal for those with chronic pain.  Meanwhile, I rapidly lost weight and grew weaker daily.

The time had come to revaluate my future plans. I needed to finish my education and choose a flexible career path. What better career than editing for someone who reads voraciously and has a strong grasp of grammar?

Between appointments, work, and excruciating pain, I enrolled in Simon Fraser University’s Editing Certificate program, and returned to Athabasca University to finish the remaining credits of my degree. Both programs are highly recommended for those who require a flexible, non-traditional route for their education.

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Editors Canada conference 2019: A great way to connect with other editors and learn new skills

by Ann Kennedy

Editors Canada 2019 conference artwork

On June 7, 8, and 9, editors from across North America and as far away as Australia gathered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to reconnect, learn new skills, and refresh long-used ones. The annual Editors Canada conference was held this year at The Westin Nova Scotian, an ideal location for hitting the local farmers’ market for breakfast before sessions started, and just around the corner from the boardwalk for an evening stroll and a lobster roll at one of the popular waterside restaurants.

Four pre-conference seminars were offered, and though I wished I could have attended all four, I opted for Amy J. Schneider’s seminar, “Macros 101: Work Smarter, Not Harder.”

Photo of Amy J. Schneider at her seminar “Macros 101: Work Smarter, Not Harder” on June 7, 2019, at Editors Canada 40th anniversary conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Photo of Amy J. Schneider courtesy of Editors Canada

For the uninitiated like me, a macro is a computer program that runs inside Microsoft Word and enables a set of pre-defined, customized instructions to efficiently, accurately, and consistently perform tasks. These tasks can run from the mundane (such as converting two spaces to one or changing British English to American English) to the complex (such as ensuring that every instance of a certain abbreviation is capitalized and in bold). As someone who just finished a manuscript that was in dire need of consistency, I was very excited to learn more about macros and how they can save editors time by automating frequently performed tasks. The session was well worth the extra fee, for both content and quality. I came away with not only several pages of hand-outs with the session highlights, but also a list of websites and books to consult for more information.

The main conference itself took place over two days and included an opening keynote by renowned journalist and author Linden Macintyre; a closing keynote by multi-award-winning writer, speaker, and educator Sheree Fitch; the Editors Canada annual general meeting; and 40 sessions on topics ranging from managing a freelance business to editing scholarly papers to navigating language and diversity to preparing for the Editors Canada certification exams.

Highlights from the main conference programming for me included Michelle Waitzman and Jess Shulman’s “Making smart choices: Which freelance projects are right for you?”; James Harbeck’s “Translating medicalese into everyday English”; and Dean Jobb and Kim Pittaway’s “Negotiating the truth: Drawing the line in creative nonfiction”. As a freelance editor living with a physical disability whose dream is to edit memoirs, these sessions alone were worth the trip to Halifax!

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Editors Unplugged: Get to know our panellists for Breaking Down Barriers to a Career in Editing

Interviews conducted by Catherine Dorton. 

Our popular monthly program meetings often feature a jam-packed agenda. We like to keep our introductions short, so you can hear more from our panellists and less from us! It’s hard to do justice to the incredible wealth of experience these guests bring to the table, so we are offering you a preview with this short Q&A beforehand.  

This month, we are honoured to be joined by Jessica De Bruyn, Gagandeep Bimbh, and Ronan Sadler. We were able to sit down with two of this month’s panellists for this Q&A. Meet all three panellists in person at this month’s program meeting on May 28.

Jessica De Bruyn 

Experience: A noun or a verb? Discuss.

Because I am in job hunting mode, my first instinct is to say noun. But I think that it can be a very ominous word in that context because it is difficult to know what employers or contractors are really looking for. However, I like it more as a verb because it highlights that it’s better to just get out there and do something. Whether it’s volunteering or starting your own project, it’s more about experiencing different things than it is about getting the “right” experience.

What is something you’re proud of in your working life?

Probably that I haven’t quit! Establishing a business as a freelancer has definitely not been easy. There were lots of times when I was working more than forty-hour weeks at joe jobs just to make ends meet and was wondering why I was doing this to myself. But eventually a manuscript would come in and I’d get to dive into this world that I loved so much, and I’d see myself getting a little closer to my goals. It is one step forward, one step back sometimes, though.

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Breaking Down Barriers to a Career in Editing

Join us on May 28 for our Annual General Meeting, a branch business meeting, and what promises to be a stimulating panel discussion on barriers to entering the editing profession.

The business meeting and AGM will begin at 7 pm. The panel discussion will begin at 7:30 pm. We have the room until 9:30 pm, so please plan to stay and chat. We love to get to know our members!

Panel discussion

Breaking Down Barriers to a Career in Editing

When: Tuesday, May 28, 7–9:30 pm (business meeting and AGM first; panel starts at 7:30 pm)

Where: Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) Spadina, 192 Spadina Ave., Third Floor, Room F

Are you new to the field of editing? Have you struggled with impostor syndrome or faced other barriers to a full editing career? For the final branch meeting of 2018–19, we are pleased to present a panel discussion on common obstacles facing new editing professionals and the strategies organizations and individuals can use to break down those barriers. This program will explore how the industry can better welcome and recruit new talent, how organizations can combat ableism and improve access, what individual editors can do to gain a toehold in the editing and publishing industries, and related questions.

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Joining Editors Canada forged my path!

by Ann Kennedy

I joined Editors Canada as a student affiliate looking for opportunities to network with “real live” editors. I was partway through the Editing Certificate program at George Brown College and already thinking past graduation. Three years on, I don’t remember my exact Google search term, but I was thrilled to discover that the 2015 Editors Canada conference—their first international one, no less—was taking place in Toronto. I’m an old hand at conference planning, having worked at the local NXNE Music Festival and Conference for nine years, so I jumped at the chance.

I had no qualms about joining the organization in order to volunteer with it. I recognized the enormous potential for meeting people who could definitely advise me in my new career. And the Editors Canada website promised all manner of other benefits to members, too.

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Promoting accessibility in editorial businesses

Web Accessibility Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

By Christine Albert

As a student enrolled in an editing program, I’m often asked to reflect on issues that may arise when working with clients. The discussion and module notes invariably focus on respect, clear communications, and diplomacy—about how the language of our queries and comments can affect authors. Yet, accessibility is rarely discussed, and few resources from professional associations or courses exist on how to make editorial businesses inclusive and accessible.

This lack of information on accessibility creates a disadvantage for those potential clients who may be physically or cognitively unable to use the same editing services as their peers. An author with multiple learning disabilities once explained to me that she found it difficult working with other editors: they simply wrote long comments using Track Changes, which she had difficulty reading. As a result, she had to constantly ask her transcriber to read her the edits and comments. After discussing the author’s needs, she and I worked out an alternate method that involved verbally communicating comments and large changes, which would let her work through the draft independently—a tactic that surprisingly hadn’t been considered by the other editors.

Lack of accessibility not only affects the services side of our businesses but it also affects our marketing efforts. Google searches for accessible and inclusive editing services turned up no relevant results. While searching editor websites, I was surprised to find that many do not follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG) nor incorporate basic accessibility features. For instance, a number of websites could not be zoomed in when viewed on a tablet, while others did not have enough contrast between the text and background. As someone with moderate vision issues, I struggled to read the content on these websites. Potential clients with visual or learning disabilities may be deterred by these difficulties and look elsewhere for an editor. If we are to operate our editorial businesses successfully, we need to go beyond our assumptions of what clients need and make our services accessible so we can provide them with what they actually require. (more…)