Making Your E-books Accessible
An interesting session was held at the London Book Fair at Earls Court, London, in mid-April. The topic: "Making Your E-books Accessible to More Users. Why and How." I attended the session anticipating a discussion of e-book marketing and making your e-books easy to find. Instead, the session explored accessibility for the visually impaired, something, it seems, of which few, though increasing numbers, are cognizant—or act upon. The main message: E-books provide a great opportunity for providing the visually and otherwise impaired with access to books which they would otherwise not have access. Publishers need to ensure that their books are accessible to this underserved market.
The session was chaired by: Richard Mollet, CEO of The Publishers Association, and featured Alicia Wise, Alistair McNaught, Mark Bide, Pete Osborne and Sarah Hilderley as speakers.
Here's a rundown of what these executives addressed and recommended for publishers.
Right to Read Alliance
Osborne and his organization have one vision: For the "same book to be available to all at the same time, at the same price." The alliance campaigns for people who have sight problems, dyslexia or other disabilities. "Digital publishing offers trememdous opportunities for everybody, he noted, particularly with text-to-speech. My recommendation is that publishers routinely offer text to speech, especially when there is no audio equivalent of the title. Great improvements are being made; many more books have text-to-speech available."
Osborne, who is blind, said, "It used to be the case where it was difficult for me to find a book I wanted. More of than not, I couldn't access it. It used to be that visiting a book shop was an extremely depressing experience. This is equivalent to buying a book only to get home to find all pages glued together."
Osborne gave his presentation using a brail display that was linked to his iPhone. He noted, "I use this to read e-books and to listen to books. What that means to me to be able to find what I want to read and be able to read it. Unfortunately, I do still find books that have text-to-speech diabled."
He noted in a press release announcing in January his appointment as chair of the Right to Read Alliance that "Under 5 percent of books published ever find their way into accessible formats, through either the voluntary or commercial sectors, severely limiting the choice and range of books available."
Near the close of his presentation, he said, "Braille display may cost more than 2,000 pounds, beyond the reach of many. Working with publishers, device manufacturers and technology providers, we can overcome this."
Enabling access in various formats also makes good business sense, he noted.
Readers may be dyslexic, have a dexterity challenge, eyesight issues, and there are ways to serve these readers. "There are new ways forward for us ...," said Bide. "There are processes that are making [it] easy for publishers."
First, he posed, "What is an accesible e-book ...? You have to think about where we are already. ... Every e-book is now a large-print book. ... [It] also helps dyslexic readers with font changes and line spacing ... and different colors for backgrounds, as well as text to speech," he said.
However, he noted, with the rise in mobile computing that we're all becoming used to, "We're all becoming situationally disabled-we can't read in bright sunlight or hear in loud spaces."
So there's a future coming, said Bide, where technology has the capabilities of making all of our books available to everyone. Bide referred to Epub Version 3, which is slated (hoped) to be approved this year. When it's published, he said, it will improve accessibility of Daisy—referring to the Daisy Consortium, which advocates for equal access to information and knowledge, without delay or additional expense, for those with print disabilities.
Epub won't be a magic wand, though, he cautioned. "We need to get involved in the idea of accessibility by design. Some readers might embrace a Kindle, but be unable to manage the very small buttons. ... We need to work to ensure that their needs are met. "
Bide closed on an optimistic note, saying that the publishing industry has made tremendous strides in adoption for the impaired.
JISC Tech Dis service
McNaught's organization is a UK technology advisory service that provides expert advice and guidance on disability and technology in the educational sector.
His presentation focused on the premise that "text craves four freedoms."
1. freedom of navigation: by section, heading, subheading;
2. freedom of display: different font sizes, colors, reflow when magnification is increased;
3. freedom of access to meaning: "Text only exists as an intermediary between one person's heart mind and soul and another person's," he said. For one person, it might mean access for those with print impairment -text to speech. Or Image description," he said, citing as an example, a photo of the underside of an engine in car mechanics; "what is the image telling me?"
4. Freedom of operation: Input/output control. "There is no reason it should be confined to people with five fingers," McNaught said, noting other options of a mouse, keyboard, and voice output: a screen reader.
"When text is set free, readers are set free," he said.
Director of Universal Access
Wise explored why, from the publisher's perspective, accessibility makes sense.
1. "Accessible publishing brings us closer to our readers and customers. We can help students with disabilities to access higher educataion. We can help teachers provide access to those students," she said. "For educational publishers this makes sense. Parents get frustrated [when trying] to get access to A-level materials to support their children at critical times."
For trade publishers, she noted, "10-15 percent of the population has a print disability-sight problems." So publishers need to "help e-book retailers meet their responsibilities to provide access to their services. Add text to speech functions."
2. "It's the ethically and morally correct thing to do. It complements our corporate agendas, but it's the right thing to do. My brother had dyslexia ... he hated school, was constantly frustrated ...," Wise said. She noted that staffs at publishing houses appreciate this kind of effort (doing the right thing) from their companies.
3. "It's legally the necessary thing to do as well. Legislation is in place to ensure that we provide access," she stressed.
4. "Fourth and most important, it makes clear business sense to increase accessbility to e-books now-enhancing usability of our products for all of our readers," said Wise. "All publishers are making investments to make a step change in their e-books program. We can do this now at the outset."
Accessibility Project Lead
Hilderley spoke on a joint project involving both EDItEUR and the Daisy Consortium, to adjust mainstream publishing processes to enable the delivery of digital publications fully accessible to people with reading disabilities. The project team is working on establishing best practice guidelines that publishers can follow to integrate the practices and appropriate standards into their production processes.
"It's about choice of access ...," said Hilderley. "Today's reader needs to be able to access content regardless of ability. As a publisher, you need to service this."
Hilderley outlined the three routes to accessibility for publishers:
1. supply accessible files at the request of a reader;
2. utilize out-of-house help through third-party services; or
3. ideally, your commercial products will have accessbility built in as a matter of course.
She stressed that the guidelines being created would be "a manual, not a report. For senior executives, we ask that you create a company policy making this a top priority for everyone in the company. Appoint an internal advocate for this in house-someone for a passion for accessibility and ability to implement. Give them real power," she suggested. And, she added, "Understand the issues ... and show your own personal commitment."