The importance of accessible ebooks

What do we mean by accessibility, what challenges does it imply, why do we say that an accessible ebook is a more competitive ebook?

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Accessibility is to ebooks what labeling is to the food industry. When we buy a ready-made meal in a supermarket we expect to be able to know the ingredients. Will it be suitable for my friend with a nut allergy?

Is it suitable for vegetarians? By recognizing that everyone has different needs and preferences, the industry makes it easier for people to choose the most suitable product.

Similarly, readers have different needs and preferences, but it can be very difficult for them to know if the book they are going to buy or read meets any of their reading needs or if it is suitable for them.

of their reading needs or whether it is able to interoperate with their assistive technologies, such as screen readers or text-to-speech. Fortunately, ebooks have the potential to meet a wide range of accessibility needs. For example, with the right format and construction, they can offer:

  • Text magnification, for people with vision difficulties. 
  • Color and contrast changes. Visually impaired people or dyslexics with scotopic sensitivity can read more easily if they can adapt text and background colors or contrasts. This also benefits people working in very dark or very bright environments. 
  • Text-to-speech support. Text-to-speech is a mature technology that allows on-screen text to be vocalized using a computer program. Good quality human-sounding voices are available in a wide range of languages. 
  • Alternative texts for images and tables. A textual description of the main points of an image or table helps convey the information to blind readers, but often assists sighted readers in their interpretation of the information. 
  • Compatibility with assistive technology devices. Screen readers perform a text-to-speech function, but also provide audio access to menus.

Ebooks with these features are accessible to a wide range of users, from the blind to people who, for some reason, cannot physically hold a book. However, these potential benefits are not always realized. 

It is not uncommon for barriers to accessibility to be accidentally introduced at any stage of the ebook production chain. The most common obstacles are as follows: 

  • The choice of file format influences accessibility: for example, PDF documents that are a “photograph” of the text cannot be read aloud, changed in color, or adapted to a larger font size. Flash-based “flipbooks” can be difficult or impossible to use if enlarged and resized text is needed.
  • The distribution platform interface (e.g., ebook library systems) may lack features such as font and background color change, even when the ebook format supports it. 
  • Lack of information or communication of accessibility features that exist: many products do not have accessibility guidance, despite the fact that people with access difficulties represent up to 10% of readers.

Practice perpetuates culture and cultures perpetuate practices. The model described shows how a publisher or provider with little knowledge offers end users little information about their accessibility features. Many people with access difficulties have only a scant idea of how ebooks might meet their needs, and even library staff are not necessarily aware of the wide-ranging advantages of accessible digital text. This ignorance can lead to dangerous complacency for publishers. Patrons’ awareness can change in a single day by reading an article or attending a webinar or conference. Research conducted in 2012 showed that 10% of the 49 higher education institutions (HEIs) surveyed had accessibility as a “deciding factor” in their procurement policies. Colleges and universities can implement these policies faster than publishers’ workflows can adapt to stay in business, giving accessible publishers a significant market advantage. 

An accessible book now means a better book. This is a tremendous shift in the mindset of publishers, as content needs to be designed with the delivery method in mind. Society itself has changed considerably in the last decade and the reliance on access to information in digital format at the point of demand, whether from a tablet or smartphone, has fundamentally altered the approach of publishers. An accessible book is not only a better book, it is a book with greater sales potential: it is a book for asbolutely all readers.

Fuente: Woodward, H., 2014. Ebooks in education: Realising the vision. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: Translated and adapted by LivrizTeam.

Categories: eBooks, Distribution, Popular

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