Accessibility in Ebooks

Ebooks are a revolutionary product, it’s amazing how we can instantly download them and start reading within minutes. They don’t use paper and thousands of them can be carried in pockets,  and there are different other advantages in ebooks for readers. We can search for any information within the book or follow external links, and we can conveniently read them wherever we are. But are ebooks and the content in them equally accessible to all of us? There’s a certain minority – people with disabilities in vision, hearing, motor etc – of readers to whom reading an ebook might not be as convenient as for the rest of us.

World Wide Web Consortium or W3C takes web content accessibility seriously, they have laid down Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG. The current edition of the guideline WCAG 2.0 is a robust, stable and easy-to-implement set of instructions intended to guide web developers and authors worldwide while designing a people friendly website and delivering intelligible content. And we have WCAG 2.1 coming soon, the aim of WCAG 2.1 is to expand accessibility for a wider variety of people with disabilities, such as people with low vision, learning disabilities, speech disabilities and multiple disabilities, all of whom potentially have more opportunities online than ever, thanks to advanced technology.

When we talk about accessibility as a fundamental human right we think about public utilities, services and information. How important is the accessibility in an ebook? Ebooks are not just a source of pleasure, people use them to get information and knowledge, and for work, and when disabled people can’t use the product as abled people would do, it hampers their study and work, not just the pleasure reading.

A lot of readers are print impaired and digital books are a boon to them, they can increase the font size, reflow the text, and change color and contrast to suit their vision. An accessible platform should  allow the use of assistive technologies to read the text out loud with or without being able to see the screen.  The benefit of text-to-speech over audiobooks is that it gives access to a much greater variety of material. Much of this material will not be recorded as an audiobook, or will only appear a considerable time after the book’s publication. Listening to dialogue can also be tricky – if punctuation characters are not read out, it’s difficult to follow a conversation, but if they are, it interrupts the flow of the dialogue.

Current ebooks have features like increasing the font size, reflowing the text to fit the screen, higher color contrast and screen reader. Despite all of these disabled readers don’t enjoy the equality, a case in example would be the screen reader feature may not extend to notes and highlights, it may not handle book navigation and presentation of complex data such as tables or mathematical equations. Digital rights management, proprietary formatting and lack of standards in platforms are the causes of this roadblock. Lack of standard and communication among ebook reader platforms, device platforms (OS), assistive technology providers and various other stakeholders in the industry add to the chaos.

The goal of technology is to provide information and education without discrimination. Good accessibility also makes good business sense. The features that make e-texts flexible enough to meet the needs of disabled readers also make them flexible enough for different platforms, different display devices and even different business models. And as publishing becomes more competitive, opportunities to stand out from the crowd become more valuable. Supporting accessibility is good for businesses while it also helps the social credibility of an organization by allowing equal access to all.

It’s time for the industry to come together and formulate a standard and come to an understanding that makes way for full accessibility that goes beyond font size and linear screen reading, to be incorporated in ebooks that are distributed and read across all mainstream platforms. An accessibility of the kind that transcends pleasure reading, that allows disabled readers, scholars and professionals to take equal advantage of all the available resources. It behooves all the stakeholders in the industry that in future they create new ebook formats and standards for accessibility technologies that provide a truly accessible, usable and convenient reading experience for everybody, regardless of disability or level of technical experience.

Content Accessibility Guidelines

Web is for all. Just as with any other public utility web content access is viewed as required to be egalitarian and web accessibility is expected to recognize a wide range of users, which includes people with disabilities. With this aim to let people with varied range of abilities equally benefit from the internet, the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C has laid down Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG. The current edition of the guideline WCAG 2.0 is a robust, stable and easy-to-implement set of instructions intended to guide web developers and authors worldwide while designing a people friendly website and delivering intelligible content.

The goal of WCAG 2.0 is to provide unbiased access to users who could otherwise have difficulty using the tools designed for a fully abled human. As an example, a user with motor disability might find it difficult to use the mouse to navigate, in such instance the website has to mandatorily provide navigation system that uses only the keyboard. This also helps elderly people who can’t control the mouse precisely to navigate through a site.

Core Principles of WCAG 2.0

According to W3C website the WCAG guideline is organized around four principles.

  1. Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
  2. Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable.
  3. Understandable – Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
  4. Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

Ethics Meet Business Goals

Similar to wheelchair ramps in building design, content accessibility is ethically and legally binding for website developers and content providers on the web. However the legal mandate is eclipsed by commercial benefits of compliance to WCAG 2.0 which gives businesses right reasons to implement the guidelines in web design. If your business has a website it should be accessible to all the users. It should be noted that a considerable size of internet generation is ageing, along with the fact that 3-7 % of the web users are partially disabled. Hence it’s wise for website operators to consider accessibility for this group of users, it adds to website traffic and eliminates those avertable bounces.

A lot of disabled and elderly people prefer online shopping and use internet for many other services. When the website is not friendly for these users they might get put off. Digital reading and online learning is prevalent among the netizens, the portal or the platform needs to be accessible and user friendly for all kind or users. iPublishCentral Suite of products from Impelsys considers accessibility is for all and is designed to accommodate the elderly and disabled. iPublishCentral Ebooks the ebooks delivery platform for publishers and retailers is WCAG 2.0 compatible, meeting level “AA” of the guideline. Navigating and reading on iPublishCentral Ebooks portals and standalone readers is comfortable for all group of users as it meets W3C’s criteria for accessibility.


There’s no need of extensive design overhaul to accommodate the Content Accessibility Guidelines recommended by WCAG 2.0. While it’s wise to implement the rules at the design stage some changes and additions like responsive design for mobile access, keyword navigation and using higher color contrast meet most of the recommended guidelines. However it’s recommended to refer to the guidelines provided in the W3C website.

For content providers who use third party tools like iPublishCentral Ebooks it’s advisable to keep the content simple and understandable, use higher color contrast, use alternative text for non-text content and keep the information structured. The platform meets WCAG 2.0 accessibility standard, it provides keyword navigation, text-to-speech conversion and meets other accessibility criteria.

Web content accessibility is more than providing access to the disabled. The concept also requires to provide consistent unhindered access to users across devices, browser types and various screen sizes. Supporting accessibility is good for businesses while it also helps the social credibility of an organization by allowing equal access to all. The goal of internet is to provide information and education without discrimination, WCAG guidelines which are robust and stable go a long way in upholding the philosophy of equal access, helping the users worldwide take most advantage of the web.