- What is an accessible book?
- What is an accessible ebook?
- What features does it have compared to a standard ebook?
- Where can you read accessible ebooks?
- What are assistive technologies?
- What is the difference between an accessible ebook and an audiobook?
- What are ebook’s file formats?
- What are DRMs (Digital Rights Management) and what do they have to do with accessibility?
- What must publishers do to make their digital production accessible?
- What are the advantages for a publisher in having an accessible production?
- How is the accessibility certification of an ebook applied in Italy?
- What is the European Accessibility Act and what impact will it have for the publishing sector?
- When will the EAA come into force?
- Are there any exemptions from the EAA?
- What should e-commerce websites do? Do publishers’ websites, where books are sold, also have to adapt?
- Which other subjects need to adapt?
- What is the Marrakesh Treaty?
A. ACCESSIBLE READING
1. What is an accessible book?
An accessible book is a paper or electronic book suitable for reading by people who have issues reading normal printed books due to a visual impairment, a learning disability (eg. dyslexia) or other types of disability.
These are accessible paper books: books in Braille characters, large print books for the visually impaired, tactile books, highly readable books and books in AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication).
Accessible books can also be digital (ebooks). In this case, they can be read through assistive technologies with digital devices (computer, tablet, smartphone), such as text-to-speech or refreshable Braille display (a keyboard that transforms digital text into physical Braille characters).
2. What is an accessible ebook?
An accessible ebook is a high-quality digital book that can be read by everyone, as it is adaptable to the preferences and different reading needs of each reader. In particular, it can be read in different ways by people with visual impairments:
- audio reading, using the speech synthesis function (text-to-speech) present in the operating system of the device (computer, tablet, smartphone) or in the reading software;
- reading in digital Braille, by connecting the device (computer, tablet, smartphone) to a Braille display;
- reading in enlarged characters for those with low vision, by customizing the graphic settings of the reading application (enlarging the font, increasing the line spacing, choosing the color for the text and the page).
3. What features does an accessible ebook have compared to a standard ebook?
An accessible ebook has certain characteristics that allow reading also by readers with visual impairments. For instance:
- the reading interface is customizable, through functions such as enlarging the text characters, increasing the line spacing and changing the colors of the text and the background;
- access to the chapters and sections of the book is facilitated by the presence of a linked index or summary (Table of Contents);
- the headings are tagged as such to allow navigation to the various sections from any point in the book through assistive technologies [see question 5];
- all images (photographs, illustrations, graphics, etc.) are accompanied by an alternative description (alt-text) which can be read by assistive technologies and illustrates their content to those who cannot access the images through sight;
- the footnotes are linked and allow you to return to the main text;
- every web address or link is functioning and properly connected with the target address.
4. Where can you read accessible ebooks?
An accessible ebook can be read using different devices:
- on a personal computer (Mac, Windows, Linux), using special reading software or a web browser;
- on mobile devices (tablets, smartphones) with both iOS and Android operating systems. However, you will need to download a reading application;
- on e-readers, devices specifically designed to read ebooks that do not require the installation of reading software or apps. However, not all e-readers guarantee an accessible reading experience for visually impaired people. In general, they all have customization functions for the graphic interface (enlargement of the text characters, increasing the line spacing, changing the color of the text and the page) but that does not guarantee good levels of accessibility.
Reading software and apps have different features and customization options, to check their characteristics and the degree of accessibility, refer to “Reading Systems Accessibility Support Roundup” by Inclusive Publishing.
5. What are assistive technologies?
All those technologies and services aimed at easing the daily life of people with disabilities are called assistive technologies. In the case of reading, the main ones are the refreshable braille display (a keyboard that transforms digital text into physical Braille characters) and speech synthesis or text-to-speech (an artificial voice that reads the written text).
Speech synthesis is also a useful technology for people with specific learning disabilities (SLD) such as dyslexia.
6. What is the difference between an accessible ebook and an audiobook?
They are different products altogether. An audiobook is the audio recording of a book read aloud and performed by one or more voice actors. An ebook, on the other hand, is a digital book that can be read in various ways, including speech synthesis, which artificially reads aloud the written text.
7. What are ebook’s file formats?
The mainstream format for the production of digital books is the EPUB format. One of its main features is that it is “reflowable”: able to adapt, automatically resizing the text, based on the screen of the device being used for reading. It is a standard format managed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international consortium that manages the specifications of standards related to the web.
When it meets all the accessibility criteria [see question 3], an ebook in EPUB format is a format suitable for all readers and it is also a higher quality book for everyone.
8. What are DRMs (Digital Rights Management) and what do they have to do with accessibility?
DRMs (Digital Rights Management) are technological systems used when distributing ebooks to ensure that defined user licenses are respected. Based on the choice made by the right holders, two different types of DRM can be applied to an ebook: a social DRM or Adobe DRM. Depending on the type of DRM applied, there may be consequences on the accessibility of the book we want to read:
- an Adobe DRM ebook may not be accessible to text-to-speech reading using some reading solutions. We therefore recommend reading it with the “Books” app for those with an iOS device, or with the “Google Play Books” app for those using an Android device [see question 4 for other apps].
- a Social DRM ebook can be read with any app of your choice without compromising the level of accessibility of the file.
B. ACCESSIBLE DIGITAL PUBLISHING
9. What must publishers do to make their digital production accessible?
Publishers can include accessibility in their digital production processes by following the international reference guidelines and learning how to correctly use the layout tools (eg. InDesign) to produce accessible ebooks right from the first publication. Following the principle of “Born Accessible”, it should not be necessary to make an accessible version afterwards, but it is better to publish a single time, a good quality version, accessible to all from the beginning.
10. What are the advantages for a publisher in having an accessible production?
For publishers, the advantages of including accessibility in their production processes are numerous. Accessible editorial publications are, in fact, better quality products that combine the value of inclusiveness with features that improve the reading experience even for readers who do not have a disability.
Furthermore, being accessible means being in line with the European Accessibility Act, the European directive which states that starting from 2025 all ebooks and editorial services must be accessible [see question 12].
11. How is the accessibility certification of an ebook applied in Italy?
The Fondazione LIA’s accessibility expert team checks every single ebook sent by the Italian publishers who are part of its membership.
All the ebooks that comply with international accessibility requirements are certified as accessible. LIA has also created a catalog that collects all certified ebooks in Italy: www.libriitalianiaccessibili.it. Here, the user can access any book’s web page which reports: the bibliographic information, the type of DRM applied and all its accessibility features. This page also contains a direct link to purchase the ebook on Apple Books or Google Play Books, two digital environments in which an accessible experience is guaranteed for both purchasing and reading. The LIA catalog is constantly updated with new accessible ebooks so that the user can check the accessibility features of a title before buying it.
C. LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK
12. What is the European Accessibility Act and what impact will it have for the publishing sector?
The European Accessibility Act is a recent European directive that aims to improve the way the European internal market works in regard to accessible products and services. The Directive was created to harmonize accessibility requirements at a European level.
The legislation will have a strong impact on the publishing sector, as ebooks, reading solutions and their entire distribution chain are included by the Directive. When the legislation will come into force, in 2025, all publishers will have to publish and distribute their ebooks in an accessible version according to the technological standards defined by the legislation.
Publishers are not the only players in the book industry who will be required to comply with the Directive. Other players that will have to incorporate accessibility in all their workflow steps are:
- publishers and producers of digital publications;
- distributors and online retailers;
- e-commerce websites;
- online platforms;
- developers of hardware and software reading solutions;
- DRM and metadata solution developers.
In fact, an accessible publication does not guarantee a complete accessible experience for users with disabilities. It is necessary to create an accessible digital ecosystem in which all users can carry out the following steps independently: selecting a title, learn about its accessibility features, proceed with the purchase or loan, reading it on their own device.
Each player in the supply chain will have to be responsible for the activities that belong to them and must ensure accessibility. To learn more, download our white paper for free: E-books for all. Towards an accessible publishing ecosystem.
13. When will the European Accessibility Act come into force?
The Directive must be incorporated into national regulations by June 28, 2022 and it must be applied to all new products and services starting June 28, 2025. Ebooks are included among the services affected by this legislation.
To prepare for the legal requirements, we advise publishers and all the operators involved to start acquiring the skills to produce, distribute and maintain accessible products and services over time.
14. Are there any exemptions from the European Accessibility Act?
For some exceptional situations, the Directive provides the possibility for companies not to comply with the obligations envisaged, in particular:
- for micro-enterprises, defined as enterprises which employ fewer than 10 people and generate an annual turnover or have an annual balance sheet total not exceeding € 2 million;
- in the event that accessibility requires a substantial modification of said product or service;
- in the event that the necessary work involves a disproportionate burden for economic operators. However, this condition must be adequately justified and communicated to the guarantor authorities, which may request supporting documentation. It is therefore mandatory to ensure accessibility unless it is demonstrated that the burden is disproportionate (Article 66).
It is important to highlight that these factors are not considered disproportionate burdens: not considering accessibility as a priority, a lack of time or a lack of knowledge.
15. What should e-commerce websites do? Do publishers’ websites, where books are sold, also have to adapt?
The European Accessibility Act establishes that all e-commerce sites must be accessible. Therefore, all digital stores that sell books and ebooks are also included, which must be designed in such a way as to allow all users to independently complete the process of purchasing or borrowing a title.
The ebooks e-commerce websites will have to show the metadata for accessibility to give their users the opportunity to understand if the accessibility features of a title meet their needs.
16. Which other subjects need to adapt?
All players that are part of the publishing chain will have to comply with the European Accessibility Act. In addition to publishers, e-commerces and online lending platforms; distributors, aggregators and producers of reading solutions must also ensure accessibility [see question 12].
17. What is the Marrakesh Treaty?
The International Treaty of Marrakesh is an international treaty that marks an obligation for member states to introduce an exception to copyright in their legislation in favor of all people with disabilities who have difficulty reading printed books.
The so-called Authorized Entities (recognized entities that operate on behalf and in favor of people with disabilities) also benefit from the exception to copyright. These authorized parties can request and carry out the creation of an accessible version of a work and then distribute it to the beneficiaries (even beyond national borders).
This operation is guaranteed within the limits of non-profit dissemination and for the sole benefit of the people requesting the service.