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A new working group to test the accessibility of fixed layout EPUBs

Research and development

During these months the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) has organized the EPUB Fixed Layout Accessibility Taskforce, an international working group composed of accessibility and digital publishing experts, to study how to make fixed layout (FXL) EPUBs more accessible.

When when talk about EPUB accessibility, we do usually refer to reflowable EPUBs, for which there are already guidelines gathering the accessibility conformity requirements (on this subject, see “W3C. A draft of EPUB Accessibiltiy 1.1 released”).

Talking about fixed layout EPUBs, instead, we refer to a particular kind of digital publication mostly suitable for e-books with a complex layout. FXL EPUBs can be made in two different ways: SVG or HTML + CSS (sometimes also using JPG or PNG images as pages). These formats are often used in specific publishing sectors, such as children’s books or comics. In some cases they are also used for manuals and non-fiction, such as travel guides and recipe books, where the layout tries to replicate the paper version.

Creating a specific task force for this kind of format gives an important message. The goal is to discover and test this format’s limitations and, above all, its potential for accessibility.

One of the task force’s main objective is to produce guidelines that can be used by content creators to make accessible FXL EPUBs. With the intention of sharing the know-how and with an open-source attitude, the working group will make and then share some accessible test files to demonstrate what are the possibilities of this format regarding accessibility requirements.

It is important to highlight that, unlike reflowable EPUBs which enable many customization possibilities, the fixed layout EPUB format does not allow adequate customization level and therefore it is less suitable for users with low vision, as it is not possible to change font, text dimension and the colour of text or background.

Fondazione LIA is excited to participate in this new challenge, taking part in the task force from the beginning. We will keep you updated with the most interesting news and the publication of the first test files and documents’ drafts.