The new W3C standards for e-books: EPUB 3.3 and EPUB Accessibility 1.1
Research and development
After the first publication as an ISO standard, a new version of EPUB Accessibility (as working draft)
The EPUB 3 Working Group, the working group of W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) managing the digital format EPUB, has published a first draft of the EPUB Accessibility 1.1. As a draft, this document must be considered a work in progress and might be subject to further updates and changes. However, it already includes a series of important indications concerning the accessibility of EPUB publications.
This draft represents the first review of the document after the recent publication of the guidelines as ISO specifications, and the first version created by the W3C – the previous version of 2017 comes from the merger of the International Digital Publishing Forum inside the W3C. The publication of this new version within the W3C is important as it ensures the process of consent, open writing, review and transparency characterising this organisation, with the aim of publishing the document as an official “recommendation” (the name for this kind of documents as for the consortium’s standards).
The role of Fondazione LIA at this stage was particularly relevant as it organized the work of harmonization between these guidelines and the requirements of the European Accessibility Act (EAA). This is a crucial activity for the definition of the European standards, required for the implementation of the Directive in the forthcoming years. Through a precise analysis of the Directive’s text and its comparison with the W3C’s technical specifications, some changes and improvements emerged and were applied to the document, to make it correspond with the EAA. This operation, along with Amazon’s transition to EPUB for reflowable texts, is an essential step to harmonize the current accessibility standards adopted by the publishing industry with the ones required by the Directive’s implementation from 2025. Therefore, those who have already started producing Born Accessible publications in EPUB will be compliant with future requirements.
Actually, the European Commission might consider the adoption of standards already used in the publishing industry as technical specifications, and to make it possible it is necessary that these standards correspond with the EAA’s requirements. Moreover, they must be created as open formats by non profit organizations, through a transparent process based on the consent of the different stakeholders. The activity carried out by the W3C takes into account all these aspects.
The working group is now waiting for a feedback on the document from the digital publishing community. Anyone can send a feedback through the issue section in the GitHub repository.
The document describes the conformity requirements for the accessibility of EPUB publications. In particular, it provides answers for two essential necessities of this format:
Metadata carrying the information on the accessibility features of a title support users during their research. Therefore, metadata for accessibility are a key element as they provide information about the usability of an EPUB, allowing users with a disability to verify the accessibility features and to decide in autonomy if the publication is suitable for their needs.
The document also determines the formal requirements for the accessibility evaluation: a series of clear guidelines to evaluate the content of an EPUB publication and to allow the accessibility certification. A title in EPUB format can be certified accessible if compliant with the requirements described in the third part of the document: “Accessible Publications”.
The document has an abstract approach to the accessibility requirements, similar to the distinction made by the WCAG 2 between the accessibility guidelines and the techniques to achieve it. The EPUB Accessibility Techniques 1.1 have been published as notes for the definition of the conformity techniques, to support this approach.
Fondazione LIA is an active member of several international working groups working on accessibility, including the EPUB 3 Working Group of W3C. The purpose of this group is to maintain and develop the EPUB 3 specifications, to represent the EPUB community inside the W3C and to support developers and consumers of EPUB contents through further evolutions and improvements of the current specifications.
As already mentioned, the definition of the accessibility standards is a crucial issue in preparation for the implementation of the European Accessibility Act. The guidelines defined by the draft of the EPUB Accessibility 1.1 are set to adapt to all EPUB versions, including possible future developments. Moreover, even though this is not their initial purpose, they might allow the evaluation of any publication produced with the Open Web technologies.