The Sound of Silence

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One of the most challenging aspects of accessible publishing is understanding how to write immersive image descriptions for visually impaired and print disabled readers. Content providers are often uncertain about where to begin and how to integrate description work into their publishing process. The images included within digital content often remain silent to readers listening in audio format through screen readers, thereby negatively impacting learning outcomes and the joy of reading.

Legal, educational and commercial pressures are intensifying for content providers to now prioritize accessibility. Although resources and guidelines are readily available to help content providers establish accessible production workflows, the lack of available image descriptions continues to be a significant barrier to readers.

In a WebAIM survey conducted in December 2017, the most problematic content-related issues were the availability and quality of alternative text (alt-text) for images.(1) In addition, Bill Kasdorf stated in the January 2018 Learned Publishing special accessibility issue that “all of the publishers I interviewed – even extremely large publishers that have done extensive work on accessibility – find image descriptions to be probably the single biggest issue across all types of content.”(2)

For content providers, the decision comes down to choice. Who should create the descriptions for image content? Should it be the author of the work or a member of the editorial staff? Due to the complexity of the methodology, should it be outsourced to a specialist in a similar vein to indexing? Publishers may delay decision-making as a result of this predicament and elect to keep generic, inadequate and incorrect alt-text “image” tags.

There are a variety of resources to meet accessibility challenges and many companies are seeking to develop solutions. However, image description authoring services are still falling short of the detail necessary to capture image complexity. We can better understand the image description predicament by examining Utagawa Hiroshige’s 1857 print Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi Bridge and Atake.(3)

A woodcut print by Utagawa Hiroshige depicts figures scattering during a sudden rainstorm on the Shin-Ōhashi bridge in Edo (now Tokyo) in 1857.

Microsoft Word includes a publishing tool for automated alt-text. For Hiroshige’s image, Word automatically assigns the following description: “A picture containing building, fence. Description generated with very high confidence.” This incomplete image description highlights the current limitations of alt-text automation.

So, what is the solution if publishers are struggling to find the best way forward and automated technologies generate deficient descriptions? textBOX addresses this challenge. We have a long-standing publishing background and a passion for promoting access for all readers.

The industry needs a simple, workable approach to image description and textBOX delivers it.

The objective of textBOX is to marry the art of immersive description with a scientific approach towards data analytics while adhering to industry standards.

textBOX’s solution is focus/LOCUS – a method for producing high-quality image descriptions. This approach deconstructs the image into key elements and builds the description using a pathway through individual components. The description becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

As the sighted reader will know, Hiroshige’s image is not a “building” or a “fence”, as interpreted by Microsoft Word. A more suitable alt-text description is:

A woodcut print by Utagawa Hiroshige depicts figures scattering during a sudden rainstorm on the Shin-Ōhashi bridge in Edo (now Tokyo) in 1857.

Hiroshige’s image may require a longer, more robust description in circumstances where detail is critically important (e.g., art history books or galleries). The focus/LOCUS method has been designed for this type of description:

The foreground is dominated by a wooden bridge on which seven figures are hurrying to avoid a heavy rainstorm. Two brightly-dressed women are traveling from right to left on the bridge, sheltering under their umbrellas. A man is following closely behind them wearing a conical hat and ducking down beneath the downpour. Three figures hurry in the opposite direction, huddled under a single umbrella. Before them walks a hunched-over figure covering his upper body with a cloak.

In the background, a boatman is steering his log raft along the river. A shadowy line of trees marks the bank of the river. The upper reaches of the picture are filled with ominous dark clouds and dark lines of rain streak across the face of the image. The positioning and postures of the figures in the image give a strong sense of movement and flight from the elements.

The reader’s understanding is increased because they feel the image is tangible and they are involved in the story.

“Writing useful alt-text is a bit of an art,” according to Google.(4) The objective of textBOX is to marry the art of immersive description with a scientific approach towards data analytics while adhering to industry standards. textBOX reveals to publishers that there is an opportunity to enrich their content and promote discoverability through image descriptions.

textBOX is the product of late nights, wide-ranging conversations and meticulous research. The foundation of our business is built on listening closely to the issues that content providers are experiencing and learning from the expertise of industry leaders, colleagues and friends. The accessibility community is overflowing with innovation and collaboration and it is this sense of community that has inspired us to embark on this path.

Inclusive Publishing plays a pivotal role within the accessibility community, the publishing industry and as a core resource for textBOX. We are delighted for the opportunity to share our thoughts and future goals through these pages.

Image description is challenging but it is also a fascinating field. We look forward to listening to content providers and working with the accessibility community to develop solutions and build a future where every image tells a story and every reader experience is equal.

For images, the sound of silence is far from golden.

To learn more about textBOX please visit the textBOX website, read our inaugural soapBOX blog post, or write to us at hello@textboxdigital.com.

References

  1. WebAIM Screen Reader User Survey #7 Results: https://webaim.org/projects/screenreadersurvey7/
  2. Kasdorf, B. (2018), Why accessibility is hard and how to make it easier: Lessons from publishers. Learned Publishing, 31: 11-18. doi:10.1002/leap.1146
  3. Utagawa Hiroshige, 1857. Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi Bridge and Atake from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. Public domain image. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/36461
  4. Kearney, M., Gash, D. and Boxhall, A., Text Alternatives for Images https://developers.google.com/web/fundamentals/accessibility/semantics-builtin/text-alternatives-for-images

This article was kindly submitted by Huw Alexander and Caroline Desrosiers, Co-Founders of textBOX.

 

Accessibility in Modern Publishing Workflows at Digital Book World

Digital Book World conference bannerDigital Book World 2018 took place at the beginning of October – re-imagined and re-invented by its new owners Score Publishing, in Nashville Tennessee, home to many music legends and now to a major publishing conference.

Ace developer and DAISY speaker, Marisa DeMeglio presented the session Accessibility in Modern Publishing Workflows on the second day of the conference.Very much a discussion style session, Marisa spent some time describing the work that DAISY focuses on internationally and the impact it has had on digital publishing, in particular. Demonstrations of various types of reading experiences highlighted the need for accessible mainstream ebooks and it was clear that EPUB can solve many challenges provided developers make full use of the accessibility features that are available to them within the standard.

Marisa showed delegates Ace by DAISY, the free open source EPUB accessibility checking tool from the DAISY Consortium which can be integrated within publishing workflows at any stage of production. The release of the new Drag and Drop version, for which there is huge interest, is on the horizon and it was exciting to be able to update the audience on this. Demos of Ace together with The Accessible Publishing Knowledge Base showed publishers that accessibility is entirely achievable within their mainstream content.

Marisa also discussed SMART, the Simple Manual Accessibility Reporting Tool, designed to guide users through the manual checking process that Ace highlights. Available to vendors and publishers via DAISY partners as part of a consulting or audit service this latest tool from DAISY was greeted with much enthusiasm.

The Digital Book Awards saw an array of awards including the Innovation in Accessibility Award for which DAISY was a finalist. Our congratulations to the winner of this award, Amazon Alexa and to the other finalists in this category.

Inclusive Publishing looks forward to hearing plans for DBW 2019.

The Journey Towards Dyslexia-Friendly, Digital Publishing

Teenage boy walking with handheld device with earphones attached. Image is just of his torseDuring 2018 Dyslexia Awareness Week, Abi James, Chair of the British Dyslexia Association New Technologies Committee, looks back at how dyslexia-friendly practices have evolved and how the latest accessibility standards and inclusive practices can help publishers produce materials that are suitable for everyone.

Dyslexia affects approximately 10% of the population and, of those individuals, 4% severely. It is a life-long condition and studies have shown it has a neurological basis, often running in families. Dyslexia is one of several Cognitive Disabilities that are hidden from view but, through their impact on processing, attention and recall, can significantly affect the effort, efficacy and enjoyment of printed text. Technology has increasing been used to help overcome the difficulties associated with dyslexia.

The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) New Technologies Committee has been providing free advice on assistive technology for over 20 years. Popular tools include those that support the composition of text, such as word processors, spell checkers and speech recognition; or assistive technologies such as text to speech and other customised tools to aid reading. However, while technology has evolved significantly in that time, the most popular articles are still those about fonts and layouts for making accessible documents.

In 2003, as word processing became a common tool, the BDA developed a Style Guide to promote dyslexia-friendly publishing practices. The style guide called for a minimum font size, the use of clear font styles and consideration of how glare and colour combinations can have an impact on some readers. The BDA Style Guide remains one of the core references for those interested in inclusive publishing practices and is frequently cited in academic studies.

In the decade that followed the publication of the Style Guide, interest from typographers also grew with the creation of several dyslexia-specific fonts (i). These fonts attempted to aid dyslexic readers by making letter sizes more consistent and recognisable. Some of these fonts have been included in mainstream ebook tools, including the OpenDyslexic font which comes with some Kindle devices. This in turn has led to an increased interest from researchers about how fonts and colours affect some dyslexic readers. Studies such as Rello and Baeza-Yates’ Good Fonts for Dyslexia have failed to identify the benefits of dyslexia-specific fonts, although they have continued to highlight the impact that fonts and typography have on reading skills.

This work has led to the BDA once more revisiting the style guide, to update it not only to include the latest research, but also to take account of the latest technologies and publishing practices. The 2018 BDA Style Guide highlights several important findings from recent studies including:

  • Font size matters; larger fonts improve readability.
  • Letter spacing can have as big an impact on readability as the font style. Fonts where letters have a more equal spacing are easier for dyslexic readers.
  • Word and line spacing also influence readability for those with dyslexia. Line-spacing of at least 1.5 lines can be beneficial, although if the line spacing is too large, the benefits are removed.
  • Shorter lines or reading on small screens can help some dyslexic readers.

How can these Recommendations be Built into Digital Publications and Ebook Devices?

The increase in the availability and use of e-books, as well as the all-pervasive nature of smart devices has meant that dyslexic children and adults have a greater opportunity to make use of assistive tools when reading text. Ebooks can bring many hidden accessibility wins and the publishing community, through initiatives such as epubtest.org are working towards making ebooks more accessible to all users. Being able to change the font style, the background colour and/or hear content read aloud can make a difference. However, the options to allow users to personalise all their ebooks frequently remains unavailable or are limited to basic font size changes.

This may be due in part because accessibility standards have tended to focus on supporting the needs of those who face sensory and/or physical barriers. The primary web accessibility standard, WCAG2.0, which forms part of accessibility legislation in many countries, had minimal guidelines on personalisation. Earlier this year an update of the Web Accessibility Content Guidelines (v2.1) was released with several new guidelines aimed at supporting the needs of those with cognitive disabilities as well as the use of new technologies such as touch screens. Guidelines related to reflow (1.4.10) and text spacing (1.4.12) will be particularly useful for encouraging dyslexia-friendly text, although additional dyslexia friendly approaches remain unspecified.

One area that still needs to be addressed by accessibility guidelines is background colour. Colour choice is felt to be a design issue and so guidelines only consider barriers that may arise due to insufficient contrast or certain colour combinations. While the impact of coloured filters and lenses remains controversial to remediate dyslexia, the negative impact of glare on readability has been recognised for nearly a century (ii). Recent studies have shown that dyslexic readers prefer coloured backgrounds that reduce glare although some also prefer back on white rather than unfamiliar colour combinations, which can be distracting. The BDA style guide continues to recommend that alternative background colours should be considered to reduce glare.

Even when an ebook publisher or platform offers many accessibility options, it can be difficult for readers to identify if the platform will meet their needs. In particular, dyslexic readers who wish to listen to text find their assistive technology does not work as the tools tend to rely on accessing the clipboard, while built-in accessibility modes can present ebook content as pure text, removing the formatting and visual structure clues that dyslexic readers rely on. A recent audit of ebook accessibility by university library staff highlighted how difficult it was for students to know if ebooks and digital resources were accessible for their needs. There were no clues in the ebook description or by the download as to whether text to speech or other personalisation options would work.

One initiative, which may bring real change to the sector, includes recent legislation that applies across Europe to ensure that public sector websites, digital resources and mobile apps meet accessibility standards (iii). This will require organisations such as public libraries, universities and local government to confirm that content they publish on their websites, even if sourced from a third-party supplier, meets accessibility standards. These organisations will be required to publish an accessibility statement outlining how the digital sites and resources meet the European accessibility standard EN 301 549 (which is aligned to WCAG 2.1).

What Does This Mean for the Publishing Community?

As these new regulations come into force, accessibility could become an increasingly important factor in procurement decisions as public sector organisations look to minimise their accessibility issues. Understanding accessibility and personalisation requirements could put you ahead in business decisions, as well as providing a better experience for your readers. But remember, creating accessible and inclusive publications is not just about meeting technical standards. It is about understanding the needs of people with different strengths and weaknesses and how they might overcome digital barriers as well as understanding how personal preferences and choices combine. At the University of Southampton, we provide the opportunity for anyone to learn more about digital accessibility and its impact through our free FutureLearn Digital Accessibility MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). This course will be running from early October 2018, so why not encourage colleagues to sign-up now.

Abi James is the Chair of the British Dyslexia Association New Technologies Committee and a digital accessibility researcher at the University of Southampton.

 

Footnotes

i Dyslexia fonts include Sylexiad, Dyslexie , Read Regular and OpenDyslexic.

ii Goldsberry reported to negative impact of white and shiny paper in Goldsberry, L. D. (1921). Eyesight and paper glare. The Elementary School Journal, 21(10), 782-785.

iii Countries within the EU have been required to implement the EU directive on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies by September 2018