Understanding Accessibility in EPUB

February 25th, 2020

This Book Machine course, presented by Ken Jones ( Circular Software) is aimed at digital publishing professionals wanting to improve their publishing practices using EPUB in 2020. In particular, Ken will be looking at:

  • Adding accessibility within InDesign
  • Extra Recommend tools (Sigil, Brackets, GreenLight)
  • Epub:types, ARIA Roles & semantics
  • Image descriptions and alt text
  • Structure, TOCs, Page Lists, Landmarks and supplemental lists
  • Language declarations and shifts
  • Adding Schema.org Metadata
  • Checking accessibility with ACE
  • Modern ebook reading software for accessible EPUB content
  • The brand new format recommended by W3C for Audiobooks.


FeBruary 25, 2020


London, UK

Learn More

Details of this Book Machine event can be found on their event page

Inheritance Tax: The Real Cost of not Making Content Accessible

Monopoly hotel atop of a pile of coins symbolizing inheritance taxAt last year’s London Book Fair, I was invited to speak at the Publishers Association Accessibility Action Group’s annual seminar. My aim was to bring the perspective of a large trade publisher to the subject of accessible content production. There, I emphasised both the enormous value in creating books with enhanced accessibility, and also the unique challenges in doing this at-scale when you are responsible for a list of the size that we are. Both our backlist catalogue, and our ongoing frontlist output are at such a scale that we have to make workflow changes very selectively and deliberately.

Rather than restating the content of that talk here, I thought it was worth talking more about the practical benefits of creating this content, beyond the indisputable ethical case. There has been plenty of excellent discussion about the moral imperative, so I won’t add to that here, but I think it’s important to spend some time talking about some other key advantages that creating accessible content brings.

I am also not going to address the argument from a surface-level commercial perspective. There have been claims about the potential unaddressed market, but it’s very hard to estimate what that really means in terms of sales and I am not qualified to make that kind of assessment. However a more easily-argued, but no less grounded commercial benefit is to do with preparing content for the reading surfaces of the future.

I write here not as a representative of my employer, but as somebody who has worked in digital publishing in various forms for over a decade, and with great optimism for the changes I see happening in our attitudes toward quality content. What I intend to argue is that the goals of accessible publishing are, in fact, goals that improve publishing and the publications we create as a whole. Rather than talking about accessible books, I like to refer to ‘semantically-enriched’ content, because this emphasises that the very same work that creates more accessible books also makes them a richer, more valuable store of preserved culture and knowledge, more ready to be transformed into the formats of the future.

When we create accessible ebooks, nothing we are doing is specific to print-impairment. Above all, what all of the tasks involved (tagging, metadata enrichment, logical structuring, described content et al) have in common is that they are adding semantic depth and direction to a work. By creating semantically-enriched content – which is to say, in essence, content that is fully realised, described and presented – we create content of fundamentally greater value, from which any reading system of the future, of any kind, will benefit. Particularly as we develop multivarious forms of artificial intelligence and ponder the uses to which it might be put, it is more important than ever that digital content describes itself, providing cues to its intended shape beyond the surface level of the written word. When we create semantically-enriched content, we are creating digital files that are ready and able to be turned into literally any format or surface we might think of in the future, beyond just ebooks as we currently know them.

On a raw technical level, semantically-enriched content involves creating better markup, with more semantic hooks that reading systems of any kind are able to use to trigger functionality and alter presentation. File formats will change over time, but as long as that semantic data is present, content can be reliably transformed into any format. Failing to add these features now is really just delaying the cost to a later date, as publishers who are now having to rework their backlist from the ‘dark days’ of early ebook conversion are already experiencing.

All of this was emphasised again for me recently by the PA’s fantastic ‘Axe the Reading Tax’ campaign. Ebooks are a crucial method of cultural storage and preservation, and far from being print’s poor cousin, in fact bring substantial benefits that I believe make them an even more important medium of cultural preservation. By making all of our books digitally and semantically rich, we bequeath a more valuable inheritance to future generations and the technologies they will create.

I am going to end this high-minded ramble by returning to the very thing I set out to not talk about: The oft-discussed ethical imperative. By creating semantically-enriched content, we open avenues that help make the human inheritance of literature – from its soaring highs of cultural value and moral power to its soul-enriching entertainment and precious distraction – available to the broadest number of people, and for the longest period of time possible; and by doing this fulfil our cultural mission as publishers to elevate, propagate and enrich the culture in which we operate. As it happens, in this instance, it also makes good commercial sense from anything other than a direly short-termist perspective.

It is incumbent upon each generation to pass on the great cultural inheritance of the written word. Our generation has a unique opportunity to do so in a profound and meaningful way that simply did not exist for those who came before us. It’s not often that those of us on the ‘nuts and bolts’ side of the industry get the opportunity to engage directly with such profound and meaningful goals, but here is one. Make it count.


This article was kindly submitted by Simon Mellins, Ebook Technology Coordinator at Penguin Random House UK. Simon’s slide deck from his presentation at the London Book Fair 2019 is available here.

Readium Project Update—Thorium Reader v1.1 Release

The Readium project provides core technologies that enable reading systems developers to more quickly build apps using standards and compliant components.

EDRLab is leading several developments in this area including a desktop reading app, Thorium, that is available on Windows, macOS and Linux. Development has progressed well and the release of version 1.1 was announced recently. The DAISY Consortium is supporting this effort by providing regular accessibility evaluations as the app is developed and this latest update features many accessibility improvements.

Readium is open source and the progress made from the Thorium development will enable other reading system developers to implement accessible and standards compliant solutions.

Other improvements of Thorium v1.1 are the support of MathML via the MathJax library, a better support of OPDS v2, the support of the Authentication for OPDS mechanism and a preview support of the brand new “automatic LCP key retrieval” feature. The latter means that users can authenticate on a portal Thorium while browsing an OPDS catalog, and can then load and read LCP protected publications without having to enter the passphrase even once.

For further details about this latest release please visit the EDRLab announcement page.

City of Windsor, Ontario, chooses Inclusive Docs for Document Accessibility

Inclusive Docs logoCitizens with disabilities in Windsor, Ontario will soon be able to access important online information such as bus schedules and calendars for recycling and collection. What’s more, this is just the first phase of a project to convert documents that these citizens could not previously access, into an accessible HTML and downloadable EPUB format.

For all companies and organizations in Ontario, Canada, accessibility is a requirement that must be considered in all projects, and for good reason. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), became law in 2005, and has a goal to create a fully accessible province by 2025. Included in the AODA are rules that all businesses and organizations must follow to identify, remove and prevent barriers to accessibility in Ontario. One important standard included in the AODA is the Information and Communication Standard, which defines the requirements for both Internet, intranet websites, and associated content.

The Act states that as of January 1, 2014, all new websites and web content, or significantly redesigned websites, published by large businesses and non-profit organizations are required to comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A. Starting on January 1, 2021, all internet website and web content will be required to be fully accessible under WCAG 2.0 Level AA. Businesses, organizations and all levels of government need to examine their websites and develop plans to become compliant.

Like many cities in Ontario, the City of Windsor had started investigating ways to make many of the PDFs found on its website accessible. PDFs offer a fixed structure and do not allow any customization. They do not provide navigation, semantic structure or accessibility features that are necessary for print disabled readers. Windsor is a city located across the Detroit River from the U.S. city of Detroit, and serves a population of 233,000 citizens. It had already implemented measures so that its website would be more accessible to its constituents with disabilities. The website’s accessibility features included text-resizing, high contrast capability, simplified view, translation, narration and magnification, but there remained the issue of documents and content to which the website pointed.

One area where accessibility had been problematic was PDF documents that resided on the website. Remediating PDF documents in order to make them accessible to people with disabilities was proving to be very time consuming and not very cost effective. Complex documents that consolidated different reports were difficult to convert and didn’t include a logical structure, which enables the navigation that is so important for accessibility. By introducing a meaningful tagged structure, content becomes immediately more accessible.

MediaWire, a software solution provider that had recently launched a solution called Inclusive Docs, had contacted the City of Windsor’s accessibility team. MediaWire is an Inclusive Publishing Partner of the Daisy Consortium, an initiative that supports the production of mainstream digital content accessible to all readers, regardless of their ability. Inclusive Documents conform to the W3C’s EPUB 1.0 Accessibility Specification and the EPUB checking tool (free and open source) Ace by DAISY is used as a validation tool.

MediaWire proposed a new software solution that could transform PDF documents into accessible documents quickly, easily and cost effectively. The software was able to handle typically problematic areas of PDF conversion, such as complex tables and poorly formatted content. Inclusive Docs was compatible with keyboard navigation and had a graphical interface that was able to convert images and infographics by adding alt text. Perhaps the best part was that the organization’s workflows did not need to change. This meant that no additional resources would need to be added and existing processes could stay in place.

The City of Windsor agreed to implement a pilot program that would use Inclusive Docs to convert a portion of its online PDFs. The city decided to convert their online calendar for recycling and collection services, as well as a weekly bus schedule for fourteen of the districts within Windsor.

The pilot project recently finalized and the documents are ready to go online. Inclusive Docs provides four reading experiences for visitors to the City of Windsor website, that offer different levels of accessibility:

1) A traditional browsing view PDF. This type of reading experience is ideal for anyone who wants to simply browse the pages before delving in and reading. This format typically lays out a two-page spread where the reader can flip pages but needs to zoom in order to read the text.

2) Reflow-able HTML with accessibility features. This reading experience offers some level of accessibility for readers who experience colour blindness, dyslexia, or low vision. This mode is easier and more accessible than a PDF format and it allows the reader to customize the text through a variety of options, such as background colour, type and size of font, letter case and line height.

3) Downloadable EPUB 3. EPUB 3 is a distribution and interchange format standard for digital content that offers the most accessible user experience for all readers. A high level of support for complex layouts, rich media and interactive features means that EPUB 3 offers a richer user experience for all readers, whether print disabled or not.

4) Screen reader mode. This mode is developed for the blind and is compatible with most popular screen readers, such as JAWS, NVDA and Voiceover on Mac. Screen reader software is used by people who cannot see screen content or navigate a website. From an HTML format, the software “reads” the text out loud using a voice speech synthesizer.

The city was surprised at how quickly and efficiently its documents were converted and expects to have calendars and schedules posted on line shortly. With this pilot project completed, the City of Windsor is now looking at converting other documents and publications using Inclusive Docs, including Bylaws, Meeting Minutes and Council Agendas. “The team at Inclusive Docs was very responsive to our needs and eager to help us achieve our goals,” said Gayle Jones, Accessibility & Diversity Officer at the City of Windsor. “This is really a unique solution that gave us much better timelines, and most importantly, provided a better end result. The EPUB document offers a better reading experience for people with poor vision or someone whose mother tongue may not be English, and the city has to consider the needs of all its citizens,” she added.

“We believe that all levels of governments will find that the ease of use and cost effectiveness of Inclusive Docs represent huge benefits”, said Clifford Hoffer, President of Inclusive Docs. “The deadline for compliance is not that far away and there are still thousands of online PDFs that need to be made accessible. Our goal is make that task quick, easy and affordable,” he added. For more information about Inclusive Docs, please visit www.mediawiremobile.com.

Inclusive Publishing 2019 Review

Head shot of Richard OrmeIt’s been a busy year for Inclusive Publishing and, as we look forward to 2020, Richard Orme, CEO of the DAISY Consortium, reflects on some of the year’s successes for accessible publishing and our industry.

As an industry hub and news portal, InclusivePublishing.org has seen and reported on some major advancements in 2019, culminating in the release of a desktop version of our very popular Ace by DAISY tool, which gives the industry an EPUB accessibility checking tool—invaluable to many in-house workflows. Open source and free, the Ace App allows you to quickly test EPUB files through a familiar graphical user interface and highlight any issues which need to be addressed.

For those publishers who have joined our Inclusive Publishing Partner program they have the additional benefit of the enhanced SMART license (Simple Manual Accessibility Reporting Tool) which can be integrated with Ace, providing manual conformance checks. Other benefits of the program include expert advice and support and quarterly bulletins on the latest developments.

We’ve been pleased to report on some terrific events this year as accessibility becomes a major focus for publishers worldwide:

In March DAISY staff could be found at 3 major international events. The London Book Fair saw the annual Accessibility Action Group seminar focus publisher efforts towards inclusive and accessible publishing. DAISY presented results of our seasonal survey, framing the case studies and giving us some context to the challenges and opportunities for publishers. DAISY were also delighted to present at the LBF BIC Building a Better Business seminar where accessibility is always a highlight.

The CSUN Assistive Technology Conference was a huge success, as usual, and DAISY staff presented on a variety of inclusive publishing themes to packed audiences. Ebookcraft in Toronto had an enormous focus on accessible publishing and we were thrilled that our Ace developers were able to present a three-hour workshop at this very popular event.

In May we supported Global Accessibility Awareness Day with a publisher’s toolkit of ideas for highlighting the event in-house. We plan to give this even greater attention this year and urge our publishing colleagues to start planning asap.

EDRLab ran their annual DPUB Summit in June and DAISY staff played a prominent role in updating delegates on standards and DAISY tools. This is quite a technical event where accessibility is of huge importance.

In September we attended Digital Book World and we were delighted to play a major role at this event where we delivered a session on Born Accessible publishing and were proud to present the DAISY Award for Accessibility to Vital Source. We were also honored to receive an Outstanding Achievement Award for the Ace by DAISY tool.

In October we attended the LIA Accessibility Camp in Milan, presenting on standards developments and the Accessing Higher Ground conference in November was a huge opportunity to hear from a wide variety of publishers about the strides being made towards inclusive publishing practices. In particular, the face-off between various publishers was a terrific session.

The DAISY Consortium maintains and develops EPUBCheck, the conformance validator for the EPUB format and which received several updates, with a major release coming in 2020. EPUBCheck is overseen by the W3C and continues to be funded by generous contributions from across the digital publishing landscape.

We also maintain epubtest.org to conduct and facilitate reviews of reading systems, offering benchmark feedback to developers and consumers on flexible reading support. Working with technology companies of all sizes globally has proved incredibly fruitful, and we have seen a growth in interest from the wider community of developers seeking to maintain and improve their support for readers with print disabilities.

We’ve been very lucky to work with some top-quality contributors this year and our thanks go to all of them for their submissions. From event reports to opinion pieces, we’ve been fortunate to be able to publish some terrific pieces of extremely high quality. We very much hope that all our readers and supporters will take five minutes to update us on their progress by taking this year’s survey. Please make sure that we are aware of all your good work. Our thanks to all those who have completed this already—we look forward to sharing the anonymous results with you all soon.

We look towards 2020 with perhaps more optimism and enthusiasm than previous years. It has been wonderful to see how the industry has responded to our Inclusive Publishing website and newsletter, and we hope that you will all continue to support us—we rely on your input and are very grateful for it. There are some exciting developments we look forward to sharing with you next year, and we will continue to publish both technical and non-technical information to cater for all our readers in this way.

We wish you all a very happy new year and we look forward to working with you in the forthcoming months.

Richard Orme
CEO DAISY Consortium