Building Inclusive Reading Experiences

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Inclusive Publishing Partner Colibrio’s Lars Wallin recently presented this topic at a seminar hosted by CELIA in Finland. We are very pleased to be able to share it with our audience.

Inclusivity and Accessibility

Often when we discuss accessibility we may focus on one specific set of features to aid the experience of one user profile. An inclusive user experience is designed to be an unifying experience that will strive to welcome and serve users, regardless of their situation. An inclusive experience therefore can be said to include many different accessibility profiles.

One of the reasons it may make sense to think of inclusive and accessible user experiences differently is that they can end up making a big difference in the product development phase of a service or application. This in turn may impact the cost of development, and the long term sustainability of the project.

All Aboard!

Developing an inclusive application means taking into account more than one mode of experience and interaction. Because of this, the scope of the project will naturally increase and consequently so will the required time and resources.
In order for the project to succeed, it is important to get everyone that has a say in the project, such as product owner, project management and finance to not only understand, but also empathise with the end goal. Its advisable to to include people in the organization with lived experience and join users groups that can help with invaluable insights early on. This will strengthen the resolve when deadlines loom close and when budgets get stretched. By its very nature, an inclusive project demands a holisitc approach to developing strategies.

Swim With The Stream

Digital accessibility is tricky, do not make life harder than necessary. Use low-level technology that is intrinsically accessible.

  • Make sure the product development team has the appropriate training so that they feel confident. 
  • Accessibility Technologies can be tricksy so so be sure to research platform quirks before starting development.
  • Choose technology that has a proven track record as stable and reliable over releases.
  • Choose user interface components wisely based on accessibility features first, and aesthetics second.
  • Default platform UI elements are almost always preferable. 

The accessibility technology ecosystem on any device can be a strange and bewildering space, even for seasoned developers. Leave ample time for research development, preferably using input from a wide range of user profiles.

Join The Club

Organizations such as The Daisy Consortium, W3C and The LIA Foundation can help with critical knowledge. The Daisy EPUB and W3C Reading System’s test suites are a good baseline for product requirements and offer support to all areas of the publishing ecosystem.

Inclusive Reading Experiences

Inclusivity builds and preserves self esteem. Everybody should be able to read the same book, in the same app.The end user’s reading experience is dependent on three main components: the technical quality of the publication, the reading system’s features and  the reader’s situation. 

The first of these components is the responsibility of the publisher, the second is the responsibility of us as product developers. The third is however not only the reader’s responsibility. Publishers and product developers should make sure that we have a good enough understanding of our users to help them, even when they have challenges. 

Challenges can refer to anything from permanent impairments such as dyslexia, low vision or hearing, but it can also be one or more combinations of environmental circumstances such as loud or busy situations, and emotional states such as high stress levels, anxiety.

The Reader Should (at least) Be Able To

  • To be able to read the contents of the book with as little effort as possible
  • To navigate with as little effort as possible to locations within the book
  • To find their way back to a previously visited location in book
  • To be able to reference specific portions of the book to other readers
  • To be able to search for contents within the book

To help all readers have a good experience we need to make sure that we take into account their fundamental needs as readers. Some of the baseline features that should be implemented by a reading system are defined in the Daisy EPUB Reading System test suite. These tests are a good starting point, but there is room for innovation and creativity.

Elements To Concentrate On

In order to ensure the best user experience for your readers you should consider the following points during development:

  • Managing screen reader focus – one of the most important and, unfortunately, also one of the most troublesome, responsibilities of the reading system. 
  • Location, location location – a book is a journey. Having a good map will help your reader to find their way.
  • Page numbers in reflowable content should never be based on screen rendition and should be supplied by the EPUB page list
  • Show and tell – Make sure that all visual and auditory cues have an alternative representation
  • Text to Speech is a necessity for many people and it can vastly improve the experience for screen reader users in some types of books.
  • Scaling v Usability – All UI elements should handle scaling without sacrificing usability.
  • Fixed Layout! – A fixed layout book can be a wonderful thing, if created with inclusion in mind..

Examples of each of these excellent top tips can be found in the Colibrio presentation slide deck and are well worth delving into.

Our thanks to Lars for sharing this presentation with us.