Understanding ebooks, London

April 25th, 2018

Join publishing industry expert Ken Jones (@circularKen) for this one day Book Machine course to help you understand the ebook market and to gain some of the practical skills required to produce your own digital content. Accessibility plays an intrinsic part in successful ebook publishing and Ken will be looking at this as part of this fascinating insight.


April 25th, 2018


London, U.K.

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Webinar on Digital Equality: The Importance of Accessibility in Your Publishing Strategy

February 28th, 2018

Compelled by clear ethical reasons and compliance requirements, most publishers are working to make content fully accessible. Creating content that is “born accessible” also opens up new opportunities for publishers to expand the reach of content and connect with new audiences and markets.

In this free webinar from napco media, you’ll learn:

  • How properly structured and tagged content improves discoverability and is the foundation for accessibility
  • What Section 508 and WCAG compliance means for publishers and their digital content
  • Practical tips to build accessibility into publishing workflows
  • How well structured content and metadata improves rendering for multiple formats and platforms, including HTML5 and EPUB3


February 28th, 2018


2pm ET, 11am PT

Learn More:

Further details on speakers and how to attend are available on the webinar registration page.

If Accessibility Is So Easy Now, Why Is It Still So Hard?

This post was kindly submitted by Bill Kasdorf, Principal at Kasdorf & AssociatesHeadshot of Bill Kasdorf, author of this piece and Principal at Kasdorf and Associates

I recently served as Guest Editor for the January 2018 issue of Learned Publishing, which is devoted entirely to the subject of accessibility. One of my roles, in addition to recruiting about half of the articles, was to contribute one.

Since I’m a consultant and work with a lot of different publishers, organizations, and service providers, the LP editors suggested that I try to quantify the costs and “level of effort” to make a publication accessible. How much does it cost to add image descriptions? How much does it cost to get MathML for equations? What’s the level of effort and cost to provide correct tagging—the structural semantics that assistive technology depends on? And so on.

I suspect that most people reading this blog on Inclusive Publishing are smiling and shaking their heads, thinking “good luck with that.” Not only will people not tell you what they pay, or what they charge, there is no one cost for any of those things—not to mention all the other things that can come into play, like closed captioning and transcripts for video, for example. The answer is always “it depends.”

Which is not helpful.

Accessibility is so much easier now! Isn’t it?

In addition to my consulting work, I participate in lots of industry standards initiatives and working groups. I’m very aware of current standards, and I see them coming. The result, due to my natural optimism, is that I have a tendency to say “Accessibility is way easier now than you realize! We finally have good clear specifications like EPUB Accessibility 1.0, and many specs and standards are built on top of the fundamental features of the Open Web Platform like HTML and WCAG and WAI-ARIA, and specifications are so much better aligned globally! And they’re based on technologies that publishers and their suppliers already use anyhow! And there’s help out there, like Benetech’s Global Certified Accessible program and the Ace by DAISY checking tool, to help you get things right!”

This is intended to be helpful.

And all that is true. But this is when my good friend Tzviya Siegman says “Bill! Quit telling people it’s easy! It’s not easy!”

And of course, as usual, she’s right.

Okay, it can still be hard.

It was clear what I really needed to write about: “Why accessibility is hard, and how to make it easier.”

Researching and writing that article was really fun, and illuminating. I interviewed a hand-picked group of people—trade, scholarly, and educational publishers and leading service providers—that I know to be working hard on accessibility, who I knew could provide me with good insights, and who I could trust to give me honest answers.

And they knew they could trust me not to divulge any proprietary or sensitive information. I needed them to be able to pull back the curtain and let me see into the details of what they do.

Boy, did they.

Successful publishers are working hard on this.

Because of the developments I cited above, it is actually true that many publishers have workflows that can create EPUB 3s that are pretty darn close to meeting accessibility requirements. Close but no cigar.

The folks that are making the best progress on this are devoting lots of effort into documentation and training. One big educational publisher I interviewed provides extensive accessibility education, which includes workshops, training sessions, and even office hours when staff and vendors alike can talk to accessibility experts. Another one commented on how often they have to fix the work their vendors do, and how bizarre it is that they have to train vendors that are usually more technically expert than the publisher is.

The top challenge: getting image descriptions right.

Issue number one, to nobody’s surprise, is image descriptions. You may think the issue is just that they need to do them. But there’s way more to it than that. They need to understand how to do them properly, and when not to do them. Don’t just repeat the caption in the alt text—how annoying is that, to have it read to you twice by your screen reader? The image description shouldn’t just say what the image is, it should say what it is there for, what it is trying to convey within a given context. This can require two distinct types of expertise: subject matter expertise, and an understanding of what a user of assistive technology needs.

Plus, there is a huge variation in what is involved in creating image descriptions based on the nature and purpose of the image. A major educational publisher provided me with documentation showing that the most complex image descriptions, when created offshore, cost 11.5 times as much as the simplest ones; when created domestically, the most complex image descriptions cost a whopping 23.5 times as much as the simplest ones!

Involve the author, even if they don’t do it perfectly.

Most publishers are skeptical of getting authors to supply image descriptions, and of course for some types of publishing the authors don’t even provide the images in the first place. But who knows better why an image is in the book than the author? The University of Michigan Press has actually made excellent progress on this. For certain books, supplying image descriptions is in the author contracts, and they have trained editors who work with the authors to guide the authors on how to do them properly. They just need some copyediting and QC like the rest of the manuscript.

This is exceptional in two senses: (1) fantastic that they’ve successfully moved the task upstream before production even begins, so the descriptions just have to be copyedited; but (2) an exception in the sense that very few publishers are able to do this yet. Still, it points the way.

One of the service providers I interviewed has a very sophisticated image submission system that automatically fixes problem images or guides the author in real time to fix them; authors love it. This system has the ability to capture not only alt text but an extended description built in. Virtually nobody’s using those features yet, but I can foresee a day when it is taken for granted that part of the process of providing an image for a publication will include providing an image description. That same vendor stressed that just getting the description from the author in the first place, even if it requires refinement and editing, reduces the cost of the image descriptions dramatically.

I won’t go into all of the other technical issues here—math is of course another big one, and tables; you can read the article, it’s open access (thanks, Wiley!). Instead, I want to talk about how clear it has become that accessibility is a multidimensional problem.

Three types of complexity.

The most obvious dimension is the complexity of the content. A properly tagged EPUB 3 of a novel or a straightforward nonfiction book can indeed be accessible from the get-go, maybe just missing the accessibility metadata but needing no further work. But as the content becomes more complicated, the level of effort goes up dramatically. We’ve already talked about images; and STM content is obvious, with its math and tabular content. As of this writing, we are still in fact waiting for a good solution to the MathML issue, and navigating a complex table with assistive technology is very, very tricky.

Another dimension is layout complexity. Sighted folks have no problem navigating multiple-column layouts, recognizing footnotes and sidebars and marginal items, dealing with boxes and pull quotes and runarounds. Those lovely print pages are a baffling maze or briar patch to the user of assistive technology unless a lot of thought is put into proper structural markup and navigation. That user needs a logical reading order, the ability to jump from section to section, and the capability to skip things or go back to things. Enabling that isn’t trivial.

And then there’s the issue of the file formats. It’s often necessary to make a publication accessible when all you have to start with is a Word file or a PDF. Sometimes those have some structure, but not always, and almost never the structure that assistive technology needs, namely proper HTML structural semantics and navigation between documents and resources. And don’t forget about PowerPoint files, and video and audio, and interactive features. Yipes!

Accessibility is everybody’s business.

Which leads to another dimension: everybody in the organization should be aware of accessibility and help to accomplish it. It should be discussed before a book is acquired or an article is submitted. Everybody handling the manuscript through the editorial and production process—including the vendors—needs to pay attention to it. And no matter how thoroughly and systematically it’s done, it always needs quality control.

I don’t want to undermine my optimistic stance that accessibility has gotten a lot easier. It has. But I have to admit that Tzviya was right: it’s still hard. And it should be obvious by now that trying to come up with some sort of easy metrics to assess the level of effort and cost to make a publication accessible—metrics that would be applicable across the board—is simply not possible. There are too many variables.

The solution is the workflow.

But there was one clear message from my study: the fundamental solution is workflow. The more publishers are able to build accessibility into their editorial and production workflows, the easier it is to make their publications accessible, and the lower the cost.

A final word: there is help out there. I mentioned two important resources at the beginning of this post.

Benetech’s Global Certified Accessible program provides in-depth analysis of EPUBs and recommendations to publishers, to help them build accessibility into their workflows, and then provides accreditation of those workflows once they prove to produce proper results. It’s not free, but it is an investment that will pay back many times, especially as the demand for publications to be accessible continues to grow.

And DAISY’s recently announced Ace by DAISY checking tool will be invaluable to publishers. It’s a free and highly customizable tool which is designed be integrated into publishing workflows; it systematically analyzes an EPUB for conformance to EPUB Accessibility 1.0, generating a report on its accessibility features and providing links to a fantastic knowledge base that explains what all the requirements are, including those that it finds lacking in your EPUB.

Accessibility is essential; you know that, or you probably wouldn’t be reading this in the first place.

The good news: it really is getting easier.

The DAISY Consortium Releases Ace, the Free EPUB Accessibility Checking Tool

Ace LogoThe DAISY Consortium is delighted to announce the launch of Ace by DAISY, the ground-breaking free and open source accessibility checking tool for ebooks created in the widely adopted EPUB format.

Ace by DAISY equips the publishing industry with a tool which can test their ebooks against internationally recognized standards for accessibility. Designed to assist content providers at any stage in their workflow, Ace by DAISY will make it easier to produce higher quaity, more accessible EPUB content files.

“Ace by DAISY is a significant step forwards, developed in partnership with the industry. It will help publishers achieve the shared goal of publication which can be enjoyed by everyone, irrespective of disability.” Richard Orme, CEO, The DAISY Consortium

This is the perfect time to encourage your technology teams to engage with this important new tool by integrating Ace within your workflows so that you can build accessibility requirements and testing into your product development at various stages.

Read the full Ace press release from The DAISY Consortium and visit the Ace by DAISY page for further information on getting started.

Learned Publishing Journal Focuses on Accessibility

Learned Publishing journal cover

Learned Publishing, the journal of the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers, published in collaboration with the Society for Scholarly Publishing, has dedicated its current edition to accessibility. Guest editor Bill Kasdorf (ApexCovantage) is passionate about all aspects of accessibility and chairs the Content Structure Committee at the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). Read by publishers, librarians, academics and others working in publishing around the world Learned Publishing has a fully international authorship.

“As confirmed in this special issue, accessibility is no longer a fringe topic — instead, publishing in a manner that is accessible to all is central to our purpose. All articles in this special issue will be freely available throughout 2018, as we believe the articles here will be a go-to reference point for all publishers, those with committed accessibility roadmaps and those just beginning to integrate accessibility into publishing workflows. This issue represents what we can do when we come together to address why and how our community can better serve all readers.” – Lettie Conrad, North American Editor of Learned Publishing

Articles include:

The full table of contents is available at:

Image Descriptions – The Who, What, Where and When (No Need for Why!)

Screenshot of the alt text and image description input screen on the inclusive publishing website

It’s official. Publishers are getting on with aceessibility. – they are realising that many of the “challenges” are not as daunting as they first thought and with the arrival of EPUB 3 and now the Ace by DAISY EPUB accessibility checking tool, there is every reason to look forward to increased access to mainstream ebooks in the future.

However, the one area that still comes up in conversation is image descriptions and how to tackle them for all kinds of books, be they simple texts with a few graphics, to complicated works that can be rich in complex material

This is a good dilemma to have. We no longer find ourselves having to advocate heavily for accessible publishing and rather we are now in the preferred position of helping publishers realise that they can do this – that it’s not as difficult as they might have first thought, for the most part.

Bill Kasdorf, in his recent article for Inclusive Publishing If Accessibility Is So Easy, Why Is It Still So Hard? identified image descriptions as the “top challenge” for publishers:

“You may think the issue is just that they need to do them. But there’s way more to it than that. They need to understand how to do them properly, and when not to do them.”

It’s so important for publishers to grasp the reason for image description and alt text, to get to grips with how to tackle them and how to relate them to the context in which they appear.  Does an image need a particular style of description based on the expected reading audience? You may need to provide an environmental description of a landscape or perhaps a geographical one….

A large pylon tower overlooking woodland

A geographical description of this image might be: The estuary scenery is a mix of salt marsh and tidal creeks flanked by industrial complexes.

Conversely, an environmental description would be quite differentThe large pylon lines tower over woodland and are visible for many miles around.




Creating successful image descriptions is truly a skill. Image description can vary greatly depending on the requirement of the given context.

Depending on the workflow employed, image descriptions and alt text can be added to a document at various different stages. We naturally advise all content providers to insert any accessibility features as early on as possible – build them in from the very start a bit like you would on a construction site. But this may not be entirely possible and we do appreciate that.

Your author is an obvious place to start as they are familiar with their own text in a way that no one else is. They should be able to provide the nuances and contextual information that some rich graphics require. However, they may not be aware of the accessibility requirements behind image description or indeed the technical requirements of this additional content. Some publishers are providing training for their authors so that they can write descriptions that are meaningful and relevant and in some cases the requirement for this is built into their contract in the first place.

This may not be practical for everyone and so it may fall to editorial or production staff in-house or even 3rd party vendors with an expertise in this area. The important thing is to formally build this stage in your production process into your workflow so that it just becomes a natural part of your ebook development cycle.

Great – so you understand you need to do this and you’ve worked out who is best placed within your organization to take responsibility for it but what exactly do they need to do?

Most importantly you need to identify what the images within your content require in terms of accessibility. Not all images require description or alt text – they may be purely decorative and if this is the case then you should make sure they are labelled as such. Screen readers and other  forms of assistive technology need to be able to let their readers know what an image’s purpose is and if something is purely decorative then there is nothing more to be done.

If your image carries meaning or relevant information then it is vital that you describe this to your reader. Alternative text provides screen reader software users with access to all of the non-text information.

“This is why context matters the most, as you want to think about what information is the most important, the more pertinent, that you are trying to get across with an image.” (Oregon State University)

“Don’t just repeat the image caption in the alt text—how annoying is that, to have it read to you twice by your screen reader? The image description shouldn’t just say what the image is, it should say what it is there for, what it is trying to convey within a given context. This can require two distinct types of expertise: subject matter expertise, and an understanding of what a user of assistive technology needs.” (Bill Kasdorf)

Some complex images require longer description. You may be publishing a table full of complex data and in this case a short description in the alt text is a good place to start and then a longer more in-depth analysis / description can be achieved in the long desc box.

You may be wondering if Artificial Intelligence could be the answer? On the surface, deploying next generation technologies like artificial intelligence to generate image descriptions makes a lot of sense. Facebook, Google and Microsoft all have solutions in place to analyse an image and recommend an alternative text description of the image. It really is an interesting concept, and as the technology continues to evolve we should get more accurate descriptions of images. We will be covering this topic in more detail in a separate article but suffice to say it is still a way off from being a feasible solution.

Photo shows from Microsoft which has been shown a photo of a pair of glasses resting on an open book, which it believes is a “stack of flyers on a table”.













Photo shows from Microsoft which has been shown a photo of a pair of glasses resting on an open book, which it believes is a “stack of flyers on a table”.

The RNIB has recently published some top tips for image description in social media but we think they are just as relevant for ebooks:

  • Don’t overthink it! Make your description as short as possible while describing what the photo is trying to convey.
  • You generally don’t have to say “image of”. Screen readers already know that there’s an image and they announce this before reading the image description.
  • It’s ok to mention colour if it’s relevant to the image. Many screen reader users are partially sighted and use descriptions to clarify indistinct images (also people with sight loss do understand the concept of colour).
  • Helpful v unhelpful: It’s important that your description helps to convey the intended message of the image. For example, a tweet shared an upcoming weather forecast with the text: “It’s going to get better soon!” A helpful image description would be: “Forecast showing temperatures of -18 degrees Celsius today improving to -1 degrees by Tuesday”. An unhelpful description would be: “Picture of weather forecast”.
  • Trying to convey humour? Make sure this is also reflected in your image description so that all users can enjoy the joke. For example: “Dog looks suspiciously at the photo taker with the words: Where did the goat go?”

Most importantly – give it a go! Success comes with practice and publishers should bite the bullet and get on with it. It’s not that difficult!

A Few Resources to Help Get You Started:

The Accessible Books Consortium hosts a free 20 minute online training session on Accessible Images – describing what these are exactly and how best to tackle various types of images.  Very useful for beginners and handy for in-house awareness training.

The DIAGRAM Centre provides a host of resources designed to help content providers with image description. The POET tool “is an open-source web based image description training tool that helps people learn how to describe the various types of images found in digital books including complex images such as flow charts and Venn diagrams.”

Alongside this the DIAGRAM Centre also provides a set of comprehensive guidelines, samples and training. Work on these projects is on-going as a11y features and products advance.

Accessibility to Feature at Digital Book World, 2018

Digital Book World Conference Logo

The popular mainstream publishing and technology conference, Digital Book World, is scheduled to return this year with a new focus and an exciting program. Accessible publishing will feature in Nashville as well as other publishing hot topics and DAISY are delighted to be be playing a significant role at the conference.  The session entitled “Building Accessibility Into Publishing Workflows: From The Ground Up” will be delivered by DAISY speakers and the Consortium will also play an advisory role in the creation of an Achievement in Accessibility in Publishing Award to be presented at the awards ceremony.

For details of the full announcement visit

Typefi User Conference, Brighton

March 22nd to 23rd, 2018

The Typefi User Conference offers Typefi users, partners and staff an opportunity to network, share best practices, and learn from each other. If you’re considering adopting Typefi as your automated publishing solution, this is an excellent chance to see the platform in action and talk to other users.

Of particular interest is the morning workshop on the 22nd of March on Accessible Publishing which will include an introduction to accessibility, as well as in-depth presentations and conversations with experts in accessible publishing. If you want to understand why accessibility is important, and how to build standards-compliant accessibility features right into your publishing workflows without increasing composition costs then this session is for you!


22nd-23rd March, 2018


Brighton, U.K.

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Publishing Accessibility Jargon Deciphered

Ahead of their ebookcraft presentation Is Your EPUB Accessible: Put it to the Test where they will showcase Ace by DAISY, the new EPUB accessibility checking tool launched at the end of January, Romain Deltour and Matt Garrish have written a incredibly useful Guide to Accessibility Jargon for BookNet Canada. Make sure you gen up on all of your terminology in preparation for this sell-out event!

Visit our event pages for full details of the ebookcraft event

Funka Accessibility Days, Stockholm

April 17th to 18th, 2018

Funka Accessibility Days is northern Europe’s largest conference on accessible ICT. As usual, an exciting program awaits delegates with specific focus this year on the new international WCAG 2.1 standard  and the latest W3C developments regarding standards and tools for accessible technology, design and content.

”Meet the expert” is a successful part of the program where you have the opportunity to book a master class with Funkas’ experts in smaller rooms, during the event. You can choose to pose your questions to a developer, a designer, a language expert, a requirements specialist, an assistive technology expert or an over all accessibility professional – and get answers and recommendations on the spot.


April 17th – 18th, 2018


Stockholm, Sweden

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