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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

Inspiring Words from Industry Leaders: Interview with Dr Alicia Wise

Dr Alicia Wise, subject of this interviewInclusive Publishing has embarked on a series of interviews with industry leaders and their approach to accessibility. Dr Alicia Wise has been active in championing accessibility and inclusive publishing for nearly 20 years in roles crossing academia and publishing.  These include Jisc, Publishers Licensing Society, Publishers Association, Accessible Books Consortium, and most recently Elsevier.

There are many organisations who are available to help publishers on their accessibility journeys.  …..it is better for all if our industry works to shared standards for inclusive publishing.

Why is inclusive publishing important to you and to publishing organisations? 

I’m motivated by my incredible brother who has dyslexia, and really struggles to read printed text.  Despite this he is a successful artist and businessman, and as he loves story-telling he’s currently working on an illustrated children’s book.  For publishing organisations, inclusive publishing is important because it expands your potential market and offers the potential to delight and engage a wider audience.

Do you have a top tip for others new to accessibility?

Perfection is the enemy of the good.  Don’t feel you need to make all your books perfectly accessible in one step.  Get started on the journey, and keep this end goal in sight.

What do you wish you knew about accessibility 5 or 10 years ago?

I wish I had understood how very difficult it can be to engage supply chain partners, and particularly book retailers, in adopting accessible web practices.  If more were to do so, accessible books would be more easily discoverable by people who would like to buy them.

What do you think the biggest game changer for inclusive publishing will be in the next few years? 

More publishers using the EPUB format for their digital publishing, and more publishers including information about the accessibility features of their products in their marketing materials.

For those still on the fence, why should they consider accessibility? 

Do you sell any books to organisations – businesses, libraries, schools, universities? If so, you’ll increasingly find requirements for book accessibility in tender documents so it is smart business to get on the front foot by embracing inclusive publishing.  Do you sell books to millennials? Well, you are in luck: many of the features and functions that will make your books more accessible will make your books more usable by these customers.

How have good inclusive publishing practices influenced the majority of readers?

By making digital texts more usable for all.

Why should companies consider publishing a policy on inclusive publishing?

This is a gentle way to get started and can be a really terrific way to engage employees: discuss and plan steps you’ll take as an organisation to be more diverse and inclusive in your publishing practices.

Do you have any final thoughts on accessibility or inclusive publishing practices you would like to share?

There are many organisations who are available to help publishers on their accessibility journeys.  Inclusive Publishing is linked with all of these, and is a terrific source of insight on best practice.  Please don’t feel you need to reinvent the wheel – in fact it is better for all if our industry works to shared standards for inclusive publishing.

Ebooks for Designers – Webinar

August 15th, 2018

Kevin Callahan of BNGO Books (www.BNGObooks.com) is an ebook developer, writer and speaker based in New York City. He will be delivering this one hour webinar for The Graphic Arts Guild. Members and non-members are welcome to register

Almost every print book is adapted as an ebook. Some publishers have robust workflows to convert their InDesign or Quark layouts to EPUB3 files, but many don’t. They rely on vendors and freelancers to create their ebooks. This session introduces ebook basics: what they are, how to create them, and how to adapt print designs to digital use. Get some tips on using your skills to create beautiful, user-friendly, and accessible ebooks that honor the print design and serve digital purposes.

Date

August 15, 2018

Venue

Online Webinar

Learn More

To register and learn more about this session visit the event page on the Graphic Arts Guild website

Ebookcraft – An Excellent Adventure Indeed!

Group of signs for various locations at the conferenceThis blog piece was kindly written by Romain Deltour, lead software developer for the recently released EPUB accessibility checking tool Ace by DAISY. Romain delivered a workshop at ebookcraft entitled: Is Your EPUB Accessible: Put it to the Test. This image is one of Romain’s slides used during his workshop.

Last month, on March 21 and 22, while the lovely Toronto was still hesitating between staying firmly in winter or boldly entering spring, I attended ebookcraft, a two-day conference on ebook production. I have followed previous ebookcraft conferences remotely via twitter, and been told several times by friends and colleagues that this event was an amazing experience, so when I was invited to speak about accessibility testing on the workshop day, I was thrilled. And well, ebookcraft didn’t disappoint. It was a fantastic conference.

From the inclusivity guidelines in the speakers’ guide, to the pronoun stickers attendees could put on their badges, you knew that the awesome Lauren Stewart and the BookNet Canada team were serious about organizing an inclusive event. This welcoming atmosphere no doubt helped the attendees and speakers to feel at home and made us enjoy, all the more, the very interesting presentations, round-tables, and corridor discussions. Among the various topics in these exchanges, accessibility was perhaps the most often cited subject. I was very happy, in particular, that the leading efforts of the DAISY Consortium to help make digital publications accessible to everyone were unanimously acknowledged. Despite the technical challenges, the enthusiasm of ebook developers and publishers to make born-accessible publications was tangible. Ebookcraft was all about learning and sharing; when it comes to inclusivity and making information truly accessible to everyone, this feels very heartwarming.

There have been a number of excellent event reports written since the conference and we have listed those that we have found here below. Booknet Canada has already provided access to the slides from the conference, once again increasing inclusion in this ground-breaking event.

Publishing @ W3C Goes to Ebookcraft

An excellent conference report written by Tzviya Siegman, Information Standards Lead at Wiley and Chair of the W3C Publishing Working Group

For many of us who work with ebooks, the highlight of our year is ebookcraft in Toronto…. Why do we love ebookcraft? It’s full of “practical tips and forward-thinking inspiration.” It’s impeccably organized, by the wizardly Lauren Stewart and her team. It’s warm and welcoming. There are cookies. More than half the speakers are women. It really is about making beautiful, accessible ebooks. Of course, that requires standards. The ebook world has suffered more than most, with interoperability being a dream rather than a reality.

Accessibility, Accessibility, Accessibility: A Recap of Ebookcraft 2018

Kris Tomes, author of this Lerner Blog piece, focuses on accessibility as one of the major themes of the conference

As more schools, libraries, and governments set a11y requirements, it is important to understand why a11y features matter and how to implement them in digital publishing.

That’s a Wrap on Tech Forum and ebookcraft 2018

A Booknet Canada blog piece by Kira Harkonen listing conference resources including slides, you tube videos of presentations, links to articles, a round up of conference tweets and information on next year’s event.

@Simon_Collinson’s conference tweet stood out in particular:

Steve Murgaski: ‘For a lot of blind people, books are really important. They’re one of the aspects of popular culture which are available to us without modification.’ Fascinating talk at #ebookcraft

Ebook Magiks

A blog piece for epubsecrets by Melissa deJesus, Associate Production Editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

If we get it right, ebooks can combine with any technology, ereader or assistive technologies, to enshrine content not in dead tree sheets but in machine-readable, universally accessible, deathless code.

Booknet Canada and Rakuten Kobo Award 2018 – Ebook Coding Prize

This news piece by Porter Anderson, Editor in Chief of  Publishing Perspectives highlights the winner of the So You Think You Can Code competition held every year at ebookcraft. This year’s winner, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Katy Mastrocola, used Ace by DAISY to check the accessibility of her entry.

Getting ‘aesthetically pleasing and accessible content’ out of what the judges gave her as a mashup of sci-fi and Lewis Carroll, Katy Mastrocola beats the competition.

Hats off to Laura Brady and the rest of the ebookcraft steering committee – we can’t wait till next year!

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.

Date:

April 25th, 2018

Venue:

London, U.K.

Learn More:

Inspiring Words from Industry Leaders: Interview with Luc Audrain, Hachette Livre

Inclusive Publishing has embarked on a series of interviews with industry leaders and their approach to accessibility. Luc Audrain, Head of Digitilization at Hachette Livre, has been a driving force within the publishing industry, both in France and internationally, on the subject of accessibility. Headshot of Luc Audrain, Head of Digitalization at Hachette Livre and subject of this interview

Nothing has been more valuable for me during these last two years than being in touch with visually impaired people and understanding their skills in managing mails, sms, ebooks, etc.

Why is inclusive publishing important to you and/or your organization?

Market Expansion: visually impaired people are suffering from a “book famine”. They are eager to be included in the mainstream reading experience and when a natively accessible ebook catalogue becomes available, I’m sure they are more than ready to lend or buy these titles

Regulations: at a national and European level, rules are being set to enforce the accessibility of products and services. We are taking these rules seriously and are preparing ourselves in advance.

Good Practices: structuring information is a must to implement accessibility within ebooks. We know, by experience, that the foundation of good practice in an editorial workflow is necessary for any kind of reuse of high quality content.

Do you have a top tip for others new to accessibility?

Structure your content!

What do you wish you knew about accessibility 5 or 10 years ago?

I wish I had had the opportunity to understand how blind people read and write digital text in their day-to-day life!

Nothing has been more valuable for me during these last two years than being in touch with visually impaired people and understanding their skills in managing mails, sms, ebooks, etc.

What do you think will be the biggest game changer for inclusive publishing in the next few years?

Technology and standards are mature: Web accessibility is well described and EPUB3 production is increasing. From the French publishers side, the subject has been grasped and a significant move has already been made to publish simple monochrome titles as natively accessible ebooks.

Be prepared to see accessible categories in ebook stores in 2018.

For those still on the fence, why should they consider accessibility?

Using the EPUB3 format and accessibility guidelines available from the IDPF and the DAISY Consortium, it is quite possible for simple books to achieve a good level of accessibility. Establishing good content structuring practices within editorial workflows helps to implement accessibility in EPUB3 files, and, in that case only, it is inexpensive.

Can you sum up your attitude towards inclusive publishing in one sentence?

Inclusive publishing sums up all the digital support I have brought to publishing teams throughout the years of my career.