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EPUB 3.2—Back to the Future of the Web.

Head shot of Matt Garrish, author of this articleIn case you missed the news, EPUB 3.2 is now officially a thing. Does that leave you thinking, “Oh joy, yet another format I have to produce!” If so, don’t worry, you’ll be happy to hear that you’re most likely already producing fully conformant EPUB 3.2 content. The “.2” doesn’t designate a brand new flavour of EPUB, only that we’ve made updates to the EPUB 3 specifications to improve and enhance what you’re already producing.

EPUB 3.2 really isn’t even all that radical a makeover of EPUB 3, despite its designation as a major revision. There are some major changes, of course, but these changes reflect a more subtle rethink of the relationship between EPUB and the Web. You’ve probably heard EPUB billed as “a web site in a box”, but due to a few technical divergences, the practicality of that statement has always had a few asterisks appended to it. (If you’ve tried to create rich, cutting-edge content, you’re probably all too familiar with those asterisks.) What I hope to do in this article is recap how 3.2 brings EPUB back closer to the living Web, and in the process opens up a more complete world of support for rich media, accessibility and all the other great features of the Open Web Platform.

To (dot) Infinity and Beyond

A common complaint about EPUB 3 is that it took a point-in-time approach to integrating HTML support. The HTML language keeps moving forward with new features and improvements, meanwhile poor old EPUB 3 was locked into the first version of HTML 5.0. You could probably secretly test new functionality in reading systems by side-loading your books, but try and get your content through vendors’ front doors and that pesky EPUBCheck validator would catch you out.

There are very good reasons why EPUB took the approach to HTML5 that it did – think stability in a time of Web standards upheaval around 2010 – but those concerns have faded. EPUB 3.2 moves the standard back in line with the Web’s evolving nature. From now on, as soon as new versions of HTML get standardized, their features become legitimate to use in EPUB 3. You’ll still have to wait on vendors updating their versions of EPUBCheck, of course, but the specification will no longer be the barrier to progression.

Why that’s so important is that it means less frustration in terms of deploying new developments in accessibility, rich media, etc.: updates and improvements to ARIA will be available as soon as they are incorporated in HTML; no more waiting on the details element for including descriptions in an unobtrusive way; the picture element is now available to provide responsive images.

Perhaps the more succinctly stated point here is that EPUB 3.2 retrenches the standard to focus on what makes EPUB “EPUB”, and steps back from regulating dot versions of its content formats.

The threat to existing EPUB 3 content with this change is low, too, as any features removed from Open Web technologies since HTML 5.0 weren’t supported well, anyway. And that’s also a nice segue into another major change in 3.2 to better align EPUB with the Web.

Thinning the Herd

When faced with missing features or functionality, the temptation is often to forge ahead and create what you need yourself. Sometimes this approach is the right one, and other times it ends up making things worse. EPUB’s history of adding new features has been chequered, especially when it comes to features the Web doesn’t support.

Did you know that you could dynamically switch content based on what the reading system supports, or create audio and video players without JavaScript? Probably not, as despite the existence of these features there’s not been a lot in the way of support in reading systems over the years.

The ideas behind the features were sound enough, but by diverging from the Web, it made it so that the very Web content that EPUB prides itself on won’t always work as expected on the Web. Unless you’re only making EPUBs out of your books, what good are features that only work in EPUB?

The answer to that rhetorical question, of course, is none, which is why a number of these features have been dropped in EPUB 3.2. With the folding of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) into the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the goal moving forward is to work with the relevant Web standard groups to develop any needed missing functionality so that EPUB doesn’t branch away from the Web again. No more going it alone.

 

And that’s the high-level tour through the most important changes made in EPUB 3.2.

There was a lot more to the revision, naturally, including a major shake-up in the organization of the specifications to try and make information easier to find. If you want the nitty gritty details (corrections, clarifications, etc.), the EPUB 3.2 Changes document is where you’ll want to go next. But hopefully this has helped provide some perspective on the objectives of the latest revision.

This update was kindly submitted by Matt Garrish, Digital Publishing Technologist and Standards Editor. Matt is  General Editor of the EPUB 3 standard and related specifications as well as the author of a number of books on EPUB and Accessibility, published by O’Reilly and developer for the DAISY Consortium.

Rachel Comerford—The Trailblazer Behind Macmillan Learning’s Accessibility Efforts

sketch of rachel comerfordRachel Comerford, Senior Director of Content Standards and Accessibility at Macmillan Learning and co-chair of the W3C EPUB Community Group, has been instrumental in the company’s huge success with accessible publishing. Macmillan Learning are the first company to gain accreditation via the Benetech Global Certified Accessible program. This is no easy feat and Macmillan have worked closely with Benetech and other accessibility organizations to ensure that their products are indeed “Born Accessible”.

Image credit: Iris Febres

Rachel has given us this insight into what drives her passion for accessibility:

When I was eleven years old, my technology teacher told me that “girls don’t build bridges.” That same year, my toothpick bridge design broke the school record for carrying the most weight. Inclusivity is one of my core guiding principles; it drives both how I work and how I think about my work. No student should get the message that they can’t pursue their field of interest, not because of gender, disability, or any other label.

It’s with this kind of inclusiveness in mind that, Macmillan Learning’s ebooks have achieved Global Certified Accessible status from Benetech. This is a milestone on a long road, one that started when we realized that the PDF format we’d long used was a barrier to accessibility. We moved to EPUB 3, which was designed from the start for accessibility, with adaptable text and structured navigation that made it easier for all users. And, since EPUB is an open and evolving standard, Macmillan is now participating in its future development.

Moving to accessible EPUB 3 required significant changes in our workflows and how we develop content. But Macmillan Learning has a dedicated and enthusiastic production and design team who met this challenge head on. We looked at every element of our ebooks with the help of our content and standards teams, and documented the best accessible practices in an internal implementation guide. We worked closely with our composition partner on training to these standards, and subsequently went through several rounds of feedback with Benetech, who reviewed both the standards and the ebooks that resulted from those standards.

I’m proud to be at Macmillan Learning, where my passion for accessibility is not just encouraged, but acted on. We are not finished! We will continue to make it easier for students of all abilities to pursue their dreams.

In order to gain acreditation Macmillan have been through a thorough and rigorous process:

To become Global Certified Accessible, Benetech evaluated Macmillan Learning’s workflow for creating accessible books, as well as many samples of content across the disciplines they publish in, and certified conformance to the accessible EPUB creation guidelines, which are based on WCAG 2.0 AA+ standards put in place by the international standards organizations and the publishing community. Using a collaborative process, Benetech evaluated and provided feedback on more than a hundred accessibility features. The certification applies to all books created using Macmillan Learning’s updated process, which includes all ebooks with a 2019 copyright.

Read the full press release from Macmillan Learning here and join us in offering Rachel and her team our heartfelt congratulations.

Avneesh Singh For W3C Advisory Board

Avneesh Singh, Chief Operating Officer (Strategy and Operations) at the DAISY Consortium, is standing for election to the W3C Advisory Board which “provides ongoing guidance on issues of strategy, management, legal matters, process, and conflict resolution” within the W3C.

Avneesh will bring a unique perspective to the AB:

  • I will bring my knowledge of strategy, governance and experience of managing the DAISY Consortium to the development of structure and the governance model of W3C.

  • Equally important is work towards diversity and inclusion. I am committed to work to ensuring that our worldwide consortium creates worldwide standards with worldwide participation that includes appropriate representation of people from developing countries and people with disabilities.

  • Another important priority is the reinforcement of accessibility and the work towards ensuring that accessibility is embedded in all standards from their inception stage to final Recommendations.

We wish him every success with the nomination and election process. Voting takes place throughout May with results being announced on June 4, 2019. For more details you can access Avneesh’s submission blog piece here. Avneesh welcomes any contact regarding this nomination.

TPAC 2019

September 16th to 20th, 2019

The W3C Technical Plenary and Advisory Committee Meetings (TPAC) brings together W3C technical groups, the Advisory Board, the TAG and the Advisory Committee for an exciting week of coordinated work, including sessions from the Publishing Working Groups

To be eligible to register and attend, you must be one of the following:

  • a participant in a W3C Working, Interest, Business or Community Group scheduled to meet at TPAC
  • a W3C Member Advisory Committee Representative
  • a participant on either the Advisory Board or the TAG
  • an employee of a W3C member organization
  • an invited Guest
  • a W3C Evangelist
  • W3C staff or W3C Office staff

Date

September 16-20, 2019

Venue

Japan

Learn More

Details are available via the W3C TPAC website.

Inspiring Words from Industry Leaders: Interview with Tzviya Siegman, Wiley

Head shot of Tzviya Siegman who is the subject of this interviewInclusive Publishing is continuing with its popular series of interviews with industry leaders and their approach to accessibility. Our first interview of 2019 is with Tzviya Siegman, Information Standards Lead at Wiley and a member of the World Wide Web Consortium Advisory Board. Tzviya is passionate about accessibility and has inspired many industry colleagues to embrace the accessibility opportunities offered by digital publishing.

I have learned so much about the way that tools, systems, browsers, and reading systems work from my work on accessibility….it will help you become a better developer.

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

We serve a variety of customer from students to research to corporate consumers. It is widely established that students require and deserve accessible materials. Wiley believes that our customers are life-long learners. Life-long learners need access to all materials

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

Start with the tools at W3C’s WAI website (https://www.w3.org/WAI/). Even after being involved in accessibility for years, I go back to these resources again and again. They start off simply and walk a beginner through the basics clearly.

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

I wish I had a better understanding of “native” accessibility and the way that assistive technology works. Understanding the interactions of the Accessibility Tree and the DOM changed my approach to accessibility and design. There are a few articles and documents that can really help. Melanie Richards’ Semantics to Screen Reader (https://alistapart.com/article/semantics-to-screen-readers) explains this relationship really clearly.

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

There are so many things in progress that it is hard to choose just one. There is a lot of work happening in the world of SVG that could have a huge impact on accessibility. SVG can be made accessibly, and as it is becoming a more widely used and accepted format. I have heard rumors about the Canadian government offering funding incentives to Canadian-owned publishers who publish accessibly. That would make a real difference.

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

Accessible content and platform provides a better user experience for all users. Further, most users experience some form of disability at some point in their lives, whether it is situational (e.g. power loss requires navigating without sight), temporary (e.g. a broken arm requires hands-free navigation), or due to age (e.g. low-vision). Considering all users is usually good for business.

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

Writing image descriptions forces us to think about what an image truly conveys. If an image is too complicated to describe well, maybe it is also too complicated for a sighted reader to understand and it needs to go back to the author for improvement?

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

Inclusive publishing improves your content and makes it more available and useful to all users.

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

It might seem like a lot of work to make your content accessible, but I have learned so much about the way that tools, systems, browsers, and reading systems work from my work on accessibility. It is a lot of work, but it is also interesting work that will take you down a very interesting path and ultimately help your users. You will learn so much along the way, and it will help you become a better developer.

W3C’s Judy Brewer: SIGACCESS Award for Outstanding Contribution 2018

Head shot of Judy Brewer, subject of this post

On 25 July it was announced that Judy Brewer is the recipient of the 2018 SIGACCESS Award for her Outstanding Contributions to Computing and Accessibility. Judy Brewer is the Director of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), where she works with an expert team of accessibility specialists, and a broad and vibrant web accessibility community.

As part of the award, Judy has been invited to present a keynote talk at the ASSETS Conference on October 22nd. 

This new piece is from the W3C website. Our congratulations to Judy and her team on this well deserved award.

W3C Workshop on Digital Publication Layout and Presentation

September 18th to 19th, 2018

The W3C have announced the latest in a series of workshops exploring the capabilities needed to ensure that the web delivers on its full potential as a universal platform for digital publishing.

This technical workshop will focus on evaluating the current status and exploring future directions of visually-rich long-form digital publications based on Web Technologies (particularly CSS, the formatting language of the Web), encompassing both fixed and dynamic layouts. Such “high-design” publications, with complex or sophisticated layout, may be sequential art (Comics, Manga, Bandes-Dessinées, etc.), magazines, picture books, cookbooks, educational materials, etc.

Date

September 18-19, 2018

Venue

Tokyo, Japan

Learn More

Further details and how you can participate in this event can be found at the event listing on the W3C website here

Digital Publishing Summit Program Announced!

Logo for EDRLab the organizers of this conferenceEDRLab has announced the program for their annual Digital Publishing Summit (DPUB) which will take place in Berlin May 16-17, 2018. As ever the program is an exciting mix of tech presentations and high level sessions from the production of natively accessible ebooks to the spread of highly interoperable EPUB 3 reading applications on all platforms, with Readium LCP.  Delegates can expect plenty of practical demo sessions as EDRLab encourages adoption of open standards and software by the European publishing industry.

The program is of huge interest to accessible publishing, in particular the session on EPUB 3 as an accessible and mainstream format. Early bird pricing is available until February 28 and full information is online at the EDRLab website.

W3C News – Synchronized Multimedia for Publications Community Group Proposal

Marisa DeMeglio, software developer for The DAISY Consortium, has proposed creation of a new group  working on a way to “synchronize audio or video with Web Publications and other document formats being developed by the Publishing Working Group, in order to make the publications accessible to people with different types of reading requirements.”  For more information on this and details of how to support this proposal visit:


 

W3C ARIA Working Group finalize digital publishing specifications

The Accessible Rich Internet Applications Working Group has finalized several documents:

Further information about this is available in the blog post:
https://www.w3.org/blog/2017/12/wai-aria-authoring-practices-note

Following the completion of WAI-ARIA 1.1, the Working Group will begin work on WAI-ARIA 1.2, which will focus on defining features that correspond to existing HTML 5 features. This reflects convergence of an accessibility taxonomy for the web across various technologies and will support future scripting and automation of accessibility features. More information about the Accessible Rich Internet Applications Working Group is available from its home page:
https://www.w3.org/WAI/ARIA/