Good Practice Guidance for Library and
Moving towards accessible e-book platforms
Towards accessible e-book platforms.
e-Books offer a unique opportunity to open up the world of reading to people with print impairments. The underlying formats (e-PUB and PDF) pose few barriers to general accessibility. Whilst well crafted e-book platforms can offer an immensely personalised experience, there is also a responsibility on libraries and other „knowledge-based‟ institutions to ensure that they provide easy access to the
technology so that it benefits all users, bringing particular added value to readers with disabilities. JISC TechDis has already been working closely with library staff for some time to produce a number of resources, including best practice guides and case studies to ensure that advice is both realistic and practical. If a mainstream product can meet the study needs of disabled learners, the organisation can support learners more effectively and comply with disability legislation more easily. It‟s an attractive prospect and it‟s not far off being a reality. This leaflet (and the more detailed guidance on the JISC TechDis website) signposts good practice that will make this achievable and highlights the role of libraries and other institutions in ensuring access to e-books.
What we did and why.
JISC TechDis offers advice on the use of technology to support inclusion; JISC Collections supports UK education and research by delivering affordable, relevant and sustainable online content and the Publishers Licensing Society represents creators and publishers of content. Together, we jointly funded accessibility testing of a number of e-book platforms, offering publishers and aggregators the opportunity to have free and confidential accessibility testing in return for organising time limited access to their e-book platforms. The overall aim was to create good practice guidance for publishers and procurers of e-book platforms based on the benefits and barriers identified by robust testing using real people with disabilities. How we did it.
By ensuring confidentiality, testing could be carried out thoroughly without creating any insecurities. The Shaw Trust helped us by organising platform testing by disabled people who use assistive technology in their daily lives, including: ; Screen reader technology – this enables blind users to operate software and
listen to the content using only audio feedback and a keyboard.
; Voice recognition - this enables all software interfaces to be navigated by voice
; Keyboard – the user relies on keyboard commands only (without using a mouse
or other pointing device) to operate the hardware and software.
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; Colour contrast and magnification – the user can see the screen and use the
mouse but needs to adapt the display to perform the tasks well.
Full results were fed back to each participating publisher / aggregator. The testers then created an anonymised version of each of the reports. These were sent to JISC TechDis so that benefits and barriers could be identified and incorporated - along with rich narratives from the testers - into concrete and pragmatic good practice guidance.
The bridge model of e-book platform accessibility. e-Books offer a range of benefits for disabled users. They are instantly accessible via the Internet and once downloaded, can be accessed by users at a time and place that is convenient for them and on devices that can be lighter and more portable than a traditional textbook.
They allow users with particular requirements to work with their own familiar assistive technologies and the inherent flexibility in the underlying format can provide users with a great deal of personal freedom and choice in the way they access the text. However, some platforms introduce unnecessary barriers to access or fail to capitalise on the inherent flexibility of the underlying format. These features and other topics outlined in this section should be considered at procurement stage. The „bridge model‟ (below) highlights the potential issues associated with accessing e-books, from both the perspectives of the institution and the publisher, and provides some pointers to questions worth raising.
; Unduly complex passwords (length and character types) can be difficult to
remember, especially if more than one password is needed.
; How many tabs does it take non-mouse users to get to the login dialogue box? TEC0060 October 2010
; Size and location of „confirm buttons‟ – small buttons can be difficult for those
with motor difficulties. How close the confirm button is to the dialogue box will
influence accessibility for those using screen magnification or mobile devices. ; Labelling – is the button labelled appropriately for a screen reader?
; 'Error trapping' – how long does it take to correct a mistake?
; The positioning of the text entry box and the number of actions needed to get
there for keyboard-only users.
; Navigation difficulties for screen reader users if the screen layout significantly
differs before and after the search page.
; Confirming the search box entry by clicking a separate button (rather than
clicking „Enter‟) adds complexity for those who cannot see the screen.
; The error tolerance of search term spellings can make a difference for dyslexic
; Hyperlinks to search results are often very generic – e.g. „More‟ or „Open book‟
etc. This creates problems for screen reader users.
; Page layout and navigation - complex page layouts with different content or
function in different sub pages or frames can cause particular difficulties. Moving
between the table of contents and the actual e-book can be very difficult to
achieve without the use of a mouse. For example, one screen reader user stated
they could not easily get out of the book to the navigation frame. ; Inconsistent functionality – for example, sometimes magnification and resizing
options only apply to certain parts of the platform, but a separate set of controls
is available for the main text.
; Voice activation and keyboard-only access may not work with all features.
Bookmarking is often inaccessible to non-mouse users.
; On one platform the screen reader user could successfully get to a book, but not
read the content without the assistance of a sighted person - the „open and read‟
link needed to be selected with a mouse.
; Opening new windows without prior warning can be a problem for screen reader
; Sometimes there is no notification for screen reader users when the content of a
window has changed.
; Magnification: older people with declining eyesight and people with visual
impairment or with dyslexia may struggle with small font sizes.
; Text reflow: when text is magnified it should automatically re-wrap to fit the page. TEC0060 October 2010
; For people with visual difficulties and dyslexia, the ability to customise colour
and contrast may be critical to efficiently accessing text. It can also help anyone
working under unsuitable lighting conditions.
; Text-to-speech: for a significant number of users, text-to-speech is a vital tool for
accessing text. Text-to-speech software is used by dyslexic readers to enhance
their understanding of the content and, in many cases, to offer faster and more
efficient reading. Blind readers use more sophisticated technologies that not only
read the content but also menus, error messages and system commands. Exporting text.
The different platforms tested provided tools with varying levels of sophistication, such as automatic citation of text collected on the clipboard or inbuilt annotation facilities that can be bundled together and exported. The following issues could affect users:
; Awareness raising: if you provide additional functionality, are users alerted to its
; Are there keyboard shortcuts for accessing particular functions? Where do
people find out about them?
; Screen reader access: can screen readers access the text to cut and paste to
Implications for procurement.
Library staff involved in the procurement of e-book platforms need to ask the following questions of the supplier:
; Does the product have an accessibility statement and, if so, does it clearly
explain the inbuilt functions a disabled user might need?
; Were disabled people involved in testing the product and recommending
; What support is offered to users whose assistive technology will not interoperate
with the platform?
Clearly, accessibility is one of many considerations when procuring an e-book platform. It is, however, a very important one because it affects your legal requirement to deliver accessible services and it has implications in terms of time, money and customer relations when it goes wrong.
Organisations that can help with advice on accessibility testing include:
AbilityNet – www.abilitynet.org.uk. ;
; RNIB – email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
; Shaw Trust – www.shawtrust.org.uk.
; Usability exchange – www.usabilityexchange.com.
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Your role in supporting users.
As a result of the research on e-book platforms, JISC TechDis has identified a .number of key recommendations for good practice in supporting disabled users. These recommendations are summarised below:
; Market the benefits of your e-book platforms. Even when a particular platform is
only partially accessible, it still has benefits for some users, such as online
access from external locations or changing font size.
; Provide guidance on accessing inbuilt accessibility features such as
magnification or colour changes. This guidance could consist of simple screen
capture videos, podcasts or instruction sheets.
; Highlight known barriers. For example, text delivered through Adobe Digital
Editions is not accessible to screen readers. Keyboard-only access may lack
logical tab order or require excessive keystrokes for a simple task. We advise
against purchasing systems with such barriers, but when dealing with legacy
purchases you can at least save the disabled user from wasting time trying to
work around a known issue.
Provide enabling technologies.
; Offer a range of commercial and free / open source tools. The experience of
reading an e-book can be enhanced if third party magnification software, colour
tint software or text-to-speech tools are available on the computer. Where
budgets are limited, good free and open source solutions exist such as
MyStudyBar or MyVisBar – see http://tinyurl.com/JTDaccess for more
information. Basic, but free, screen reader tools are available via portable
applications such as NVDA or Thunder and web services such as
; Pool resources where appropriate - some expensive assistive technologies may
only be needed occasionally. Consider creating a pool of technology tools that
can be shared between sites.
; Publicly advertise which enabling / assistive technologies are available on your
; Think flexibly - is it better to buy for a wheelchair user their own wireless
keyboard / mouse combination that allows them to use an e-book at any
workstation or to buy an adjustable table that can be used only in the library? Provide a proactive service.
; Supply named contact details for support. They do not need to know all of the
answers, but can be a quick link to the people that do.
; Act as an advocate. e-Books have the potential to transform independent access
to learning for disabled users, but this requires collaboration: technical staff,
teaching staff, library staff and disability specialists, as well as disabled users TEC0060 October 2010
themselves. The extent to which your e-book platform meets the needs of all
users is a reflection on the professionalism of your service, so be proactive in
making it work.
Case studies: e-book platforms.
Well designed e-book platforms have the potential to offer significant accessibility benefits for all users, but currently the different platforms vary in their accessibility. This results in varying user experiences depending on the platform they are accessing and the assistive technology they use. The examples below illustrate something of this range of experiences:
e-Books: agents of inclusion.
For many students on vocational courses, traditional text books pose all kinds of barriers, not least the availability of the right resource at the right time. Anthony Beal, Section Leader for Learning Resources at West Cheshire College describes the impact of the „e-books for FE‟ project on the way students on the Public Services course engaged with text books. “There are key parts of the core textbook that are critical for the course but the physical copies would be out on loan, reference copies would be stolen and even when they got hold of the textbook, many learners lacked confidence in effectively using tables of content and indexes. Since using the e-book system we‟ve had up to 2,000 hits a month; a huge increase from the 20
physical copies the library used to hold. The students are much more confident in finding information they need in electronic format; the e-book platform has significantly reduced barriers to engagement.”
Accessible e-books? One day, but maybe not yet…
Hampshire County Council Library Service has been a pioneer in services for visually impaired users – they have run book clubs for blind people since 1998 and currently have 15 such groups. e-Books should be very good news for visually impaired users but Nick Coe, Hampshire's Equal Access Manager, is frustrated. "Elderly people form by far the biggest proportion of our visually impaired users,”
says Nick, “and they tend to have less experience of technology as well as more limited access to it. Currently we don't feel we can promote e-books to this age group. If they use them on a PC they struggle to manage the dual burden of the e-book software and assistive technology. If they use them on a basic hardware e-book reader they lack text-to-speech and often don‟t get the magnification they
need. It is frustrating - our older readers could benefit enormously from e-books on both software and hardware readers but they are not yet accessible enough nor easy to use without reasonable computer confidence. Also the portable hardware readers are still very expensive. In our book clubs for visually impaired people we will carry on using large print and audio books until the technology improves.”
You can find out more about Hampshire County Council's book clubs for visually impaired people at http://tinyurl.com/HantsBooks.
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Geraldine Smith at the Open University (OU) arranged for their digital collections to be evaluated for accessibility. By signposting potential problems and workarounds, assistive technology users were saved hours of frustrating trial and error. Geraldine‟s database can be found at
http://library.open.ac.uk/help/access/index.cfm?id=7007. There are strong
arguments for using procurement processes:
; As a lever to improve the accessibility of e-book platforms at source. ; To insist on suppliers providing detailed practical accessibility guidance for their
Most library and e-book platforms have significant accessibility benefits for some users. We believe that libraries need to undertake a series of priority actions. Priority actions – regional and national.
; Resist the temptation to procure a system with poor accessibility. ; Work with consortia to increase bargaining power to get products improved
; Work with regional and national bodies to raise awareness of specific platform
strengths and weaknesses.
Priority actions – local.
; Know the accessibility strengths of their platform and signpost these to their
users so that they are aware of the benefits.
; Identify weaknesses, and highlight these to users and suppliers. ; Provide assistive technology tools and recommendations for users. ; Draw up an action plan based on the good practice recommendations. This
should include strengths and areas for development, priorities and timescales. If
the library is based within an education institution this should inform, and be
informed by, the Single Equality Scheme http://tinyurl.com/JTDSES.
; Organise user testing with a range of assistive technologies on the e-books you
offer (including all different types / suppliers you offer) and any potential new
collections. Regularly gather and act upon user feedback relating to e-books. ; Plan and implement staff development in accessibility awareness – for example,
using the SimDis resource (www.techdis.ac.uk/simdis) – in particular in relation
; Ensure accessibility features / benefits of your e-book collections are widely
promoted, including via your online accessibility statement.
; Create subtitled video walkthroughs for users showing how to find and access
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Other useful links.
; JISC TechDis Best Practice Guidance for Libraries –
; Online Accessibility Self Evaluation Service – www.techdis.ac.uk/getoases. ; Guide to obtaining textbooks in alternative formats –
RNIB guidance to e-books - http://www.rnib.org.uk/ebooks.
CALL Scotland Books for All project – www.booksforall.org.uk.
c/o The Higher Education Academy Building, Innovation Way, York Science Park, York YO10 5BR.
Tel: 01904 717580; Fax: 01904 717505. www.techdis.ac.uk; email@example.com.
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