Creating Accessible E-books: Summary of NISO program

The following are my notes from the presentation – Born accessible: making e-books fully inclusive from day one – held during the NISO- The E-Book Renaissance Part II:  Challenges and Opportunities.  Best efforts were made to ensure accuracy.


  • Larry Goldberg, Director, Media Access Group Director at WGBH
  • Geoff Freed, Director of Technology Projects and Web Media Standards, The Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM)

An accessible ebook is not one that just reads the book.  It must contain structure, a clear and easy way to navigate the content if you cannot see the screen.  Software on the device must speak the screen for you. A screen reader only reads text.

An accessible ebook needs to read structure too like navigation tools (TOC, tables, lists), seek and find, investigate objects and read in a specific order.  It needs to allow the user to control the content as well


Structure Includes:

  • Text elements for chapters, headings, paragraphs and sentences
  • Images — both short and long description — how much information to give, based on context, how much do you say about the image?
  • Data tables — must be laid out properly  – headers vs. data cells, X/Y orientation
  • Lists — number of items, nesting, where are you in the list



  • Multimedia — player controls, captions, descriptions
  • Interactives
  • System — menus and special features, stores, hardware



Software Readers:

Software readers are more popular than hardware readers b/c they run on hardware that has built in software for screen reading and other accessible functions.  ADE, Adobe Reader, Nook and Kindle software for computers, iBooks, web browsers are all examples of the software readers.



Not all formats provide mechanisms for delivering an accessible e-book.  EPUB3 format — superior attention paid to making this format accessible like image descriptions, navigation and structure.  PDF used to be completely inaccessible, but now the author has the ability to make the content accessible pretty easily.  Not all formats will provide equal accessibility in terms of authoring.


No such thing as push button accessibility. The author is responsible for providing an accessible document.  This is not unlike accessible html basics.  Some of the basic elements include:

  • TOC and use headings
  • Identify/describe images
  • Mark up forms properly
  • Mark up data tables
  • Provide adequate contrast and clear layout

These can become part of a workflow.  Everything that you do to make a book accessible will help the majority of the population who may not be disabled.  Think of the cut outs in curbs which are used by people with bikes, luggage, strollers, etc.


E-book authoring tools

InDesign allows one to layout the book and export it into multiple formats.  They have provided a lot of easy tools to make the book accessible.

iBooks Author exports books for iPad only, the first free version came with a lot of accessibility features which should continue to improve with new versions.

Adobe Acrobat, Open Office, Pages — many of these have accessible features.  Self-publishers and desktop publishers can even make books accessible using the features of these everyday tools.


Is there hardware that is accessible?

It’s not very good right now.  By and large Kindle and Nook devices are inaccessible.  iOS devices are the most accessible hardware devices.  DRM can impede accessibility though.  Some TTS books that have DRM will block the ability to use the TTS feature.


Why are iOS devices with a flat screen more accessible than hardware with buttons?

iOS devices use a screen reader called Voice Over.  When a blind person moves a finger over the screen, the voice over reads what is underneath and allows the option to double tap to open.  Voice Over is built into every apple device made today.


What software is accessible?

Some software may not be usable with screen readers like Jaws.  The TTS may not be available or is inadequate.   Nook/Kindle desktop and mobile software readers are not currently accessible to screen readers.  ADE is reasonably accessible to screen readers. iBooks is reasonably accessible to iOS devices.


DTB — Digital Talking Books

DTB’s were the ebooks before there were ebooks.  Created using DAISY format — Digital Accessible Information System — they promote standards for digital talking books.  DTB’s are a multimedia representation of a print publication — can have text, images, audio and soon video embedded.  All of this can be embedded into devices that have no screen.


DTB Hardware:

Adopton of these devices is pretty small probably because the selection of DTBs in kind of small.  You can also use these devices to read newspapers, word documents, etc.  These have no visual component.

  • PlexTalk – $400-500 — control a book using buttons on the screen
  • Bones — Swedish reader — only has 4 buttons
  • Victor Reader Stream — somewhat outdated, larger, like a textbook. Has a slot for an SD card as well.



DTB Software readers: These usually have a visual component

  • AMIS
  • AnyDaisy
  • EasyReader
  • ReadHear
  • And others…



Digital Image and Graphic Resources for Accessible Materials

Access to images and graphics in educational content, mainly through textbooks

One of the tools is poet, open-source tool for creating image descriptions for DTBs.


They will release a new accessible e-book reader based on Readium by next summer.  Readium is a library for rendering EPUB documents and a system for building accessible e-book readers.  It has support for variable fonts, colors, has TTS support, word-by-word highlighting, conforms to EUB3 and works






2 thoughts on “Creating Accessible E-books: Summary of NISO program”

  1. Hi Paul, Thanks for your comments on MathML. The speaker did not get into that specifically. He had a very short period of time to speak. Sue

  2. It is suprising that mathematical notation is not mentioned since MathML is part of DAISY, HTML5, and EPUB3. Math can be made accessible by converting it to speech or braille. Readium ebook reader has support for math display via the MathJax open source library which supports math accessibility.

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