Ebook Procurement Must Serve All Students

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Seven Accessibility Questions for Procurement Teams to Ask Publishers 

Digital content is on the rise in classrooms across the country. Much of this content comes in the form of ebooks. Unfortunately, not all ebooks are accessible to students unable to read standard print due to low vision, blindness, or dyslexia. Procurement staff—either at the state or school-district level—must know what to look for in order to identify and procure content that works for all students.

Here are seven initial questions procurement teams should ask publishers to help ensure ebooks are accessible:

  1. Is the content assistive-technology compatible? All ebooks must be compatible with assistive technology such as screen readers, refreshable braille, text-to-speech, and reading software. This is a fundamental requirement for ensuring all students can access content.
  2. Do page numbers match the print version? Ebooks should contain page numbers that match the print version of the book so students can stay on track with their peers.
  3. Is the table of contents linked to the text? The beginning of the ebook, and ideally the beginning of each section, should include a complete table of contents with links to specific sections and pages so students can navigate the text more easily.
  4. Are images accompanied by textual descriptions? All images that are not merely decorative or not described by the surrounding text should be described using alt text (alternative text), a description of the nature or content of the image. Assistive technologies will recognize alt text and read the description to the student.
  5. Do tables have headers and captions? Complex tables–such as those common in STEM education texts–should have headers, and captions should explain what information tables convey. Headers and captions allow students to more easily find the tables and benefit from an explanation of the content.
  6. Does video and audio content have captions? Captions for video segments and transcripts for audio segments should be available in order for students to access and follow the content in a manner that works best for them.
  7. Is the text reflowable? Ebook files should be structured so that the text adapts its presentation according to the display without changing size. A reflowable document will “flow” into a single column that is the width of the screen on which it is being viewed while maintaining text size. In contrast, an image or a fixed-layout document like PDF will resize to fit a screen by adjusting the entire document as a whole, forcing the same formatting and relative text size to shrink.

Digital content’s rise in the classroom will continue to be a boon to accessibility if enough procurement offices can recognize and request accessible digital content. I hope the questions above empower procurement offices to embrace accessibility as we move to a future in which all digital content serves all students equally.

To learn more about strategies for requesting and creating content that serves all students visit: www.bornaccessible.org.