Ebook Procurement Must Serve All Students

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Answer these eight accessibility questions to ensure ebook procurement meets the needs of all learners

Digital content is on the rise in classrooms across the country, and the onset of distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for this content. Much of it comes in the form of ebooks. While many people believe that ebooks are a good solution for remote learning, unfortunately, not all ebooks are accessible to students who are unable to read standard print due to low vision, blindness, dyslexia, or a physical disability. Procurement staff—either at the state or school-district level—must implement policies in order to identify and procure content that works for all students.  

Eight Critical Questions

Procurement teams should ask publishers these eight questions to ensure that ebooks are accessible:  

1-Is the content compatible with assistive technology?

All ebooks must be compatible with assistive technology such as screen readers, refreshable braille displays, text-to-speech engines, and reading applications. For example, can readers change fonts, font sizes, line spacing, colors, narration speed, and other parameters?

2-Do ebook 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 text descriptions?

All images should be described using alt-text (alternative text), and those that are not merely decorative or not described by the surrounding text should include 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 should have row and column 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 to allow students with visual and hearing impairments 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 a 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. 

8-Has the publisher received accessibility certification by a third-party expert?

Procurement agents should purchase ebooks from publishers that have demonstrated success producing files in accordance with the industry-standard EPUB Accessibility 1.0 Conformance and Discovery specification and globally-accepted level of WCAG 2.0 AA.

Benetech, founder of Bookshare, the world’s largest collection of ebooks accessible to people with reading barriers, applauds Macmillan Learning, University of Michigan Press, Kogan Page, House of Anansi Press, Guilford Press, Jones & Bartlett Learning, and ECW Press as the first publishers to receive Benetech’s Global Certified Accessible™ accreditation for ebooks.

All approved publishers have demonstrated success consistently producing files in accordance with Benetech’s GCA™ certification standard, meeting the EPUB Accessibility 1.0 Conformance and Discovery specification, and exceeding a publishing standard level of WCAG 2.0 AA. Benetech recognizes these publishers as creators of fully accessible EPUBs.

“Today, it is entirely possible for a publisher’s standard editorial and production workflows to make their products accessible from the start. That means print disabled people don’t have to wait for a special accessible version to be created for them. This is considerably more efficient and less costly to the publisher and/or its customers than having to create special versions of publications for accessibility.” -- Bill Kasdorf, Principal, Kasdorf & Associates, LLC; Founding Partner, Publishing Technology Partners

Demand Accessibility – It Starts with You

Digital content’s rise in the classroom will continue to be a boon to accessibility if procurement offices can demand accessible digital content from publishers and recognize the forward-thinking publishers who have made the effort to become certified. And, as a bonus, accessible content benefits not only learners with disabilities, but all learners, regardless of whether they have a reading barrier or not. A certified accessible ebook is a better ebook.

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. 

Learn more about Benetech’s Global Certified Accessible™ accreditation for ebooks.