Accessible eBooks in ePub Format

eBooks are slowly conquering the German book market. A target group that you may not have thought of is people with disabilities. They are almost predestined for electronic reading. The standard format for eBooks ePub is ideal for accessible reading pleasure. PDF, on the other hand, is the least suitable format for accessible literature.

Almost every tenth German is disabled or has a cognitive impairment. Many can easily read printed books. However, there are also many people who cannot read or who can only read with difficulty:

  • Blind people need a digital version of the book to have it read aloud or in Braille on a Braille display.
  • Visually impaired people can adapt digital texts to their visual impairment, for example enlarge them, change the contrast or the font.
  • People who cannot turn the page due to motor disabilities read digital texts on the computer and control the device, for example, by voice or eye control.
  • People with reading difficulties can have the text read to them with special programs.

The number of book lovers is likely to be higher in the blind group than in the average population. Many blind and deaf people prefer books to television or radio because hardly any other medium comes close to direct experience.

Accessibility should not be seen as an unnecessary extra. Improved readability benefits all readers. It is not for nothing that many people still print out texts or prefer paper books to electronic versions. Readability on digital devices has not yet reached the quality of printed paper. In addition, accessibility almost incidentally ensures adaptability and usability on most reading devices and programs.

This book is intended to show you how you can better reach people with print disabilities with accessible books. The text is specifically aimed at authors who want to create eBooks, especially in ePub format, and work at the code level. Some tips are also suitable for the pure writer, but if you are one of those who leave the creation of the eBook to third parties, you can recommend this book to your designer. Of course, different books have different requirements. A children's book without color and pictures can hardly be successful, in most fiction books there are no graphics at all and so on. For fiction books, the section on text formatting and semantic segmentation is of particular interest. When writing non-fiction books, on the other hand, you have to read the whole book, and accessibility is also particularly important for this type of book. If you need assistance, don't hesitate to contact me.

Uncovered Topics

ePub 3 offers a whole range of possibilities that are not covered in this book for practical reasons.

For people with reading difficulties, for example, it is a good idea to synchronize the audio and text in the document. This is made possible by the so-called media overlays. As a rule, however, the authors will not create their own audio book. Special reading software does not depend on such overlays.

Another topic is pronunciation dictionaries. There are several ways to set the pronunciation of words that are not covered by the text reader's pronunciation rules. This is actually a sensible development, but I don't know of any read-aloud program that processes these rules. I would classify the priority of these measures as very low and see the ball more with the developers of the speech synthesis software. The blind reading software has quite good dictionaries to regulate the pronunciation.

Another important topic are interactive elements such as forms in eBooks. Of course, such elements should also be accessible, but they are currently used relatively rarely. I haven't come across an interactive eBook yet.

The problem with all these certainly useful features is that they are not adequately supported by the assistance software for people with disabilities. But it is also annoying that so far there are hardly any tools that make this complex work easier for the author. There is the Tobi program from the DAISY Consortium that helps in synchronizing text and audio. So far, however, there have been no helpful and inexpensive programs for other tasks. This does not look any better with the other features described here, but they are much easier to implement.

Another problem should not be concealed. eBooks are generally backwards compatible, which means that you can also read current eBooks with an older eBook reader. However, many features of current eBooks cannot be used because the devices do not support these features. This would only work if the reading program received updates, which no longer happens, especially with older devices.

The same applies to auxiliary software. If the eBook standard provides an accessibility feature, but it is not supported by the help software, this help will not reach the user. You cannot change that, it is up to the producers of the programs and the readers to keep their software up to date.

For some measures, I cannot see that the amount of work and the result are in a reasonable relationship to each other. I'm simply afraid that if the effort is too high, the author will immediately forego accessibility, which I would really find a shame.

You shouldn't take this as an argument to neglect accessibility. An eBook published today will probably still be for sale online five or ten years from now, and you won't have the time or inclination to edit and repost the existing book. Therefore, you should try to meet current accessibility standards. As far as I know, the measures described here apply to all common devices and reading applications.

ePub as format of choice

ePub has meanwhile established itself as the central format for electronic books. The ePub 3 standard introduced many modern elements that have the potential to overtake the previous superiority of the printed book.

Many graphic designers from the print sector prefer PDF as a text format. In the past, PDF was mainly used to create print templates, but it has established itself as the central file format for designed texts on the Internet. It can be displayed on almost all platforms and looks the same everywhere.

But that also has its price. It is very difficult, time-consuming and expensive to create accessible PDF documents.

In addition, these accessible documents are only supported by a few programs. This means that even if the document has been designed to be accessible, the corresponding features cannot be used by many readers.

ePub is in a sense the opposite of PDF. Like a website, it is designed to adapt to the size of the display. The reading applications for ePub allow an almost limitless adaptation to individual needs. The files are supported by virtually all reading applications, the exception being Amazon Kindle. Since ePub is an XML format, it can easily be converted to other formats such as Mobi or even PDF.

A disadvantage from the point of view of graphic designers and desktop publishers is the difficult fixing of the layout. There are eBooks with a fixed design, but even this fixation is often undermined by reading applications.

The old adage applies: "The bait should taste good to the fish, not to the angler". It would be a pity if a reader rejected your work because he could not adapt it to his reading habits.