Earlier this month educators, parents, and children around the world celebrated International Children’s Book Day. The goal of the day is to inspire a love of reading in children everywhere. Through this celebration of literacy and learning, it’s important not to forget about what we can do to better serve readers with disabilities. According to the World Health Organization, 19 million children have some form of vision impairment, including 1.4 million with irreversible blindness.
Considering those numbers, it’s important to be mindful of the accessibility of online books and publications for readers of all ages and abilities.
Why Accessibility is Important for Online Books and Publications
Nearly every author wants their work to be read by an audience that’s as large as possible — but when it comes to accessibility, this goal goes unmet all too often. According to the U.K.’s Royal National Institute of Blind People, fewer than 5% of books are available in accessible formats, such as braille and large print.
Technologies such as e-books have revolutionized the publishing industry, making it easier than ever before for people to obtain reading material. One major advantage of e-books over paper books, especially for accessibility, is that they allow for more customization and personalization, not only in when and where people read them, but also how they’re read. Users can easily change their e-book or device settings in accordance with the way that they prefer to read text.
WCAG 2.0 for Online Books and Publications
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are an internationally recognized standard for making websites and web content accessible. If you’re committed to accessibility as a goal, then every part of your website — including online books and publications — should meet the WCAG 2.0 objectives.
Below, we’ll summarize the relevant parts of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines as they pertain to textual content for people with print disabilities.
- Blindness: Users who are blind may consume content using screen reader software that vocalizes the text on the page. Screen readers must be able to interpret the structure and layout of your document, and then read the text to the user without creating confusion. For example, if an e-book contains the book’s title at the top of every page, the screen reader should not read this title whenever it “turns the page.”
- Visual impairments: People who with low vision typically require one thing in order to successfully read a document: customization. First, as required by WCAG 2.0, they should be able to enlarge text to the size they desire. In order to improve readability, they should also be able to change options such as the font’s typeface, the line spacing, and the colors of the text and the background.
- Dyslexia: Readers with dyslexia face a diverse set of challenges. Providing customization options, as for people with visual impairments, can be useful in many cases. According to the WCAG standards, language should be as straightforward as possible, and you should provide explanations of non-standard terms, such as technical jargon and abbreviations.
- Motor impairments: Reading a physical book can be difficult for people who lack the motor skills to turn the page. Because people with motor impairments often have problems using a mouse as well, WCAG 2.0 requires websites to be navigable using only the keyboard.
To celebrate International Children’s Book Day, we’d like to highlight organizations that are working to promote accessibility within the publishing industry. The Accessible Book Consortium provides a digital repository of more than 350,000 titles in dozens of languages that libraries can add to their collections free of charge. Meanwhile, publishers such as HarperCollins are collaborating with BookShare, another digital library that provides accessible books to people with disabilities.
For more information about how organizations can work to make their publications more accessible, visit the BoIA blog, or schedule a free 30-minute consultation with our expert accessibility consultants.