August 14, 2022

Publishers Must Embrace EPUB 3’s Accessibility Features | BEA 2012


The new EPUB 3 distribution and interchange format standard for digital publications will include a wealth of features that can be used to enhance ebook accessibility. But, publishers need to begin incorporating those features into production workflows during the digital publication process, rather than expecting other organizations to retrofit accessibility features, Matt Garrish, chief editor of the EPUB 3 specification and author of Accessible EPUB 3, said during the “Ebooks for Everyone: LIA Project, Accessible Publishing Guidelines, EpubCheck and More” session at BookExpo America held this week in New York City.

Garrish was joined by Cristina Mussinelli, director of the Italian Ministry of Culture’s Libri Italiani Accessibili (LIA) project.

“We have organizations for the blind and others who create content after the fact, that puts accessibility back into the books. It’s not something that really is a long-term solution. It’s not even something that can keep up, in any meaningful way, when you have the whole publishing industry creating content, and a small number of organizations trying after the fact to put these [features] in,” Garrish said.

Ebooks present a new opportunity for publishers to redesign their workflows in a way that integrates accessibility features into these publications.

In terms of accessibility, EPUB 3 has meshed the current EPUB 2 standard with DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) standards, Garrish explained.

“All of the accessibility features that were in the DAISY standard are included and enhanced with EPUB 3. The structure is enhanced. We’ve got HTML 5 grammar, so we’ve got better semantics, more tagging sections.”

EPUB has also added a new “epub:type” attribute Garrish said. His website, includes a thorough explanation of how the new attribute works.

“To get [these features] into the workflow is the big key at this point. …The further down the chain it falls, the more work it’s going to take to redo your markup.”

In Italy, LIA is also urging publishers to incorporate accessibility features into ebooks and other electronic content. In conjunction with the Unione Italiana Ciechi (Italian Blind Union) and CNUDD (National Conference of University Representatives of Disabilities), LIA recently conducted a major quantitative study that included 1,505 telephone interviews with blind and visually impaired people aged 18 to 65 regarding their reading habits and technology. It found that visually impaired people actually read at a much higher rate than the general population. Almost 60 percent of respondents said that they read books either every day or multiple times each week, and almost all respondents read books at least occasionally.

In light of those results, publishers should also consider accessibility as “an important issue, not only from a social point of view, but important from a commercial point of view,” Mussinelli said, since this group reads at a higher than average rate.

“We know that publishers can do a lot, but they cannot do everything,” Mussinelli added later. “The other main thing is that it is important to raise awareness on the other part of the value chain, especially people working on the reading systems and devices…Every part of the value chain should be involved in accessibility.”

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Matt Enis (; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.