E- Book Accessibility: What Publishers Need To Know

December 8, 2023
Roxann Johnson
Wendy Reid
Stacy Scott
E- Book Accessibility: What Publishers Need To Know

Books are gateways to knowledge, empathy, and adventure, and no one should be excluded from the journey. Accessibility in the publishing industry has become a defining theme, not just to comply with regulations but to embrace a more inclusive future.


From the European Accessibility Act to the Americans withDisabilities Act (ADA), and international standards like EPUB3, accessibility requirements are becoming increasingly significant for publishers. Through understanding, creation, and partnership, publishers can do their part to go beyond just legal compliance and make books and e-books a truly inclusive experience.  


Understanding Accessibility & Why It Matters

Accessibility simply means that everyone, regardless of their unique needs or disabilities, has the opportunity to read a book o re-book. Surprisingly, approximately 20% of the world's population falls into the category of 'print disabled.' This is a massive demographic of potential readers and book buyers.  


To ensure that inclusivity isn't just a concept but a reality, both the European Accessibility Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act were introduced. These legal frameworks serve as pillars advocating for equal access to information and literary works. Specifically for publishers, there's EPUB3—a comprehensive set of guidelines, maintained by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), aimed at helping publishers make their digital content more accessible.


Certainly, the legal aspect is a significant driving force behind the pursuit of accessibility. Compliance with these laws and guidelines is crucial. However, accessibility is about more than just legal compliance. It’s about putting an honest effort forward in respecting the diverse needs of your audience and doing your best to meet those needs.


Accessibility Checklist

While remediation isn’t impossible (and it’s often easier than people make it out to be), starting with new titles makes the accessibility process much smoother in terms of workflow. It allows accessibility to be seamlessly integrated into the book-building process and become a fundamental part of the journey.


Print Book Accessibility

1. High-Contrast Fonts:

  • Choose fonts that are easy to read. Sans-serif fonts like Arial or Helvetica often work well.
  • Opt for high-contrast text and background colors to make the text stand out. Black text on white pages or white text on blackpages is a classic choice.
  • Ensure font sizes are adjustable for readers who may need larger text.

2. Clear Layouts:

  • Maintain consistent and clear layouts throughout the book. Readers of all abilities benefit from predictability.
  • Use adequate spacing between lines and paragraphs to prevent overcrowding.
  • Implement a logical and intuitive structure with well-defined chapter headings and subheadings.
  • Include a table of contents for easy navigation.

3. Clear Images and Illustrations:

  • Ensure that images and illustrations are of high quality and clarity.
  • Add detailed image descriptions to enable those with visual impairments to understand the visual content.
  • Position image descriptions near the relevant images.

E-Book Accessibility

1. Text-to-Speech Functionality:

  • Enable text-to-speech functionality in e-books, allowing readers to have the text read aloud by a computerized voice.
  • Ensure that e-book platforms or software support this feature, so readers with visual or reading disabilities can benefit from it.

2. Adjustable Fonts and Text Sizes:

  • Implement options for readers to adjust font size, font type, and line spacing. This customization helps those with visual impairments or dyslexia read more comfortably.
  • Allow readers to select background and text colors for optimal contrast, enhancing readability.

3. Alternative Text for Images:

  • Add alternative text descriptions (alt text) to images and illustrations within the e-book. Alt text provides a textual description of the image's content, allowing readers with visual impairments to understand it.
  • Ensure that the alt text is concise, descriptive, and placed near the corresponding image.

4. Semantic Structure:

  • Embrace EPUB3 standards, a widely recognized digital publishing format, to enhance the structure and accessibility of your books.
  • Use semantic HTML elements to denote headings, lists, tables, and other structural elements. This provides a clear hierarchy for screen readers.
  • Incorporate navigation landmarks to help users navigate through the e-book easily.

5. Metadata and Language Information:

  • Include accurate metadata for each e-book, specifying details about the book's content, author, and publication date.
  • Ensure that the e-book is tagged with the appropriate language metadata, which assists screen readers in selecting the correct voice and pronunciation.


Tips To Up Your Accessibility Game

Collaborate with Groups and Individuals with Disabilities

It is inevitable that someone is going to interact with something in a way that you may not have been able to plan for. That’s okay! Encourage feedback from groups and individuals with disabilities to better understand their needs, experiences and preferences. Finding this information is massively helpful and will help resolve problems quickly should they arise.  


Testing Accessibility & Other Resources

To help you dive into your accessibility journey, below are several great tools to help with everything from testing accessibility to reporting to providing educational resources:

Create An Accessibility Statement

The goal of this statement is not to broadcast perfection regarding accessibility but to simply create awareness around what efforts have already been made, what’s currently in the works, and where support can be reached should an issue arise. This may seem like an elementary practice, but it does make a difference in letting someone know a publisher, provider or business is taking accessibility seriously.

The most important thing to remember about accessibility is simply to start. Start learning, start asking questions, start implementing and start making an honest effort.


Accessibility isn’t just a trendy buzzword; it’s a commitment to readers that no one will be left out of the literary world, it’s a testament to the power of stories and knowledge. In making books and e-books more accessible, publishers take a giant leap forward creating an inclusive and diverse literary world, where every reader, regardless of ability, can embrace the written word.

E- Book Accessibility: What Publishers Need To Know
Roxann Johnson

Roxann Johnson

Wendy Reid

Wendy Reid

Stacy Scott

Stacy Scott

You May Also Like