Supplemental: Accessibility Issues in E-Books and E-Book Readers

This page supplements material from a chapter on the accessibility of e-books in No Shelf Required 2: Use and Management of Electronic Books (NSR2). It covers two topics that had to be truncated in the chapter due to concerns about length and currency of information:

Taken together, the topics reveal a general truth: At present there is no silver bullet e-book reader or platform for users with disabilities. In a perfect world, we would cherry pick the best features and behaviors from many of the readers and bake them into a truly universally usable device or software that met our functional criteria. Undoubtedly it will be some time before someone serves up the mystical amalgam, either via installed software or the web or on a dedicated device; however, even as our book chapter moved from draft to final copy, it became necessary to revise the overview to mark accessibility improvements in many of the e-book readers. Maybe the future is sooner than we think.

Functional Criteria for E-Book Accessibility

In our chapter in NSR2, we give a general overview of four accessibility guidelines that bear directly or indirectly on e-book accessibility — the NISO DTB Standards Committee Playback Device Guidelines, the W3C's UAAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.0 Principles, and the Federal Section 508 Functional Performance Criteria.

Below we list the general category of functional limitations these guidelines attempt to address and provide a set of criteria an e-book reader/platform should implement in order to accommodate each limitation. Our criteria borrow from the previously mentioned guidelines. Some also derive from the excellent list of recommendations presented in “E-Accessible Reader: The Integral Design and Standardization”, delivered by Marilyn Irwin and Nantanoot Suwannawut at the 2011 International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN).

These criteria are not meant to be definitive and we make no claims with regard to their completeness. They were last updated October 7, 2011.

Finally, there are a couple of global criteria that are not directly referenced in the listings above:

Overview of Common E-Book Reader Accessibility

The following is an accessibility overview of e-book reader technologies — devices and web-based and installed software. The evaluations do not attempt to be thorough. They provide a high-level summary only. Some other sources of e-book accessibility information: The Diagram Center maintains a product matrix of e-book hardware and software, focusing on accessibility. There is also a Wikipedia page comparing e-book readers, which mentions text-to-speech capability.

This overview was last updated October 7, 2011.

Web-Based E-Book Readers

Static HTML can very easily be made highly accessible and creative developers with some knowledge of accessibility can make dynamic web applications accessible, as well. This is why it is surprising that the major mainstream web-based e-book readers currently have poor accessibility, especially for screen reader users. Currently, the CourseSmart Reader, a textbook reader aimed primarily at higher education, is the only web-based reader with both a full feature set and good accessibility.

PC and Mac Installed E-Book Readers

E-Book Reading Devices and Installed Software

Note that the Diagram Center (referenced above) surveys a number of mainstream e-book reader devices. As of October 2011, the product matrix lists only two devices as having accessibility. iPad/iPhone/iOS devices are identified as “reasonably” accessible. Kindle is identified as “somewhat” accessible.