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Global Certified Accessible ebooks

BNGO BooksComment

Following the shuttering of the Digital Book World blog, I'm reposting recent pieces about Accessibility. 

The publishing world is already serious about this issue. How serious? One indication is the new accessibility certification program developed by Benetech in collaboration with many industry leaders.

An International Agreement

Over 170 nations have ratified the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It states:

The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. 
Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

For the international publishing industry, this is a straightforward mandate: Make accessible books available to everyone who wants them at the time and place of their choosing.

Global Certified Accessible

The  EPUB3 Accessibility specification lays the foundation for publishers to build on. The Global Certified Accessible initiative will be a way for them to test and validate their products to ensure they fill those requirements.

Benetech, a nonprofit tech company that focuses on bringing content to disabled communities, has created the program to examine ebook files and certify — or not —  their accessibility.

Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan Learning, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, and Ingram Content Group are a few of the entities that will put this program to work. (See a complete list at the end of this piece.)

While initially focussed on the school market, it will immediately involve the larger trade market. Publishers like HarperCollins and Penguin Random House will certify trade ebooks that are often purchased for classroom use — think 1984 or To Kill a Mockingbird. Lisa McCloy-Kelley, VP Director Ebook Product Development & Innovation at Penguin Random House provides their rationale:

Our goal at Penguin Random House is to bring our authors' stories and ideas to readers wherever they are and in whatever format they want to read. That includes ensuring that our titles are readily and easily accessible for people with reading disabilities and for classroom use. Together with Benetech, we have identified opportunities to improve our content-development processes and the accessibility of our ebooks, as we continue to better understand and address the needs of this community.

From a production point of view, once publishers with large lists include accessibility in their workflows for some books, there’s little doubt that the same attention will be paid to every ebook published.

And, once these titles are accessible and bought for use in classrooms, libraries, and book groups around the world, the business case will be obvious.

Third-Party Validation

The EUB3 Accessibility specification is the standard, and Benetech’s testing suite serves as a third-party validator of how it is utilized. The certification will match an EPUB against the specs to see if semantics are sound, markup is correct, and content is fully available to every reader.

In short, the certification will indicate to institutional and individual consumers that a book is available to every consumer at the time and place of their choosing.

Benetech will work with individual publishers to set pricing, which will be based on a number of variables: number of titles, book length, complexity of content.

Added Value

According to Brad Turner, Benetech’s VP of Global Literacy, each evaluation highlights missing accessibility elements and provide suggestions on how features that have been incorrectly implemented should be remediated. The complexity of each book is taken into account, so text-only books will be tested on only those features they have.

The Global Accessibility tool will also check an EPUB for structure and general EPUB validation requirements, although it won’t provide retailer-specific guidelines that tools like Flightdeck provide.

Metadata fields describe a book’s accessibility features, tell whether or not it’s been tested and by whom, and provide reasons why some features were not included. Books that are certified by Benetech will be designated as such in metadata, as well as on Ingram Content Group’s VitalSource® and CoreSource®, if distributed through that channel.

Participants at the launch of Global Certified Accessible

The first adopters and participants in developing Benetech’s program are The Los Angeles Unified School District, Elsevier, HarperCollins Publishers, Harvard Business Publishing, Macmillan Learning, Penguin Random House, Apex CoVantage, Amnet Systems, Dedicon, Royal National Institute of Blind People, and Ingram Content Group’s VitalSource® and CoreSource®.

This is a big leap towards universal access to publications. Publishing accessible ebooks makes economic sense, and makes distribution of content as democratic as possible. Making ebooks accessible today means increasing their shelf lives far into the future so that readers in the future will be able to enjoy and learn.

As large and small publishers realize that implementing the EPUB3 Accessibility spec adds value to their product at a reasonable expenditure of labor, this tool and any others like it will be go-to resources.

A final word from Bill Kasdorf of Apex CoVantage:

This is a watershed moment for accessibility. Benetech has long been a leader in fostering ‘Born Accessible’ publishing. Its development of the certification standards for the Global Certified Accessible program brings long-needed clarity to the process of creating and procuring properly accessible publications.


UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities


EPUB3 Accessibility Specification