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What is an accessible publication?

An accessible publication is a printed, embossed or electronic publication suitable for reading by people who are blind, partially sighted or otherwise print disabled. There are accessible physical books in the form of large print books, books with embossed braille characters, tactile and Easy Read books and more.

Accessible ebooks can be read on digital devices using assistive technologies, such as Read Aloud, screen readers or refreshable braille display (a device which transforms digital text into physical braille characters).

Accessible publications are also available as audio books with navigation.

What is an accessible ebook?

An accessible ebook is a digital book that can be read by anyone. It is well-structured and adaptable to the preferences and different needs of each reader, particularly for those with a print disability. There are various ways to read an accessible ebook which include:

  • on a personal computer using special reading software or a web browser
  • on mobile devices (tablets, smartphones) using a reading application
  • on ereaders, which are devices specifically designed to read ebooks. They do not require the installation of reading software or apps. However, not all ereaders guarantee and accessible reading experience. They all have customisation functions (enlargement of the text, increasing the line spacing, changing the colour of the text and the page) but that does not guarantee good levels of accessibility. For an overview of the varying features and available customisation options refer to Reading Systems Accessibility Support Roundup

What is the most accessible file format for ebooks?

The most commonly used format for digital books is EPUB, the standard developed by the publishing industry and managed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). EPUB has been developed with accessibility in mind, and is sometimes described as the most accessible publishing technology ever developed. One of its key features is that most EPUB files are ‘reflowable’, meaning that the text automatically adjusts to fit a device’s screen, and its presentation can normally be altered by the user to suit their needs and preferences. That means that someone using a smartphone does not need to pan left and right to read a line of text. The same is true for someone with low vision who enlarges the text. Other aspects of visual adjustment include the ability to personalise the font, colours, margins and line spacing. An accessible EPUB also offers alternative text for images, great navigation via the table of contents, headings and page numbers, explorable tables and maths expressions. An ebook in accessible EPUB provides an excellent user experience for all readers and offers the most accessible experience for print disabled readers. Learn more about EPUB:

  • EPUB 3 Overview (
  • EPUB 3.3 specification
  • EPUB Accessibility 1.1 specification
  • The DAISY Guide to EPUB Accessibility

  • What is the difference between an accessible ebook and an audio book?

    They are different products all together. An audiobook is the audio recording of a book read aloud and performed by one or more voice actors, and may or may not be abridged or have descriptions for non-text content. An ebook, on the other hand, is a digital version of the full text that can be read in various ways, including speech synthesis, which artificially reads aloud the written text. Audiobooks are designed for a single access mode (audio) and not specifically for accessibility. A well-formed accessible EPUB file can be rendered, navigated and fully enjoyed in a number of modes to suit different requirements, now and in the future. This is made possible by features in the code of an ebook, such as semantic tagging and structure, image descriptions, metadata and more. Ebooks capture everything about the book as data, and can be consumed in many ways beyond just text on a screen.

    What are assistive technologies?

    The term ‘assistive technology’ is used to describe products or systems that support and assist individuals with disabilities. In the case of reading this includes:

    • refreshable braille display – hardware device which can be attached to a computer or mobile device which interprets text into Braille in real time. It contains sets of pins which can be raised and lowered to construct the Braille encoding which can be read by touch.
    • Screen reader technology which are software applications that run at the same time as other computer programs and read aloud whatever is displayed on the computer screen, helping the user to navigate text and read within applications.
    • speech synthesis or text-to-speech (an artificial voice that reads the written text).

    What is a print disability?
    • Learning disability: an impairment relating to comprehension
    • Physical disability: the inability to hold or manipulate a book
    • Visual disability: severe or total impairment of sight or the inability to focus or move one’s eyes

    Definition taken from CELA.

    What features make an ebook more accessible?

    An accessible ebook has certain characteristics that allow readers with print disabilities to fully access the content. These include:

    • A reading interface that is customisable, with options to enlarge the text characters, increase the line spacing and change the colours of the text and background
    • The addition of a table of contents or linked index to assist with navigation and access to the chapters and sections of the book
    • headings that are tagged allow navigation to specific sections from any point in the book
    • The inclusion of alternative text for all images that can be read by assistive technologies
    • linked footnotes that allow the reader to return to the main text
    • fully functioning web addresses and links
    How does the European Accessibility Act apply to the publishing industry in the UK?

    The European Accessibility Act is a directive of the European Union, and as such is not directly applicable to UK organisations. However, if your organisation is involved with the sale or any other form of supply of publications into any EU member state, you will need to conform to the EAA. In addition to this, many UK publishing industry analysts also expect similar legislation to the EAA to follow in the UK at some point in the future, so having systems and processes in place now will put you ahead of the game if this happens. Of course all of this is in addition to the ethical, reputational and even potential commercial benefits of broadening the reach of your content – adding accessibility features makes your content richer and more future-proof.

    What is the Marrakesh Treaty?

    The full name of this treaty is “The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled”. It is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The Marrakesh Treaty aims to increase the number of accessible books for those who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled (“people who are print-disabled”) through two main requirements:

  • the creation of provisions in the national law in order to permit the reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in accessible formats without the need to request permission from the copyright owner

  • the creation of provisions in the national law to allow the cross-border exchange of Accessible Format Copies of Works by organizations that serve people who are print disabled without the need to request permission from the copyright owner.
  • Our Regulations resources page provides links and more information.

    What does the move from WCAG 2.1 to 2.2 mean for me as a publisher?

    The move from WCAG 2.1 to 2.2 does not add any significant burden to publishers of accessible content. Unlike WCAG 2.1, which introduced the Reflow success criterion that greatly affected fixed layouts, the new success criteria in 2.2 are not likely to have widespread impacts and do not introduce complex new requirements. The easiest way to understand the new changes in WCAG 2.2 is to look at what each level introduces as the resource below indicates.

    For a breakdown of amendments to success criteria you can read the overview from Matt Garrish (DAISY software developer and W3C expert) entitled Introducing WCAG 2.2 which provides detailed information for publishers.