EPUB Accessibility 1.0: New Opportunities for Authors, Publishers and Readers

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

The Metropolitan Opera in New York displays supertitles on small screens mounted to seatbacks. Also in New York, The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park projects a play’s text on monitors flanking the stage. And The MIT Press is committed to making its digital publications accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

Each of these efforts serves different communities and expands customer base. One result: more people buy tickets and books. And the potential audience grows, bringing in those who were previously ignored or underserved.

Accessibility: Equal Opportunity and Sales Opportunities

Closed-captioning from the Met and the Public Theater offer deaf theater-goers a chance to participate, while The MIT Press provides those with sight disabilities routes into their books.

Does it matter which result — sales or equal opportunity —  management was looking for? Not really; the job gets done. Translations of librettos from unfamiliar languages also helps the hearing audience, enticing those who weren’t interested in something they couldn’t understand. The Shakespearean closed captioning helps all in the theater better appreciate the rapid-fire pentameter of the plays.

That’s accessibility in action. More people in seats, understanding more than they had before.

What matters is that more folks are reading books or attending the opera. More people are enriched. Culture, learning, and entertainment are distributed more widely. These theatrical practices show what great opportunities there are for book publishers as they adopt accessibility.

Expanding Our Notions of a Book

The EPUB Accessibility 1.0 standard uses web technology (the foundation of ebooks) to make publications available to the many readers who can’t access print materials. It’s a marriage of technology and content, and can serve as a means to expand and enhance what we think of as a book.

Book editors are used to omitting text to fit a desired page count; paper is expensive. That disappears with ebooks.

There can be expanded navigation: numerous tables of contents (chapters, illustrations, tables). There can be ,ore comprehensive indexes, more thorough descriptions of images, more thoughtfully tagged asides, backmatter, and citations—more material that authors and publishers should only see as added value.

We know what parts of a book are: title page, preface, part opener, chapter, and so on. To be accessible, an ebook needs correct labeling. All an editor needs to do is correctly mark up a manuscript so the ebook developer can apply the correct EPUB type.

Connecting Authors, Publishers, and Readers

These features are wonderful, but they don’t just appear. Tables of contents need to be built. Indexes have to be written, with hyperlinks built in when the Index is created. Book sections need to be labeled.

But these are familiar tasks. They just need some extra planning at the start of a project to be fully implemented. While they require a bit more work, they also remove limits on what a book can be.

Over the next few posts I’ll explore not just the opportunities accessibility brings, but also legal requirements and practical considerations. Making ebooks accessible can build a stronger alliance between authors, publishers, and their audience.