DAISY Consortium's News Brief - # 2017-02a
Enjoy a concise selection of digital publishing news. Our main goal is to inform DAISY Members and Supporters about new e-reading technologies and related developments.

Upcoming Event: CSUN Assistive Technology Conference - Suggested Sessions

CSUN 2017 will take place in San Diego, California, February 27th - March 4th. Below please find a selection of links to sessions led by DAISY member representatives and DAISY team members:

More information is provided on the CSUN conference website.

What's New: Links to Noteworthy Articles

EPUB Accessibility 1.0: Why and How?

Written by Matt Garrish (@MattGarrish), Editor - Digital Publishing Standards & Processes (DAISY)

Being built on the same technologies that underpin the Open Web Platform, the EPUB 3 format has always allowed for a high degree of accessibility. How to ensure that publications actually are accessible was a challenge that increasingly needed to be addressed, however.

There have been a number of efforts to highlight accessible practices since EPUB 3 was first launched, from the IDPF accessibility guidelines to the BISG Quick Start Guide. Although these were necessary and beneficial first steps in moving toward a more inclusive model of publishing, we were still missing a testable framework for evaluating the overall accessibility of EPUB publications. It was not always clear what steps were sufficient to make universally accessible content.

Enter the EPUB Accessibility specification, which became a recommended IDPF specification on January 5th, 2017. The development of this specification occurred very quickly between February and October of 2016 as an activity under the EPUB 3.1 revision headed by Avneesh Singh (DAISY) and Charles LaPierre (Benetech).

While the speed of development might seem fast, the mitigating factor is that the same practices that make web content accessible, make EPUB publications accessible. We were able to leverage the years of work that have already gone into the development of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The EPUB Accessibility specification is not an attempt to reinterpret web content accessibility for digital publishing, but more of an adaptive step.

The specification is actually unique in that it is not specific to any one version of EPUB. You can use it right now to assess EPUB 3.0 or even 2.0 publications - you’re not left waiting for 3.1 support, or having to transition to the new version first. The specification is structured so that there is a set of universal high-level requirements, while a separate techniques document identifies specific practices and how they are implemented in the different flavours of EPUB. The requirements break down along three major lines (plus one divergence), which I’ll cover in turn below.

Discoverability

The ability to discover the qualities of a publication is often under-appreciated when looking at how to make content accessible. Without metadata to describe the content, readers first have to consume a publication before they can assess its usefulness, which can waste both time and money.

The discovery section of the accessibility specification requires the inclusion of schema.org accessibility metadata so that publications are self-describing. This metadata is intended to facilitate the development of more intelligent search options in bookstores and on the web, and to allow reading systems to surface more information when a reader opens a book on their bookshelf. The more hands-on content developers can also dig into the heart of the EPUB and find this detail for themselves.

The metadata allows you to describe many aspects of the content, such as the accessibility features including alternative text, long descriptions, captions, transcripts, etc. It may point out the perceptual systems and cognitive faculties needed to consume the content (e.g., whether the content can be consumed in textual, visual, auditory or tactile form), and whether any hazards are present (e.g., flashing content). You can also include a human-readable summary of the overall accessibility.

The inclusion of discovery metadata is a requirement regardless of whether the publication meets the accessibility requirements of the specification. A publication that fails on conformance may still be usable by many readers. With information about why the content failed, the reader can judge whether the publication is still sufficient for their needs or not.

Accessibility

As noted above, the accessibility requirements for EPUB publications primarily leverage WCAG to define general accessibility requirements. Publications are required to meet Level A conformance, but it is recommended that they meet AA, especially since that level is already legally mandated in many regions. The specification also adds EPUB-specific requirements for pagination and the use of media overlays.

In addition to providing the framework for evaluating accessibility, this section also defines how to certify conformance so that anyone can discover whether your publication is accessible. You can not only indicate that the publication conforms to the requirements of the specification, but also provide the name of who certified the content (which could be a third party). There is also metadata for certifier credentials (who certified the certifier), as well as the ability to link to a more detailed conformance report. This report could be hosted on the web or carried inside the publication.

Distribution

The way that an EPUB publication is distributed also impacts its ultimate accessibility for end users. Place digital rights management (DRM) restrictions on it that prevent assistive technologies from accessing the text and an otherwise accessible publication becomes unreadable to anyone who needs the content voiced.

Although you cannot control every distribution factor, the specification identifies DRM and metadata as areas that authors and publishers have influence over and sets requirements for their application.

Optimizations

Although EPUB publications should ideally be accessible to as broad a range of readers as possible, sometimes it’s the case that their content will be optimized for one particular user group.

An EPUB intended for auditory readers might only include the bare minimum text necessary to satisfy the format requirements (e.g., only the major heading structure). Or a publication might be formatted using braille Unicode characters for reading on a refreshable braille display. Such books are perfectly accessible to their intended audiences, but would not be usable by anyone who cannot hear the audio or read braille, respectively.

To solve the problem of how to acknowledge that content is accessible, the new specification defines how to identify the standard the optimized content conforms to. For example, you could state that your publication conforms to the DAISY navigable audio guidelines, so that readers are aware the publication is optimized for aural playback. You can also use the accessibility summary metadata to describe in more detail what conformance entails.

Future Developments

The accessibility specification is by no means a done deal at this point: the first version is more of a starting point. We intend to continue work on the techniques document, as there are still many problematic areas in digital publishing that need universally accessible solutions. This work will continue in W3C now as IDPF has merged with W3C. I invite you to join the (free) EPUB Community Group to help shape these discussions. In addition to creating the new specification, DAISY staff and members have also been working with W3C to push new digital publishing accessibility initiatives:

With the merger now complete, the accessibility concerns both communities share will no longer have to evolve in separate silos. It’s an exciting time as we look to integrate publishing accessibility requirements with the broader web. The experience and knowledge of DAISY members will play an important role in shaping the future of accessible publishing on the web, so, again, I urge you to participate and make your voices heard.

Thank you, Matt!