eBook Accessibility, Gateway to Inclusivity
Books, the oldest existing means of acquiring all kinds of information, are made and designed to be read not just by some, but by all. It barely matters who reads it, or what difficulties the readers have. What matters is someone is holding a paperback, keeping a kindle or browsing books through web browsers.
But regardless of the universal truth that books are for everyone, this has not always been true for some, particularly to people with permanent blindness and situational disabilities. This is true for books of all kinds of format – print books, e-books and audiobooks, thus the birth of accessibility for these reading materials.
What is Accessibility?
Accessibility, in general, is defined as the quality of being available when needed. It means that the design of devices, products, services and environments are usable for all. When we say all, we refer both to persons with and without disabilities. Books, with all the information we get from it, are included in those products that needs to have accessibility features.
Accessibility paved the way to the development of a book format that is readable to all. This inclusive book format is called e-book. An e-book or the electronic book is a combination of the print edition, the braille edition, the large print edition, and the audio book edition all rolled into one. Furthermore, as technology evolved, respected groups in the industry developed guidelines that would conform and ensure that these e-books are not only available, but fully accessible to everyone and that includes people who use assistive tools.
Who benefits from accessible e-books?
The birth of accessible electronic books opened countless doors of opportunities to people of all kinds of diversities, especially the marginalized and the disabled. In one way or the other, we are all part of this diverse group, be it permanent or situational.
People who are totally blind used to be locked out and deprived of the print reading experience. Their reading experience solely depends on the availability of braille-formatted books. The time came when screen readers or text-to-speech applications became available. Still, the ability to read books had only become possible when the e-books were born. In short, the access of blind people to books used to be very limited.
It is not just the totally blind people who are affected, also those who have poor eyesight. They may not need screen readers or text-to-speech applications, but text legibility can be of great help. These people can change and resize the fonts, adjust the device orientation, and many more. These modifications and adjustments can provide a better reading experience to people with poor sight.
Apart from blind people, other disabilities benefit as well. Dyslexic people are helped by the fonts that are particularly designed for them. People with motor skill impairments use the keyboard, their voice or their eye to command the movement of the book. Even the deaf would be served because of the availability of captions to audio contents. All of these became possible because accessibility features were injected into the process of creating electronic books. It is accessibility that provided a fallback way for every user to access the content.
Other vital groups that benefit are the elderly and those who acquired temporary disabilities due to surgery or accident. Aging is inevitable, and accidents can’t sometimes be avoided. When people age, their senses deteriorate. They would have needs similar to people who have sight, hearing, and motor disabilities. Similarly, people with temporary and situational disabilities who acquire their impairments from accidents could also experience difficulties and limitations like those with permanent disabilities.
Personal encounter with accessible e-books
More than a decade ago, I fought a health battle against an auto-immune disease opponent, and I lost my sight along the way. As a complication of the illness, my retina was damaged, and I’ve been totally blind since then.
I was 18, the prime of my youth when this happened. As expected, my experience in transitioning from being perfectly sighted to being totally blind was not a walk in the park. It took a 180-degree turn, and my whole life practically got tangled in the jungle of sadness and confusion. I had to stop school. I can no longer do the things that I used to do. I had to give up my hobbies and reading books is one that I had to let go at that time because of my condition. I thought life is over. Little that I know, it will in fact turn into something better.
I was introduced to technologies for the blind. When I learned about assistive technologies, it felt like a new world has opened up for me. I got excited over the fact that I’ll be able to use gadgets and devices once again. I was able to go back to school and gained new learnings. The best part is I was able to do the digital reading through the software that I am using and eventually got introduced to e-books.
How accessible e-books helped me?
My discovery on e-books has helped me big time in moving on with my life as a blind person. I was able to learn new things, keep up with current events, trends, and basically rebuilt my life. I was able to finish school, gained decent employment, developed new hobbies, and regained old ones like reading.
When I resumed schooling, I decided to enroll in a regular school where I was the only blind student. One of the biggest challenges that I had is the accessibility of schoolbooks and all other learning materials. I was able to address these struggles when I found accessible e-books. In my English and Literature classes, for example, I managed to keep up with the subject because I had an electronic copy of the books that we were discussing. The same goes for my programming classes. The concepts that I had to learn; it became easier for me because I have the materials that I needed. Because of these accessible learning books, despite being the only blind student in the school, I finished college and graduated with flying colors.
After school, I was blessed to be immediately hired in one of the biggest telecommunications companies here in my country as a Database developer. Alongside it is to work as an online accessibility consultant. Just like in school, the workplace is a continuous learning ground. In order to excel in my field, hone my skills, and be updated to current technological trends, constant learning is a must. The way for me to do it is to read useful, relevant books. Again, it became possible for me because of accessible e-books.
I do not only use these e-books for learning purposes I also now use them once again for leisure and entertainment. I get to download my favorite fiction books, read series that are in book form, and I can once again relate with sighted friends whenever we discuss our favorite book stories.
I remember how I am so much into Harry Potter even when I was still a kid. I religiously followed the story, but I, unfortunately had to stop reading when I became blind. I am so happy that when accessible e-books of Harry Potter were released, I was able to continue reading it and finish all the books.
My story is just one among many other people out there who have disabilities, whose lives were changed and touched because of the birth of accessible e-books. Since we already have access to these rich collections of knowledge, we are able to improve ourselves, make a living, and live a life of good quality despite our limitations. The knowledge we gain from these books helped us to break those limitations and fill all those gaps through the set of skills that we’ve developed through reading.
Dear developers, Accessibility is not an add-on, it is a must
Creating accessible e-books is undeniably life-changing for other groups of readers. They may be part of the minority and developers may think that they are just a small percentage of their readers, but being part of the minority doesn’t make their needs less important.
Another important point to remember, accessibility is not just for persons with disabilities. In reality, it is not about whether you have a disability or not, and it’s actually just a matter of asking when. This is a reality that we can’t change – that we would all age. And as mentioned above, aging comes with disabilities. They may not be as intense or as abrupt as to those with acquired disabilities, but in one way or the other, the challenges in terms of sight, hearing, and motor skills will definitely be experienced once we get older.
In a nutshell
In conclusion, for all the content developers and designers, it is wise to include accessibility, not just to comply with some international standards, but to be humane enough not to deprive the minority of enjoying what is initially their right to enjoy – and that is accessible information.
Lastly, accessibility is not against visual appeal and aesthetics, far from it. accessibility simply means paving a path that is fully inclusive.