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Re: EPUB 3 and accessibility for ebooks


From: John E Brandt
Date: Nov 23, 2011 2:54PM

Thank you, Kevin for your response and thank you Karen for your question.

Just to contribute a little more to the conversation...I am sharing these
observations. But let me be clear, I am far from being an expert. I have
been working on the conundrum of accessible instructional materials (AIM)
for several years now and I've done a fair amount of reading on publishing
and digital text.

- There are many types and standards of digital text or as Wikipedia calls
them, e-book formats. Some are old, many are new. There is a good
explanation of the many types here

- Reading an e-book or digital text does not require a handheld device. You
can read most, if not all e-book formats on any computer if you have the
right software or plugin for your browser. There are several free e-reader
software programs that will read multiple types.

- When Apple, Inc. and Barnes & Noble chose EPUB as a standard for the
iPad/iPod/iPhone and Nook it was a big boost to that format. Given their
clout in the marketplace, many book publishers chose that format. But there
are conversion software packages that will make the conversions for you
relatively easily meaning you can read just about any book with the e-reader
built into iOS. Just about every handheld e-book device will read EPUB.

- For obvious reason, Amazon wants their Kindle device to lead the pack.
They chose to develop their own proprietary Kindle format. I am assuming
they have some kind of licensing arrangement with Apple since iOS will read
Kindle books. But the early Kindles cannot read EPUB, or many other formats
(apparently their new Kindle Fire does).

- The DAISY standard/format was developed specifically with accessibility in
mind and pre-dates the handheld technology boom. It is interesting that it
is excluded from the comparison table of e-book formats on Wikipedia. But
there are lots of DAISY readers out there including an increasing number
that will work on handheld devices. Many of these specialized e-readers do
more than simply portray the content visually. Many provide enhanced reading
tools for individuals with print disabilities. Any many of these DAISY
readers will read other e-book formats. See list of DAISY players:

- Unfortunately, the market forces are pushed by the majority. Hopefully,
some of the developers will recognize - like Apple, Inc. does - the value of
universal design and will build accessibility into both the hardware and

So, to get back to Karen's original questions, I think there is a lot of
cross compatibility out there now so the format is not all that important to
the mass public. If you are concerned about accessibility for people with
disabilities, it is more a matter of how the digital text format works with
various AT. As Kevin suggests, Apple's iOS does have a leg up on the
hardware side since they built accessibility/universal design into the core
of operating system.

If you are looking for a handheld device that is less expensive that the
iPad, you may want to consider the iPod Touch which has all of the iOS
features and e-reader built in. On sale for $199. Such a deal!


John E. Brandt
Augusta, Maine, USA

-----Original Message-----
[mailto: <EMAIL REMOVED> ] On Behalf Of Kevin Chao
Sent: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 4:21 AM
To: WebAIM Discussion List
Subject: Re: [WebAIM] EPUB 3 and accessibility for ebooks

HI Karen,

Please see answers inline.

Sent from my iPhone

On Nov 22, 2011, at 2:50 PM, Karen Mardahl < <EMAIL REMOVED> > wrote:

1. Does anyone know whether EPUB 3 will be *the* format for publishing
accessible ebooks? My impression from a forgotten article is yes - that this
format will render DAISY obsolete. (Or will it?)

EPUB3 will be the standard by which most eBooks/textbooks, whether these be
commercial or specialized/accessible will be published. A goal of the IDPF
has always been to not have two different formats, EPUB and DAISY, but to
have a unified universal design/acccessible format, which EPUB3 is the
first step in that direction. EPUB3 will take all the features, especially
the accessibility ones, and build it right into EPUB3.

2. How well *is* EPUB 3 doing on accessibility? I get the impression
exciting things will happen with math markup.

EPUB3 spec was finalized around the middle of October. THE
specification/standard does have a lot of accessibility. For the past few
months, I've been testing a variety of EPUB3 eBooks, reading systems, and
screen readers. Unfortunately, even though the EPUB3 specification/standard
has accessibility, which is very good, it's all about it being implemented
properly. This requires work from the reading system vendors, publishers,
assistive technology vendors, etc. For example, EPUB Reader extension for
Firefox, NVDA screen reader, and Pearson publishing would all have to work
together to make an accessible EPUB eBook. In other words, it's very early
on, it's not good at all, and the community needs to come together to build
best practices, guidelines, tips, etc.

3. What exactly is the relationship between EPUB 3 and HTML5: is EPUB
3 waiting on HTML5 for anythig or is it just going ahead with what's
available now?

EPUB3 carries over all the HTML5 features, such as MathML and SVG. Math is
one that you raised in point 2, but again this goes back to proper
implimentation, guidelines, best practices, and the need for the various
parts to work together properly to form a unified universal design/access

Of course, even if EPUB 3 is perfect, a manufacturer can implement it poorly
or close down some part. (Here I'm thinking about Amazon turning off the
text-to-speech service on one of the Kindles to please some publishers.)

Amazon Kindle does *NOT* use EPUB3/2, but it's own Mobi format, which is a
wrapper around EPUB, which is very limited, not allowing for any multimedia
or interaction, which are two key parts in EPUB3. Unfortunately, these two
parts in EPUB3 and accessibility are very challenging and there have been
huge struggles in making them accessible.

I don't have an ebook reader. (I can't afford another gadget, and I have
enough paper books and audio books demanding my attention!) I am also put
off by the number of devices available. They give me a Betamax versus VHS
feeling. "What if I buy the version that is a dinosaur in 1 year?" I have a
naive hope that at some point the manufacturers could agree on a standard,
at least.

I would recommend iPad 2, which has over 100,000 apps, such as: iBooks,
Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc. eReader/book apps and a variety of other apps.

I'm curious to hear what other people think and know on this subject.

regards, Karen Mardahl