Accessibility in Publishing


April 17, 2023




Written By

Global leading supplier of ATOMIK Easypress' Print & Digital Book Publishing Platform

The Book Publishing world has long acknowledged the severe problems the visually impaired have with reading both print and digital books.

The widespread advent of digital books more than a decade ago did shine a bright light on the direction Publishers should take to make eBooks more accessible to the more than 50 million readers in North America and Europe who suffer from sight impairment. This demographic as Benetech have repeatedly promoted are avid consumers of book content.

In June 2025, across Europe that lack of compliance will be written into law through the European Union. The introduction of the European Accessibility Act (EAA) will mandate and require all Publishers to comply with a legal obligation to ensure that their digital content is fully accessible to visually impaired readers.

For most readers who are sight impaired the introduction of the EAA will place a much greater emphasis on creating usable accessible digital content in eBooks.

Sadly, many of the DAISY Consortium’s recommendations from adopting visually impaired support for eBooks have gone largely unheeded by too many publishers.

However, Easypress’ experience with its ATOMIK eBook production platform is that most publishers fall short of the technical eBook requirements when it comes to making sure their eBooks are accessibility, as defined by the DAISY Consortium.

Accessibility ensures the equal access of digital content for all users, including those with visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities.

The most widely used accessibility features are screen readers (text-to-speech), ALT TXT, extended descriptions and audiobooks – all designed to aid or replace the reading process by improving the suitability of on-screen content. Accessible formats such as HTML and reflowable ePubs do not rely on visual styling features and are marked up to ensure they can be navigated by screen readers.

As crucial as accessibility features are, when implemented incorrectly or insufficiently, readers can be left confused and unable to coherently follow the narrative. Missing ALT TXT can result in screen readers skipping over images, which may be key to understanding the text. Poor HTML tagging can also leave readers unable to effectively distinguish between parts of the text. For example, chapter tiles, subheadings, and the main body of the text.

Another important aspect to consider is the increasing popularity of emojis in digital content. Although emojis are designed with embedded descriptions, they are frequently used incorrectly. When creating accessible on-screen material, it is crucial to acknowledge how emojis are read aloud by an eReader and their placement within the text. Those relying on text-to-speech technology will find too many emojis as distracting as badly written ALT TXT.

When it comes to creating accessible digital content on an industry-wide scale, publishers face numerous production challenges:

·        Compliance with accessibility standards.

·        Providing adequate accessibility metadata.

·        Ensuring HTML tagging is sufficient.

·        Creating clear book navigation hierarchies (Table of Contents).

·        A lack of understanding/writing effective ALT TXT and extended descriptions.

·        Limited resources.

A Case Study: Ice Caves of France and Switzerland by George Forrest Browne


Ice Caves of France and Switzerland details George Forrest Browne’s exploration of 14 ice caves, mainly in the Jura region near Geneva, where his family enjoyed spending their summer holidays. First published in 1865, it’s a subterranean adventure. Vivid descriptions of the caves, with their fantastic dripstone formations, captivate the imagination, whilst the author’s lively sense of humour brings to life the realities of travelling off the beaten track in the 1860s.

Ice Caves has largely been out of print since its publication and the available eBooks are of questionable quality. In order to create a reflowable ePub in compliance with current accessibility standards, we ran the MS Word manuscript (originally from Project Gutenberg) through the Easypress production process.

Easypress’ test was to see how long it would take in hours an experienced Editor to manually create the DAISEY Consortium compliant ALT TXT for the graphical elements within the eBook.


The first challenge involved adding the alt-text, which is the text alternative programmatically added to non-text content (typically images) on the web and in digital products. Good alt-text must be brief, objective and specific. This is particularly difficult when dealing with a book such as Ice Caves, which is full of diagrams and complex images.

Our test case Ice Caves contained 13 images (originally taken from sketches) and nine Tables original laid out in a grid format (like a spreadsheet).

By styling the travel book in ATOMIK eStylist, we were able to quickly and easily identify where ALT TXT was missing or insufficient in the images and tables. In this case, suggestions made by MS Word were inaccurate. For instance, the alt-text ‘necklace’ had been added to one diagram of a cave on p…., whilst another cave had been labelled ‘face’.

Then definition within the DAISY Consortium guidelines as to what constitutes appropriate ALT TXT for images and tables is quite complex to meet the guidelines. Nevertheless, working systematically through images and tables to write ALT TXT which met the guidelines was surprisingly time consuming taking seven hours of editorial time to complete all the ALT TXT descriptions to the prerequisite requirements. Easypress acknowledges that with practice the time of seven hours could be reduced.

To meet the required accessibility guidelines Easypress noted how the eBook styling hierarchy had to be compliant and that page box ordering had to be structured in the correct order, to not confuse the reader with inappropriate text to speech ordering. For may current eBooks this massive issue with many commercially available eBooks Easypress assessed simply fail to meet the accessibility criteria.

The requirement for significant additional time required to create ALT TXT editorial content and the technical complexities of a well styled and structured eBook will introduce considerable additional cost and delays for publishers, which is the last thing all publishers wish for at this time.

The Challenge

Amazon has a claimed greater than 6 million**eBooks on sale today. With 500 million eBooks sold online in 2022. Amazon has a claimed 83% of the eBook reseller market (if you include KDP) has had an estimated 25 million eBooks uploaded since 2011.

Easypress believes that given the 1000’s of eBook sit sees it is hard to believe that ANY of Amazon’s eBooks are currently EAA compliant and hence from June 28th, 2025, will be in breach of the law in Europe to sell them.

The EAA does have provisions to levy fines on publishers who fail to sell compliant accessible eBooks. That alone should be a concern to every publisher who derives significant revenue from their eBook sales across Europe.

This poses the book industry a big question. How to make your eBooks Accessible and EAA Compliant, and quickly?

** Amazon Publishing Statistics – January 13th,2023 - WORDSRATED

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