Accessibility in Publishing


April 17, 2023




Written By

Supplier of the Atomik Print & Digital Publishing Platform

With the rise of eBooks more than a decade ago, publishers need to make their content accessible to the more than 50 million readers in North America and Europe who suffer from sight impairment. This demographic, as Benetech have repeatedly stated, are avid consumers of digital books.

In June 2025, 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.

Sadly, many of the DAISY Consortium’s recommendations for creating accessible eBooks have gone largely unheeded by many publishers.

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-text, 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-text 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-text.

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).

·        Writing effective alt-text 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 for an experienced editor to manually create alt-text compliant with the standards set by the DAISY Consortium.


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, originally 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-text 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, whilst another cave had been labelled ‘face’.

The DAISY Consortium guidelines regarding what constitutes appropriate alt-text for images and tables is quite complex. Writing compliant alt-text was surprisingly time-consuming, although Easypress acknowledges that, with practice, the time 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.

The requirement for significant additional time to create alt-textand the technical complexities of a well-structured eBook will introduce considerable additional costs and delays for publishers, which is the last thing anybody wants.

The Challenge

Amazon has claimed more than 6 million**eBooks on sale today, with 500 million eBooks sold online in 2022. What's more, Amazon has claimed 83% of the eBook reseller market (if you include KDP) and an estimated 25 million eBooks have been uploaded since 2011.

Given the thousands of eBooks we see at Easypress, it is hard to believe that any of Amazon’s eBooks are currently EAA compliant, and hence, from June 28th 2025, they could be in breach of European law.

The EAA does have provisions to levy fines on publishers who fail to sell compliant 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 will you make your eBooks accessible and EAA compliant – quickly?

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

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