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Advances in technology have helped not only to open up new markets for publishers, but also to offer vast new opportunities for published works to become more accessible to a wider variety of people.
The growing availability of ebooks provides a wonderful opportunity for people with print impairment – whether blind or partially sighted, dyslexic, or without sufficient dexterity to handle printed materials – to become customers for mainstream published products. Until now, special versions such as large print or braille have been required, often at great cost and after considerable delay. There will soon be no good reason for people with print impairment to be excluded from the mainstream market.
Following practical guidelines (note 1), publishers can work towards ensuring that all their ebooks have easily added features that assist accessibility (like enhanced navigation); and equally that their ebooks do not have accessibility features unnecessarily disabled. In this respect, the UK Publishers Association, working with the Society of Authors and the Association of Authors' Agents, has led the way in encouraging its members not to disable text to speech capabilities unless they harbour concerns about having been granted the appropriate rights. This has already had a remarkable effect in the proportion of bestselling ebooks which have text to speech available to those users who find this feature useful (note 2).
However, publishers can achieve only so much on their own. The mechanisms by which an ebook is made accessible involve all the actors in the supply chain from author to reader; no single actor in that chain can solve the challenge of accessibility by itself. Publishers, ebook device manufacturers, platform developers, ebook wholesalers and retailers, and of course consumers themselves all have their part to play.
Publishers are committed to working with the advocacy organisations working for people with print impairment to ensure that our common ambition is achieved – making mainstream ebooks accessible to those with print impairments. We are therefore looking to work together:
- with the developers of ebook devices and platforms to ensure that these provide the accessibility features which serve the needs of the widest possible market;
- with the actors in the supply chain for ebooks – digital asset distributors, wholesalers, retailers, and library services – to ensure that they are aware of the needs of print impaired readers, and that the supply chain itself is accessible to them;
- with people with print impairment to ensure that they know which assistive technologies are most appropriate to their needs and to help them to identify ebooks that are accessible to them;
- with learning providers and libraries to support them in their obligations to provide learning resources in accessible formats.
eBooks should enable all readers, using whatever assistive technology they may require, to access new books as they are published in ebook form and at no additional cost. Significant progress has already been made by some forward-looking companies that considered accessibility in the design of their products and services.
The supporters of this Joint Statement(3) applaud these advances, and encourage others to ensure that everyone can enjoy the widest possible choice of publications through whatever medium works best for them.
(1) Practical guidelines on ensuring that all ebooks can assist accessibility are available in several languages from http://www.editeur.org/109/Enabling-Technologies-Framework/
(2) The Publishers Association Recommendation on Text to Speech can be accessed here:
(3) To date this joint statement is supported by The Publishers Association, EDItEUR, RNIB, Dyslexia Action, JISC TechDis, The Society of Authors, the Association of Authors' Agents, the International Publishers Association, the Macular Society and the Right to Read Alliance.