Accessibility for Education Publishers: The Hidden Opportunity

[Approximate Reading Time : 4 mins]

Picture this – a swanky new building comes up with state-of-the-art architecture to boast, but ironically, it is devoid of ramps, lifts, and other features required making it accessible for those with disabilities. How would the latter feel? Rightly outraged and just the way digitally inaccessible course content makes students with dyslexia, blindness, or other prints and cognitive disabilities feel. Not only are these students unable to appreciate the rich visual layouts and advanced technologies modern classrooms incorporate, but the inaccessibility of content significantly limits their performance potential. As per statistics by WHO, over 285 million people globally suffer from vision impairment – now imagine the impact of inaccessibility when it means that such a high number of students cannot access learning content! In fact, the World Blind Union has rightly termed the situation as a ‘book famine’ for those living with print disabilities.

How digital supersedes print in terms of education accessibility

Printed textbooks face a greater hurdle when it comes to making them accessible for those with disabilities – the fixes for Braille or recorded audio as compensation are costly and time consuming. Digital textbooks on the other hand, when produced in EPUB or HTML have several benefits for those with print disabilities:

Images can be described through alt-text

  • Type size can be adjusted according to the readers’ preferences
  • Text-to-speech option can quickly provide basic audio translation
  • Forms (registration, nomination, admission, etc.) can be custom-designed for those with visual/cognitive impairments in relatively less time than print.

What about the interactive elements in digital content?

That’s where it’s the hardest for education publishers, especially those in the K-12 market where online videos, interactive quizzes, and other media and visual elements such as color contrast make a huge difference in the way content is delivered. Then there are a wide variety of mobile devices, which means publishers should consider not just making online elements of LMSs accessible on standard desktops but also factor for changes in operating systems and interfaces of mobile devices such as tablet or e-reader.

Accessible Books Consortium and Benetech – Born Accessible are two noteworthy organizations relentlessly working with education publishers towards accessibility of digital content.

What is ABC?

Accessible Books Consortium or ABC (as it is popularly known) is an inclusive global partnership whose aim is to increase the number of books available worldwide in accessible formats such as Braille, audio and large print. Its larger goal is to enable equal access for people who are blind, visually/cognitively impaired or print disabled.

What is Benetech – Born Accessible?

Benetech is a non-profit organization that makes software for social good. Its work in the education industry is focused at improving accessibility of digital content. The company has started Bookshare – an e-library initiative that provides over 2, 54,000 accessible e-books to those with print disabilities in more than 70 countries across the world. Bookshare’s e-books enable high quality text-to-speech voices, displayed so that readers can hear words at the same time they are highlighted on the screen (perfect for those with dyslexia), read digital or physical braille books, and read large-print books either physically or through an Internet browser.

Though with small strides, the education publishing industry is waking up to the uphill challenge as well as the tremendous opportunity of making educational content accessible to all. With the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 set to get tougher in 2018, the industry is looking towards EPUB and XML conversion services in a big way to ensure compliance. Here’s hoping for a newer, brighter, equally accessible education world of the future!

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