e-books Library

E-book audit 2018 – auditing accessibility guidance

Invitation to a New Year Resolution…

As the last days of 2017 draw in, Alistair McNaught looks at plans for the 2018 e-book accessibility audit. This will be simpler than the 2016 version but – we believe – more effective. In this season of peace and goodwill to all, we’re looking for an audit that is more inclusive in every way. We’d be delighted if you would like to be involved.

The previous e-book audit

The 2016 e-book audit significantly raised awareness of e-book accessibility with positive impacts on:

  • The library community – more than 70% of auditors had never checked an e-book for accessibility before;
  • The supply chain – many publishers and aggregators were unaware of the way their own accessibility credentials could be compromised by the practices of other partners in the supply chain.

The long term goal of the audit was not about providing a free, crowd-sourced testing service but about creating a culture of objectivity and transparency. Inaccessible e-books increase support costs for institutions but accessible e-books increase user independence, reduce support costs and create better reading experiences for all. These (often hidden) value-for-money considerations have marketing implications for suppliers and procurement implications for customers.

Academic institutions have legal obligations to anticipate and meet the needs of disabled users. To do this, they require accurate information on the potential benefits and barriers of the content they procure. It is not the responsibility of academic institutions to test e-books for accessibility any more than it is a café’s responsibility to test the cakes they sell for nut allergens. In fairness, it is arguably not the vendor’s responsibility to provide an accessible product. This is about fit for purpose labelling. The customer can then make appropriate choices about the value-added of an accessible product or platform.

2018 – a new approach to e-book audits

The 2018 audit is taking a new approach that – we believe – is fair to suppliers, informative to customers and less onerous for testers. Instead of auditing the accessibility of the product we will be auditing the quality and comprehensiveness of the accessibility guidance.

Why this is good for publishers, aggregators and academic institutions

Changing workflows to improve accessibility is not a trivial process. It can take a long time and involve negotiation with other parts of the supply chain. By contrast, providing accurate and useful information about the current accessibility of your own product or platform is highly achievable. It is also fundamental to quality improvement processes – how can you improve if you don’t know what your current strengths and weaknesses are? By auditing both aggregators and publishers on their own ‘product guidance’ we provide an opportunity for suppliers to:

  • Identify and advertise accessibility benefits. This allows institutions to promote the positive benefits to readers with relevant disabilities;
  • Identify and report on potential barriers. This allows institutions to effectively anticipate support requirements;
  • clarify responsibilities in the supply chain – for example if a publisher’s source file has high accessibility but a third party’s delivery interface has poor accessibility (or vice versa), a quick comparison of the accessibility guidance for each would help identify where the problem lay.
  • reduce accessibility attrition in the supply chain – clear information on accessibility bottlenecks in the supply chain focuses attention on achievable improvements.
  • improve uptake of e-books by students – many students (and indeed staff) are unaware of the customisation benefits of e-books. Research by the University of Kent identified many disabled students preferred print books because they were unaware of the flexibility of e-books to serve their needs.

Joined-up thinking

Jisc’s involvement in supporting the process and brokering positive relationships between different stakeholders allows the following benefits to be realised:

  • Consistency – by working with publishers, aggregators, national purchasing consortia and Jisc Collections, we hope to achieve a consistency in requirements, giving publishers and aggregators confidence in the type of information to provide.
  • Clarity – by advertising in advance the things we’ll be looking for, suppliers have a chance to ensure they:
    • are familiar with the performance of their systems
    • can provide honest and objective information on strengths and weaknesses in time to score well on the audit.
  • Planning and prioritising – there are many different elements to accessibility: some are easier to implement than others and some have co-dependencies (for example EPUB files delivered through Adobe Digital Editions will lose many accessibility options). By providing early guidance on the things we’ll be auditing and the reasons why, suppliers can better plan ongoing improvements.


We would like to plan an early draft of the audit tool before Christmas and receive critical feedback and improvement through January with a view to making it signing it off in February and making it public in February/March – ideally to tie in with London Book Fair. The audit itself is proposed to take place in late June through to mid-July with the results being made available in September. These will be crowd sourced as before but being a simpler process we hope to cover more publishers and aggregators.

Honesty versus quality

We are ultimately interested in honesty and transparency so that learning providers can make informed decisions. However, we are aware there could be potential confusion if wholly inaccessible platforms get top scores due to ruthlessly honesty whilst excellent accessible platforms get poor scores just because the marketing department don’t get their act together. Consequently, we are keen to work with publishers and aggregators to identify simple ways in which we might provide a simple composite score allowing both honesty and quality to be rewarded.

Working together

We do not want this to be ‘something being done to’ publishers and aggregators. We are working with the Publishers Association to bring together library and disability staff along with publishers and aggregators on 18th January from 11am – 1pm in London. Numbers will be limited but if you’d like to be part of the process please register your initial interest. We’ll provide confirmation details in early January.

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