Key elements of e-book accessibility

Below are the criteria used to audit the eBooks along with an explanation of why each of them is important for accessibility. 



Range of formats


HTML: eBooks in HTML format for reading online.  HTML text is usually accessible to text-to-speech and screen reading software. It can usually be copied and pasted, increasing usability. The option to read eBooks online without having to download them makes it quicker and more straightforward to access them and to browse through the content of different titles. It is also useful for people who cannot open downloaded files on their device.

PDF online

PDF online: eBooks as PDF documents for reading online. eBooks formatted as PDF files can be similar in appearance and layout to a print book, which some people prefer over reading HTML text. The option to read eBooks online without having to download them makes it quicker and more straightforward to access them and to browse through the content of different titles. It is also useful for people who cannot open downloaded files on their device.

PDF download

PDF download: eBooks as downloadable PDF files. Downloadable PDF files which have been structured for accessibility can be navigated by screen reading software, meaning they are accessible to blind and severely visually impaired users. They also allow the user to benefit from inbuilt accessibility features in PDF reader software such as Adobe Reader. These include: 
 - Enlarging text
 - Reflow
 - Changing font and background colours
 - Text-to-speech functionality
Additionally, offering the eBook in a downloadable format means the user can then access it directly from their own device without having to navigate the platform every time.


EPUB3: eBooks in EPUB3 format. A benefit of EPUB3 is the ability to present the final text in a range of ways that can be adapted to suit the user.



Text size

Text size: The ability for users to alter the text to a size they can comfortably see on both the platform and within the content of eBooks.   Magnification is particularly useful for people with visual impairments, older people with declining eyesight and people with dyslexia, who may find small font sizes difficult to read. Although most eBook platforms allow font resizing the range of options is usually narrow and often around the 8 - 14 point range, offering few benefits to the people who genuinely need it. A range of 8 - 30 point (hard copy equivalent) is recommended.

Text reflow

Text reflow: Automatic text reflow when the zoom level is changed. When text is magnified it should automatically re-wrap to fit the page. If reflow does not work and the page is simply enlarged within a frame, the user has to scroll left and right to read the entire line, which presents a huge barrier to efficient access.

Left alignment

Left alignment of text: Left alignment increases readability. People with visual or cognitive impairments may find it difficult to read justified text due to the inconsistently sized spaces between the words.  Left aligned text has a jagged right hand edge which also helps readers to keep track of their position in the text.

Font style

Font style: Providing a choice of font styles. This allows the user to choose the font they find easiest to read. It may be particularly useful for those with dyslexia or certain visual impairments.

Font colours

Font colours: Providing a choice of font colours. For people with dyslexia and visual impairments, the ability to customise colour may be critical to efficiently accessing text. It can also help anyone working under unsuitable lighting conditions.

Background colour

Background colour: Providing a choice of background colours. For people with dyslexia and visual impairments, the ability to customise colour may be critical to efficiently accessing text. It can also help anyone working under unsuitable lighting conditions.

Colour contrast

Colour contrast: Ensuring adequate colour contrast. This is important for people with certain visual impairments as it makes it easier to distinguish the text from the background.



Table of Contents hyperlinks

Table of Contents hyperlinks: The ability to navigate directly to a chapter or section from the table of contents. Heading levels are important for screen reader users, allowing them to jump directly to the sections they require without having to read all the preceding text. This feature also increases eBook usability for everyone.

Skip links

Skip links: The availability of a "Skip to content" or "Skip navigation" link. This avoids the time consuming process of tabbing through various links such as menu items before keyboard and screen reader users can access the main eBook content.

Tab order

Tab order: The ability to tab through content in a logical order within the platform interface.  This is important for screen reader and keyboard only users.  Tabbing order should follow the sequence in which items are displayed on the page to aid navigation.  Commonly used features should appear early in the tabbing order to avoid excessive tabbing.  Items should be visually highlighted as they are tabbed through so keyboard only users can see where they are on the page.

Unique link names

Unique link names: Links being appropriately titled within the platform interface.  Hyperlinks to search results are often very generic e.g. “More” or “Open book” etc.  For screen reader users who rely on link text for navigation, links need to describe their destination. A function of screen readers is to list all available links separately from the body of the text to aid easy navigation. This means that their titles need to make sense without their original context. For example, a link titled "Open" would make sense if followed by "eBook content" but not on its own.

Search and tolerance

Search and tolerance: The ability for the content of the eBook to be searched. Being able to search enables users to jump straight to their desired content, rather than having to browse until they reach it. Browsing through large amounts can be difficult for dyslexic or visually impaired users.  Automatically correcting spelling mistakes makes search functions more useable to those with spelling difficulties e.g. dyslexic users.

Text-to-speech / screen reader


Text-to-speech / screen reader

Text-to-speech / screen reader: The ability to have the content read aloud by text-to-speech and screen reading software.  For a significant number of users, text-to-speech is a vital tool for accessing text. Text-to-speech software is used by dyslexic readers to enhance their understanding of the content and, in many cases, to offer faster and more efficient reading. Blind readers use more sophisticated screen reading software that not only read the screen content but also menus, error messages and system commands.




Printing: The ability for the contents of the eBook to be printed. This is useful for people who prefer to process information in printed rather than electronic format.

Copy and paste

Copy and paste: The ability for the contents of the eBook to be copied and pasted.  Within an academic context, the ultimate purpose of reading a book is to use it for a curriculum related use. Users are likely to want to export text extracts or diagrams into their own notes or directly into assignments.  Allowing copying and pasting supports this.

Download book

Download book: The ability to download the eBook. The ability to download an eBook means it can be accessed with no Internet connection and the user does not need to navigate the platform interface each time they want to access it, they can just open it directly from their computer.  They may also then benefit from the inbuilt accessibility features of the software used to open the file.

Images & Animation


Image labels

Image labels: Images and diagrams that convey information being meaningfully labelled. The purpose of an image description is to avoid excluding readers from key information.  If an image conveys information which is not contained in the surrounding text the information should be described in the alternative text HTML tag (alt=) attached to the image, for screen reader users. Decorative (i.e. purely there for aesthetic purposes) images should not be given alternative text.

Icon labelling

Icon labelling: Appropriate labelling of icons where they are used to aid navigation. Icon labelling is important for screen reader users who cannot see the icon and rely on their screen reader reading the label aloud.  Clearly labelled icons also support general usability, particularly for those who may find it difficult to interpret the meaning of the icon image.

Animations stoppable?

Animations stoppable?: The ability to switch off animations. Animations can be very distracting to some users e.g. those with ADHD or Asperger's. The ability to switch them off makes it easier to concentrate on the eBook content.

Support Information


Accessibility guidance

Accessibility guidance: Availability of accessibility help pages which provide useful information or instructions.  The accessibility help pages should be easy to find, use plain English, address the key usability concerns of disabled users and avoid making assumptions as to the existing skills of the user.  It is good practice to clearly signpost what functionality is available and provide clear guidance for user modification of reader settings e.g. colour change, font change, magnification etc. It is also helpful to provide information on third party accessibility features e.g. web browser and Adobe Reader functionality.  In addition help pages should list what functionality is not available. Where Digital Rights Management (DRM) prevents certain functionality users should be advised in order to avoid wasting their time with trial and error.  Provide contact details in your accessibility help pages so users experiencing difficulties can request support.

Keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts: The provision of information on keyboard only equivalents for every mouse action.  This is important for people who don't use a mouse.  If keyboard shortcuts are built into the platform, information should be provided on what these are and how to use them.  Users will not necessarily know how to use keyboard shortcuts.

Tested with assistive technology

Tested with assistive technology: The provision of information on which assistive technology tools the platform has been tested with. This includes screen reading software and also text-to-speech software which is widely used by dyslexic users.  It is good practice to ensure the platform has been tested with these tools, including any updates made to it, and provide this information to users.  This will avoid them wasting their time with trial and error.