The Support Story
City, University of London produced the most audits of any single institution during the 2018 ASPIRE audit. Jessica Wykes, the library's assistive technology specialist, explored the data from the perspective of a library trying to support disabled students.
Ebooks have the potential to deliver the same resources at the same time to a wider range of students. With an increase in disabled students attending university, good accessibility is becoming one of the key criteria for acquisitions teams in libraries when purchasing ebooks and access to platforms in order to offer a more inclusive service.
For librarians, being able to quickly ascertain if a publisher’s content or a platform is right for the student they are supporting saves time and money (in addition to the immediate benefits to the student experience mentioned in the previous section).
On average the Publisher's and Platform’s Accessibility information couldn’t be found or was difficult to find (where 0 = difficult to find, and 2 = easy to find publishers scored an average of 0.75 and Platforms and Aggregators scored an average of 0.99).
Formats + Reading Options
It’s important for librarians to be able to offer the best ebook format for their students (preferably from a range of formats). Some formats work better with assistive software and some formats have native accessibility features.
Similarly, if content is delivered via a platform, it is important to know:
if the platform is interoperable with assistive software,
if there are built-in accessibility features,
if and how much of the content can be downloaded, and
if any additional software or applications are needed to read the content.
Librarians recommend EPUB formats as they are highly accessible – they can be magnified, reflowed, and some readers allow for text-to-speech. These benefits could be reduced if the material can only be used with a specific EPUB reader. Some of this is related to DRM and licencing models.
PDFs vary in quality. If they are fully tagged and structured properly, they can be magnified and reflowed for readers with visual impairment or navigated by screen reader users.
For information on availability of formats, on average Publishers scored 0.34 (where 2 = Available formats are listed (e.g. PDF, HTML, EPUB2, EPUB3) with accessibility recommendations, 1 = Available formats are listed (e.g. PDF, HTML, EPUB2, EPUB3) but no accessibility recommendations, 0 = There is no information on the formats supplied).
Digital Rights Management (DRM) information helps library staff prioritize student needs.
Consider the following: the librarian has recommended an ebook to a student with dyslexia who uses text-to-speech software. Although there is a line on the platform’s pages to say that the ebook is compatible with screen readers, the student reports that the way the book is presented in the platform is not interoperable with their text-to-speech software.
The student is advised to download the book in PDF format since the text-to-speech works with Adobe Reader. However, the platform only allows 10% or 1 chapter of the book to be downloaded. The student’s non-disabled peers are able to read as much of the text online as they wish. This creates an inequality of access to information, requiring the librarian to contact the publisher directly for a DRM free copy. Knowing the DRM issue in advance would have allowed this student's reading list to be prioritized.
Alternate Formats + Beyond
Obtaining an alternative format is usually the route a librarian will take if the ebook is inaccessible to the student they are supporting. There may be instances where commercial ebooks cannot meet a student’s needs.
Obtaining or making alternative formats can be an expensive and time consuming process. It costs on average £0.96 per page to source and adapt alternative format materials.
Relationships with national repositories such as RNIB Bookshare are very important for academic libraries and have become part of their accessible formats workflow. Once a librarian in one institution requests a text which is uploaded to the site, it can then be downloaded by multiple institutions for multiple students significantly reducing fulfillment times.
The student requests a librarian for an alternative format text so they can access the full work with their text-to-speech software.
The librarian applies to the publisher of the text. The publisher does not work with RNIB Bookshare (an educational service providing a repository for accessible formats).
The librarian is unable to find any information about accessible copies on the publisher website.
The librarian contacts the main customer service, the response is slow and application is complex asking for student details. The librarian has to check with the student for permission to share their details.
The provision of the book is significantly delayed putting the student at a disadvantage in their studies.
There are in fact three students on this course who use text-to-speech software. The content has to be licensed per student so the librarian needs to make an application for each of the students for permission to reuse.
Had the text been available on RNIB Bookshare, the library could have supplied the student the same day.