Building Products with User Accessibility in Mind: An E-Books Case Study

Workflow | Rob Smith, MLIS| March 23, 2018

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EBSCO is committed to providing equal access to all users of our products. Research conducted by EBSCO eBooks™ related to user accessibility indicates that downloading chapters is a key use case for e-book users.

EBSCO is committed to providing equal access to all users. As part of this commitment, we are working toward WCAG 2.0 AA compliance. This involves ensuring that user accessibility is a key part of our feature planning and development. Here’s an inside look at how EBSCO eBooks™ developed a new feature — Chapter Downloading — with user accessibility in mind.

User research by EBSCO indicates that downloading chapters is a key use case for e-book users. Download portability is important for researchers as well as for users with disabilities, who can use the file with various assistive tools — screen readers, magnifiers, text-to-speech, etc.

Prior to the development of the Download Chapter feature, EBSCO conducted a series of tests with end users to vet various designs and approaches for the feature. This set the visual approach: a download icon in the Table of Contents area of EBSCO’s online e-book viewer.

The user testing process did not include direct feedback from users with disabilities in this phase, as we were still in the process of forming an accessibility user panel. In lieu of direct user feedback, we considered challenges that users of various disabilities might encounter in each step of the workflow.

Overview of the Download Chapter Workflow

The Download Chapter button:

Our tests indicated that users preferred a design with a download button next to each chapter. This was an area of potential concern for users who rely on the keyboard as it adds additional items to the tab order. However, having the buttons adjacent to each Table of Contents link also means that keyboard users who want to download a chapter don’t have to navigate far above or below in the page to reach a single “Download Chapter” button. With this in mind, we decided to stick with the approach that was validated by user testing.

 The Download Chapter dialog:

After the user activates the Download Chapter button, the workflow launches a dialog where a user can select a whole chapter or a range of pages. When a screen reader user opens the dialog, they are notified that focus has moved into a dialog, and that the dialog is called “Download Chapter.” In addition, we also wanted to make sure that a screen reader user is immediately notified if an e-book has a page download limit — important information for a user to make a decision on what to download.

For users with low vision, we tested to make sure that users would be aware that a dialog had launched when using a screen magnification tool, such as ZoomText or MAGic. When the workflow launches, focus is sent inside the dialog, and the screen magnifier will move to the dialog. We also made sure that the dialog was large enough to find if a magnifier doesn’t move focus, and that a mask is applied to the background of the page indicating a dialog has launched.

Prior to the development of the Download Chapter feature, EBSCO conducted a series of tests with end users to vet various designs and approaches for the feature. This set the visual approach: a download icon in the Table of Contents area of EBSCO’s online e-book viewer.

The download form:

The form within the Download Chapter dialog is the key part of the workflow — where the user selects what to download. In order for screen readers to properly read the option labels (e.g., Current Page), they must be linked to the button in the HTML markup. Without this, the screen reader would simply read “radio button,” which would make understanding what is selected difficult.

For low vision users, the labels must be directly adjacent to the form elements. If the form is zoomed in, users with a magnifier might miss an important element label if it was not adjacent to the option to select.

Error messaging:

There are a few areas of “form validation” for the Download Chapter workflow. EBSCO eBooks often have a publisher-defined page limit for downloading (for instance, 100 pages). If a user attempts to select more than the amount of pages they have available to download, an error is displayed. It is critical that these error messages are perceivable to all users, so that they can understand how to proceed.

For screen readers, we worked to ensure that when an error is thrown in the download form, the screen reader can read the error message. The error conveys an invalid state and describes the error condition. The screen reader also reads the error along with the relevant option, so that the user knows which field has the error.

Users with low vision should be able to see an error message, but as with form labels, it is important that the error message is displayed adjacent to the proper form option. This ensures that it is clear which option the error corresponds to, even if the interface is zoomed in. For users with color vision deficiencies, the red text alone is not enough to convey that there is an error, so we also use an “x” icon for errors.

The finished dialog with an error message

Follow up to the initial feature development:

Since the Download Chapter feature was released, we have been able to gain valuable feedback on the workflow from our accessibility user panel. This feedback includes improving the visibility of the Download button, new screen reader enhancements, and improvements to the mobile device workflow. EBSCO is aiming to implement this feedback in 2018, along with other accessibility enhancements.

For future features, we hope to draw on our accessibility panel during feature development. This will allow us to not only deliver features that are compliant and with accessibility in mind, but also that have been tested with real world users with disabilities. While compliance is important, it’s also important that all our users can accomplish their information goals and have a positive experience with our product.

Visit the EBSCO website for more information

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Rob Smith, MLIS
Technical Product Manager, EBSCO eBooks

Rob Smith has worked as a Product Manager in the e-book industry for four years, and has been working in the library sphere for nine years. Rob works directly with a team of developers on the EBSCO eBooks product. His focus for EBSCO eBooks is end user experience, with an emphasis on accessibility.  

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