From Content Creation to Content Delivery: How EBSCO eBooks™ Builds an Accessible User Experience

Workflow | Emma Waecker| February 22, 2018

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EBSCO Information Services is committed to a positive experience for all users. Accessibility is a key consideration in all our product development strategies. This post is the first in a series of blog posts highlighting EBSCO’s accessibility practices and services.

As an aggregator of e-books, companies like EBSCO face a special kind of challenge regarding accessibility: how to ensure that everything a user encounters on the platform is accessible, from site navigation to opening and reading the full text of an e-book.

In our quest to become WCAG 2.0 AA compliant, EBSCO regularly requests feedback. We solicit accessibility audits of our platform from organizations like Interactive Accessibility and partner with coalitions like the Big 10 Alliance to identify key challenge areas. Over the years, we’ve worked on addressing the most critical issues reported in the audits and reviews, but we always attempt to balance this approach with this consideration: what will truly improve the experience for our users? It can be tempting to work through the items in an audit like a punch list, and while the end result may be more accessible “on paper”, the experience may not be intuitive or well-organized for a user with a screen reader, for example.

As we consider the holistic e-books experience, there are two major components that must be made accessible: the EBSCO eBooks website (or platform), and the e-book content we host and deliver to end users through that website. The accessibility of our website is fully within our control, but the content we host is a collaboration between EBSCO and our publisher partners, so we pursue e-book accessibility along these two tracks. 

On the occasions when students cannot access EBSCO eBooks with their preferred accessibility software, we provide a remediated file upon request, but that process isn’t immediate and interrupts the student’s research process. Perhaps more importantly, that process requires users to take a different path to achieve their goal than their peers without accessibility needs, who never have to leave the platform and have access to the information in real time. 

EBSCO is committed to improving the overall accessibility of our e-book experience, and we’re learning more and more as we evolve.

To address this at the source, EBSCO works with e-book publisher partners and industry leaders to identify and establish best practices for creating accessible e-book files, which helps us all meet the needs of our mutual users. In discussing e-book accessibility with leaders in creating accessible content, we’ve put together suggestions about which formats are most inherently accessible, how to apply proper semantic tagging for improved document navigation, and conversely avoiding the overuse of non-semantic tags like <div> and <span> which interrupt the reading experience. EBSCO and our publishers agree that when possible, it’s best to submit EPUB files, as HTML is natively more accessible than PDF. We also encourage the use of consistent page numbers in both PDF and EPUB formats so users can easily cite their source, regardless of the e-book format.

The other major piece of the accessible e-book user experience is the platform itself, and EBSCO has most recently invested in improving the accessibility of our online e-book reader. This investment is twofold: addressing key hurdles to accessibility identified by audits and users with existing platform functionality, and building new features with accessibility in mind from day one. We’re committed to making sure all of our staff are trained and have access to key industry resources like WebAIM and Deque to ensure accessibility needs are top of mind like other requirements, and that our teams are always up to date on the latest guidelines and coding practices for accessibility. This education manifests in all areas of software development — targeting screen reader, keyboard navigation, and magnification use cases; acquiring various screen readers for teams’ use in testing; reviewing our designs for sufficient color contrast and avoiding problematic color combinations; and what design approaches we prefer for different types of devices and levels of dexterity or mobility.

EBSCO is committed to improving the overall accessibility of our e-book experience, and we’re learning more and more as we evolve. We know we don’t have all the answers, so to ensure we continue to have a pulse on what our users need, EBSCO has established relationships with a number of users with different accessibility needs and through those relationships, we’ve developed an accessibility user group. We’ve partnered with this group to evaluate and provide honest feedback on the impact of recent platform improvements for EBSCO eBooks, and we’ll be drawing immediate product improvements from their guidance.  Additionally, we have ongoing conversations with librarians about what they’re hearing from their users with accessibility needs and how we can work together to implement meaningful improvements to our e-book experience.  We’re excited to begin collaborating with groups like Jisc to set standards for publishers and aggregators that enable librarians to measure offerings against each other, apples-to-apples.  We hope to continue these partnerships as we evolve the EBSCO eBooks accessibility experience over time.

EBSCO, Elsevier and University of Illinois will be presenting at the NASIG conference in June to speak about creating an accessible e-book experience and evaluating various platforms for accessibility.

To learn more about the accessibility of EBSCO eBooks, visit our Help site

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Emma Waecker
Senior Product Manager, EBSCO eBooks

Emma Waecker has worked a combined more than eight years at EBSCO Information Services in Publisher Relations and Product Management, with six of those years exclusively focused on e-books. Emma is currently Senior Product Manager, EBSCO eBooks and has been a part of the Product Management team for nearly four years. Her most recent focus has been the user interface and user experience, a major piece of the EBSCO eBooks product line.

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