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Support - EBSCO Help

eBooks and Accessibility: Frequently Asked Questions

Are EBSCO eBooks accessible?

Yes: EBSCO eBooks are delivered on the EBSCOhost and EDS platforms, which are Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Priority A compliant, and for which VPATs are available. EBSCO eBooks also follow ARIA best practices and the recommendations of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative to make content accessible to all users.

Online, for PDF format eBooks, a hidden layer to enable the delivery of ASCII text for consumption by a screenreader is available. When the ASCII text is activated, title and alt tags, as well as introductory text are properly accessible. When using a keyboard to navigate, tab order within the online eBook Viewer is maintained.

Offline (downloaded) eBooks utilize Adobe Digital Editions software (ADE). ADE leverages accessibility features on Windows and Mac OS to support blind and low-vision users, such as high-contrast modes and resizing of the book’s text. ADE 2.0 also offers robust keyboard support. Screen reader users can use many different tools to read books with Digital Editions. More information about accessibility via ADE is available here: https://blogs.adobe.com/accessibility/category/digital-editions.

eBooks in EPUB format are easily accessible, both online and offline, because EPUB delivers HTML text, which is consumable by screen readers and accessibility tools.

How do PDF and EPUB books compare in terms of accessibility?

EPUB is by far the most accessible eBook format, since it was developed with accessibility in mind. EPUB books deliver HTML text, so they are easily read by screen-reading software on any device. On some devices, they can be read aloud with native software and need no additional tools at all.

PDF format books and documents, on the other hand, are broken into individual pages, which can take more time for accessibility and Text-to-Speech (TTS) tools to navigate. EBSCO has implemented the ASCII text stream option, which screen reader users can activate from within the eBook Viewer page header for easier and quicker consumption of PDF eBooks.

What screen readers work with EBSCO eBooks?

EBSCO tests specifically with the JAWS screen reader for online eBook support. However, a range of screen readers should be able to read the ASCII text, when activated. For eBooks in the EPUB format, any screen reader should work properly, since EPUB was developed with accessibility in mind.

For low-vision and blind users using JAWS screen reader software, JAWS version 12, or higher, is required in combination with Firefox web browser, to support ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) standards. Unfortunately, not all browsers support ARIA standards.

How are saved PDF chapters accessible?

When sections or chapters of EBSCO eBooks are saved (or printed) by a user, a PDF document is created. These saved PDF excerpts maintain and deliver the publisher’s original text, which means they can be read by a screen reader or TTS tool and can be searched for a word or phrase.

EBSCO does not deliver scanned image files of EBSCO eBooks – image files do not deliver text and are not accessible at all. (Scanned image files require transformation using Optical Character Recognition software to create a text layer for consumption by accessibility tools).

How can I tell if a PDF is an image/scan or if text is being delivered?

To determine whether a saved PDF section from a vendor delivers text or not (i.e., is an image file), simply attempt to highlight a portion of text. If the file is an image, the text will not highlight, because there is no text to grab. If it is a text file, you will be able to highlight, as in the image below:

highlighted portion of ebook text

If you can highlight text and copy it, then a screen reader can read it too.

Note: There is a very small percentage of "legacy" NetLibrary PDF eBooks from before 2004 with scanned page images, where the text is not accessible to screen readers. For these titles, the publishers will supply accessible versions of content to users upon request. Contact support@ebsco.com if you need to obtain an accessible version of a legacy title.

Are EBSCO eBooks compatible with other tools like Read and Write Gold, Natural Reader, ClaroRead, or any clipboard reader tools? These are commonly used by dyslexic readers.

We do not regularly or officially test with these tools, but if they are compatible with PDFs, and tools provided by the end-user, they should work. Additionally, Adobe Acrobat Reader has a text-to-speech feature that is available to non-commercial users for PDFs. If a tool relies specifically on what may be copied to a clipboard, there is a chance it would be limited to the publisher’s copy/paste allowance for the title.

Is there a way for users to search for only eBooks with particular access features?

There is not a search limiter for accessibility features because all EBSCO eBooks are accessible, with the rare exception of a few pre-2004 NetLibrary titles (for which we can obtain accessible versions for users upon request). For users that prefer EPUB/HTML content over the accessible PDF format, they can type FM EK in the search box. This will pull up search results that are in EPUB format (whether or not there is an accompanying PDF version). In the future, we will have limiters available to help users locate EPUBs more intuitively.

As of now, we do not display any publisher-supplied metadata relevant to accessibility. If we determine that this is of interest/use to our users, we will certainly work to do so.

How does JAWS deal with images and charts? In PDF? In EPUB?

For native PDFs and ePUB, JAWS should read whatever metadata / alternative text is provided by the publisher and tagged to be associated with the image or chart, if the chart is an image file. If the chart is an actual table, then JAWS should the read the table, left-to-right, top-to-bottom (for English and non-right-to-left languages). If the title is in EPUB format, the publisher likely included instructions for how to read the chart or image, and the screen reader will read from those instructions. An advantage of the EPUB3 format is that images and charts will be searchable as well as accessible.

What are the advantages of the EPUB3 format?

EBSCO plans to integrate EPUB3 format titles in the future to leverage the accessibility features, such as enhanced navigation and interoperability, as well as non-English language support – EPUB3 provides much better support for non-Roman characters and languages that read up/down and right to left. The EPUB3 standard also supports / encapsulates the DAISY talking book standard, for publishers that would like to take advantage of it, and provides support for fixed-format titles (such as comics and graphic novels) and MathML.