Disability Scholars Develop Guidelines for Accessibility in Digital Books

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Jen Ortega serves as a consultant to EDUCAUSE on federal policy and government relations. She has worked with EDUCAUSE since 2013 and assists with monitoring legislative and regulatory proposals across a range of policy areas, including cybersecurity, data privacy, e-learning, and accessibility.

Over the summer, a group of renowned disability studies scholars issued guidelines that authors and publishers can use to ensure their books and materials are accessible to readers with disabilities.  The guidelines suggest steps such as waiving digital rights management (DRM) restrictions, updating author guidelines, and ensuring all illustrations come with text descriptions, which can be incorporated into the production of the written materials in order to support accessibility.

The scholars involved are not aggressively pursuing endorsements from publishers at this time; instead they have focused on encouraging a handful of publishers known for their activity in the field of disability studies to adopt the guidelines. As a result of their efforts, the University of Michigan Press became the first academic publisher to endorse the guidelines. It is now following them in publishing of all of its new e-books. Additionally, several scholarly associations as well as disability studies organizations in the U.S. and Canada have endorsed the guidelines.

Challenges to achieving further adoption of the guidelines remain, however, including obtaining more endorsements from publishers and finding ways to implement the suggested changes throughout the production process. Publishers have also voiced concerns about the guidelines’ call for eliminating DRM restrictions, which they fear will lead to increased pirating of digital content.

EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor the publishing community’s engagement with and adoption of the guidelines, as well as what that means for the ongoing improvement of digital content accessibility in higher education. For related information, please see the following resources related to EDUCAUSE’s work on the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act (AIM-HEA), previously known as the TEACH Act: