Wed. Dec 1st, 2021


It rarely happens. A screen reader instead stumbles upon these static images, sometimes reciting the file name uncomfortably, which means there is no possible way to understand. It is assumed, again, that an accessible version of the textbook exists to begin with. If one exists, it may only be available on certain platforms.

Inconsistencies can be insane. To accept Calculus: Early transcendental, Publisher Cengage Learning is a popular textbook. The “e-textbook” available on Amazon is actually a simple scan of the book, with absolutely no text-to-speech functionality. Bookshare, an accessible online library, offers one Version of the book, But that copy is also not fully accessible, as it does not contain the Alt text description of those static images.

Brad Turner, VP and GM of Global Education and Literacy at Benatech, a nonprofit behind Bookshares, said his company would sometimes inject accessible features into ebooks without the publisher’s cooperation, not writing their own descriptions for the photo.

“Our agreement with the publishers is, give us your content and we promise we won’t change it in any way. We’re just going to make it accessible,” Turner said. “For many pictures, graphics, charts, graphs, formulas, equations, we don’t qualify as authors or publishers.”

Emily Featherston, Cengage’s director of corporate communications, said the company is committed to providing accessible versions of its ebooks and has an “internal team of accessibility guidelines and digital accessibility and learning design experts” to support its products and technology. Teams that readers purchase and access text through Cengage’s own platform will have access to TTS and Alt text, but these features are not guaranteed by third parties that people may become more accustomed to buying.

“While this work helps demonstrate our commitment to providing accessible solutions, we also recognize that accessibility is a journey, not a destination, and there is always room for improvement,” Featherston said.

That journey is very long. Technological interventions have been available year after year – some people use tools like this Kindle converter Or Codex Cleavage through digital rights management, converting proprietary ebooks to an accessible format — but the real problem is actually very simple. Publishers can provide fully accessible, digital versions of their books. They don’t have to, and often they don’t.

So U.S. lawyers are stuck filing for a waiver in a 23-year-old law that was signed a year before Napster was founded and long before the smartphone era, when a top copyright concern was children ripping music from CDs. This month’s recommendation to increase copyright exemptions for accessible ebooks is good news, but the whole process will repeat itself in three years.

Until then, a permanent solution may be near. In 2019, d European Accessibility Act It has become law in the EU. It will be effective in June 2025, All ebooks published in the EU after that point must be fully accessible. Some hope it can set a precedent here.

“We’ve passed a seatbelt law. We’ve passed an unleaded gas law. Why can’t we pass an accessible book law?” Turner says.

Meanwhile, Bridges is looking to the future — with some panic.

“The math is going to get worse,” Rebecca says. “I have no doubt in my mind.”


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