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Is EPUB the most accessible format? One Voice launches debate

The EPUB electronic book format is the most accessible digital document format, according to a new paper designed to open a debate on accessibility of all mainstream document formats by people with disabilities.

The debate – intended to lead to a further paper to be published in the summer – has been launched by One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition, an umbrella group for organisations supporting access to digital technology by people with disabilities.

“At present digital documents are sent out in a variety of formats including doc, docx, pdf, EPUB, daisy, MP3 and MP4 and it is not clear what the accessibility pros and cons of these different formats are and if one should be the preferred option”, Peter Abrahams, accessibility leader at Bloor Research and author of the paper, said this week.

According to the paper, EPUB documents can be accessed by most people including users of special access technology, with the exception of sign language readers who will need video files. EPUB documents can also be easily converted into other formats, it says. However, “The present issue is that not everyone has ePub readers installed on their device. Also not everyone has an ePub creator tool”, the paper says.

“There are a wealth of document formats: so this is an opportunity to review those and recommend what the most accessible format is, to try and increase accessibility in document publication”, Nigel Lewis, chair of One Voice, told E-Access Bulletin this week.

“The initial recommendation of the EPUB format is perhaps a surprise, since most people might consider pdf or .doc as the most accessible default formats”, Lewis said. “But we wanted a controversy – to stir a debate among our membership”.

EPUB is an open electronic book standard developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), an international publishing industry body whose UK members include Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Open University and RNIB.

As well as looking at the overall accessibility of each format, the One Voice debate would examine the best ways of structuring documents in all major formats, Lewis said. “Most people still don’t structure common documents in an accessible way,” he said.

Alongside the new work, One Voice is launching a membership drive to expand its network of partners collaborating to improve digital accessibility, Lewis said. Membership of the group currently stands at about 50 organisations and individuals including E-Access Bulletin publisher Headstar. Full members must pay an annual fee to join, and new members include Barclays banking group.


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