September 21, 2018

Accessible publishing: beyond blind

four icons that depict blind, deaf, cognitive disabilities, and mobility challenges. All issues related to accessibility.In most conversations about publishing and accessibility, we immediately focus on the needs of a person who cannot see the written word. This is a very important group to consider – there are millions of people around the world with vision loss or impairment – but it is only one piece in the larger accessibility landscape.

Accessible content is not just important to the blind. As the use of audio/visual and interactive content becomes more prevalent, those who cannot hear may need certain accessible functionality. Those with mobility or finger dexterity limitations have different accessibility requirements in order to interact with content efficiently. And, there are learning disabilities such as dyslexia, or differences in the simple learning styles we lean towards as individuals (auditory learners vs. visual learners) that all benefit from the advanced functionality accessibility standards enable.

It is important for publishers to broaden their focus and think about the wide variety of disabilities and difficulties that affect all people. There is an enormous population ready for their novels, textbooks, websites, and manuscripts to “just work” in the way (or ways) that best suit them.

Here are just a few examples to illustrate the variety of audiences that will benefit from accessible content, and what it takes to provide the functionality they need.

Color Blindness

Color blindness affects approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women in the world. Put in perspective, in Great Britain alone, there are approximately 2.7 million people with color blindness.

Color is used extensively in many publications, particularly educational textbooks. It provides contrast, highlights key points, differentiates content within charts and graphs, and makes the text look attractive overall. It can become difficult for a person with color blindness to distinguish accurately between the many colors.

Accessibility features including the use of alt text or long descriptions paired with text-to-speech reduce color barriers.


Twenty-eight percent of the almost 41 million people in the U.S. with serious disabilities have hearing loss (compared to 19% with serious vision impairments).

The ability to read a printed text or ebook is generally not an issue, but any content with audio integration can be easily made accessible to this large group with the inclusion of a transcript or captioning that renders on screen in real-time as the audio or video plays.


A portion of the population has some form of physical disability (17%), of which a subset are unable to manipulate a keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen. These challenges are because of any of a wide range of causes – age, diseases like Lou Gehrig’s or Parkinson’s that impair muscle motor function, or impairment from accidents.

There are a number of amazing assistive technologies that help this population engage with digital content – eye gaze control systems, text-to-speech, sip and puff switch systems – all of which need behind-the-scenes accessibility coding to function correctly. Page design and clear reading order are essential here. Crosslinking to internal document points or external resources (maybe there are online supplementary files) need to have intelligent alt text to assist navigation.


An estimated 5-15% of the U.S. population has dyslexia – that is 14.5 to 43.5 million children and adults in the U.S. alone. It is one of the most common learning disabilities. Audiobooks and text-to-speech capabilities that people with blindness use are also hugely beneficial to this group.

While there is generally no vision issue here, a person with Dyslexia may have trouble being able to keep things in the right reading order. They can see what is there, but can’t translate it easily. Hearing text read aloud in conjunction with seeing the words helps increase understanding of what’s on the page.

The number of people who can benefit from the capabilities accessible content provides is exponentially higher than even the examples provided here, and many publishers are already well positioned to take their publications the next few steps towards accessibility. Contact us to start a conversation about what it takes to create born-accessible publications.

About Greg Suprock

Greg is Head of Solutions Architecture at Apex. He has over 20 years of experience in XML workflows, content management, web application development, and prepress. Greg excels at collaborative efforts to achieve project and business goals. He has developed XML workflows for the Public Library of Science, HighWire Press, The Library of Congress, and many more.

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