I have been a vegetarian since I was seven years old when I made the mistake of asking my mother what sausages were made of. Sausages were my favourite food at the time. I was incredulous to find I had been eating pigs. I was very fond of pigs and I decided there and then I wouldn’t eat any animals again and – in my childlike way – mentally apologised to the ones I’d already consumed in ignorance.

Being a vegetarian is a modest dietary restriction but even so, I fully expect to walk into supermarket, read the labels on a product and work out whether it is suitable for me. I don’t expect to purchase the product, bring it home for chemical analysis, work out the ingredients and then decide whether it suits my dietary needs. That would be ridiculous. If there is any doubt about the ingredients I won’t buy it. Simple.

So that’s how it is for food for the body. Then why is it so different for food for the mind?

Why is it that so many library staff don’t know how accessible their e-book systems because the only way they can find out is by setting aside a day with a range of different assistive technologies and testing the system themselves? Since when were librarians deemed to be “voluntary ingredlient researchers”? Yet with a few exceptions, most e-book platforms from publishers or aggregators tell the user nothing useful about accessibility. They may have grand statements about standards compliance but in terms of the things that really matter there is a loud silence.

So what are the things that really matter? Here’s a list to get going on.

  • An accessibility statement that speaks in plain English about text size, text reflow, colour/contrast changes and interoperability the text-to-speech and screen reader tools
  • Credibility that the system has actually been tested with disabled users.
  • Contact details for giving feedback or suggest improvements (who would not want free feedback from customers to help improve the product?)

Any e-book platform that can’t proactively fulfil such requirements is like a ready meal in the supermarket that fails to list any ingredients or any nutritional information. Who in their right minds would buy it?




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