digital or “inclusive” doesn’t always mean accessible

blue wooden door with a big rusted old fashioned lock

Just how inclusive are “inclusive access” e-textbook programs? points out the problems with mandatory course fees for all students to lease access to online textbooks. This so-called “inclusive access” model has been piloted at Algonquin College with the e-textbook platform provider Texidium.

Too often we conflate digital with being accessible. Here’s my thoughts on accessibility of e-textbooks for students with print disabilities. I left this as a comment on Rajiv’s post.

When talking about inclusion and accessibility we can’t forget about students with print disabilities. I’ve seen two major accessibility problems with proprietary “inclusive access” models like Texidium.

First, sometimes the platform isn’t accessible. This is more problematic than a print textbook as there’s workflows for format shifting print content for students with print disabilities. What does an accessible format look like for an online “book” that’s on an inaccessible platform? A whole new accessible website? Also there’s really no excuse for publishers who are building inaccessible web platforms in 2017.

Second, sometimes the content isn’t fully accessible. Many of the online publisher textbooks I’ve seen don’t have image descriptions, have math content that’s not in MathML (and therefore cannot be read by a screenreader), or have videos that lack captions. Again, there’s really no excuse for publishers producing content on the web that is not accessible.

A couple of years ago I used to think that publishers might not be aware of accessibility, but now I believe that they don’t care . I believe they don’t care because it cuts into their profits and they are not responsible for the cost of remediating inaccessible platforms and inaccessible content to provide full access to students with print disabilities.

When we talk about accessibility and open textbooks we usually mean financial accessibility, which is important. It’s also important that we make choices that don’t disable students in our classrooms.

If your college or university is going down this path it is critical to put in clear language around accessibility (like WCAG 2.0 compliant) in the procurement documents and in the contracts with vendors. Benetech has some great resources creating or purchasing content that is born accessible. Their checklist on what to look for in e-books is particularly useful.

It’s also important to include clear information about what the publisher will do if the content is not accessible. Who is responsible for the costs of making this content accessible? If the Disability Service Office, or a service provider like CAPER-BC, needs to do work to make the content accessible who do they contact for the publisher files? What is the turnaround time for this?

Moving to e-textbooks is not necessarily an improvement for students with print disabilities. Digital or “inclusive” doesn’t always mean accessible.