The Accessibility Testers were tasked with using and testing library reading applications, and they reported on their functionality and usefulness for readers with print disabilities.
The reports were shared with their respective developers, whose feedback we requested. Full and summary reports, and responses from developers who provided one, are available in the links below.
- Full Accessibility Report for iOS Version 5.3.8 and 5.4.1; Android 5.3.18 and 5.4.19; Website; and Windows Browser (30 pages)
- Summary of Accessibility Report (5 pages)
- Vendor Response
- Requested (May, 2019)
- Full Accessibility Report for iOS Version 4.7.5; Android 4.7.0; Website; and RBdigital Media Manager (30 pages)
- Summary of Accessibility Report (5 pages)
- Vendor Response (1 page)
- Provided (July, 2019)
- Coming soon!
- Coming soon!
Assessments of Reading Apps
Increasingly, people with print disabilities are accessing ebook and audiobook content from their mobile devices using a variety of apps. Unfortunately, they are often faced with challenges and technical difficulties when using these apps, and there is currently very little information to be found about their accessibility.
In order to fill that gap, NNELS undertook a systematic assessment of the accessibility of reading apps that are used to access content through public libraries. The objective of this initiative is to provide feedback to app vendors regarding the features that represent accessibility barriers, in order to help them improve their products, as well as to provide information to public libraries so that they can advise their patrons on which products are most accessible for users of assistive technology. Through these reports, we also aim to create awareness about key features which enable users with print disabilities to access content that is available to Canadians through their public library.
When a mobile app or a website is properly designed, it is flexible and allows anyone to use it in a way that works best for them. From aging populations who need to adjust text sizes to read materials, to people with visual impairments that rely on assistive reading technologies, following accessibility standards enhances the experience for all users.
The Assessment Process
To conduct the testing, NNELS assembled a team of accessibility testers, formed by people who have vision impairments and learning disabilities. All of them have expertise and extensive experience using assistive technologies in their daily lives to read books and access information.
NNELS developed a list of criteria for testers to perform a structured review of all features. We drew on the guidelines that the DAISY Consortium developed for the systematic assessment of the accessibility of hardware and software-based reading systems.
We tested OverDrive, Libby, RBdigital and PressReader. Using screen readers and Braille displays, our team assessed the entire user experience of each app, including setting up a user account, searching for resources and navigating results, checking out titles, and reading content.
All testers performed several tasks, corresponding to the different functions of the individual reading applications and systematically answered the respective questions. Each question corresponds to an assessment criteria. Results indicate how successfully a task can be done, provide comments on what can’t be done within the application, and offer recommendations for addressing some of the existing accessibility barriers for the app developers.
At the outset of this project, we contacted all of the app vendors to let them know about our initiative, and to engage them in the conversation to ensure that the feedback we provide is useful. After completing all testing, we drafted reports for each app, and are in the process of sharing our results with vendors and receiving their comments. The final reports will be posted here shortly, and they will have a section to convey vendors’ responses.
The following features are needed to increase the accessibility of apps and websites used through public libraries:
- Accessible login: An accessible way to login to the user’s library account using the app. As people may be able to create their account on a website, it is always necessary to login into one’s library account using the app.
- Browsing the bookshelf: Being able to know what books one has checked out, when they are due, and seeing hold requests are the most important features.
- Reading: Being able to open and read a book should be as seamless as possible. Once the book is open, there should be different accessible reading modes that the user can activate: reading the text of a book using a standardized view and accessing playback controls in an audio book. The ability to read to the end of the book (for ebooks) without manually flipping pages should be available.
- Navigating Content: Being able to access sections of the book by heading/time and move by section or time increments
- Adjusting Content: Being able to adjust speed of playback and visual settings for text view
- Bookmarks: Being able to set book marks and then either go back to a previous reading position or to the list of book marks should be accessible. This feature may not be as widely used by people reading for pleasure, but it would be useful if a person wants to return to a specific section if they lose their reading position. For students setting bookmarks is essential.
- Settings: Being able to access settings of the app
What We Found
A number of barriers to accessibility were identified during the testing process, including:
- Unlabeled buttons or links: Not all the buttons in the mobile apps and on the websites are labeled with text. This presents a barrier for screen reader users, who are unable to determine the function of a button or a link before clicking them (when it is unclear what a button does, it is a guessing game).
- Disorganized and/or cluttered interfaces: Some sections in the mobile apps or websites appear cluttered and do not have headings to clearly separate sections. When screens contain too much information, it is not easy for someone who cannot visually explore them to orient themselves and find what they are looking for.
- Control/gesture challenges: There were some difficulties reaching elements and activating controls via the keyboard or with common swipe gestures.
- Opening on image view: Some publications (e.g. magazine articles or ebooks) opened on image view by default. When there is no text on the screen, users relying on screen readers cannot access content.
How to Improve Accessibility: Best Practices
The good news is that most of these issues can be fixed by following best practices for accessibility criteria for apps and websites outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Awareness of the issues is the first step. Once content creators, publishers, and developers realize why these issues matter, they are more open and willing to invest the time to preventing accessibility barriers.