VoiceOver and Apple Books on iOS Transcript

Accessible Publishing Summit 2023

YouTube Video

Transcript below.

This is Patrick Bouchard. I’m an accessibility tester for NNELS and I’ll be demonstrating reading an ebook using an iPhone with the VoiceOver screen reader. Now to read books on my iPhone I often like to use Apple’s books app. I like it because it has a simple and accessible interface; it also synchronizes well with the Books app on other Apple devices. So for this demo NNELS has put together a sample ebook containing lots of accessible features that are designed to work well with screen readers, and just to show off the kind of accessibility features that can be present in an ebook, to improve the experience. The first page is the cover page, as we let VoiceOver read this cover.

Screen reader: Accessible Publishing Summit 2023 by NNELS. The cover is mainly yellow with a large white badge shape in the center, the book’s title is in the white space. Image. Actions available.

Patrick: So that’s very helpful; so it tells me the title that’s in the image, tells me a bit about what the image looks like, and that’s important because my eyes can’t see what the image looks like and a screen reader can’t tell for itself what the image looks like. Some of them now have artificial intelligence features that will try to discern what’s in the image but it’s never as good as good alternative text being provided and inserted into the data. So that’s important here, even though knowing what the image looks like is mostly for curiosity’s sake, there are other images and books that may be illustrating important points and alt text needs to be provided to make sure that everyone knows what’s being conveyed by that image. You also heard “Actions available” at the end of that; that just means that I can swipe up or down to access functions in this case like bookmarking the page; that has little to do with the content, that’s a feature of Apple’s books app they’ve added to make that more convenient for VoiceOver users. Then we’re going to flip the page.

Screen reader: NNELS Accessible Publishing Summit Demo 2023.

Patrick: So again it’s a title page.

Screen reader: CC0 Public Domain Accessible Publishing Summit Demo 2023. No rights reserved. Published by National Network for Equitable Library Service. Cover design by LB. ISBN 10 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 ISBN 13.

Patrick: OK we’re not going to read the entirety of that page; I think most casual readers won’t be doing that ,but it is there for people who need it and it is all in text so VoiceOver can read all the reference information. So for people who may need that, it is available and accessible.

Screen reader: To all readers.

Patrick: And that’s the Dedication page, simply “To all readers”. If there is a title thing, that it’s a dedication, that is not being read. Which is an important point that I’m going to come back to a few times in this demonstration; Apple’s books app works well with some accessibility features and not as well with others and I point that out not to discourage publishers from using those features but rather to encourage them because the more people using them the more companies like Apple will realize “Oh readers using screen readers aren’t getting everything that’s in this book – some of it’s still inaccessible to them.” And the more books using it the more important it’ll be for them to fix it. If very few are using these features they may think “Oh we don’t need to fix this, barely anyone’s using it.” The more people using it, the more importance they’ll place on it. So that’s why I bring that up. There’ll be several examples in this and there may be some more specialized solutions available which handles some of these better but I want to demonstrate using this app because it’s what I like for casual reading and I think it’s what a lot of people will be using because it’s a stock Apple app and they’ll have trust in it, but with that aside, we’re going to skip to the next page.

Screen reader: Chapter 1 a novel-like chapter heading action.

Patrick: Right, so we get to the first chapter and you hear “heading”, so that’s useful because it lets me navigate by heading if I would like to do that. It makes navigation to find a specific section that much easier for a VoiceOver user. But for now we’re just gonna read…

Screen reader: Forget what you think you know. Vampires exist. Blade. Action. The third of May Bistritz. Actions available. We left in pretty good time and came after nightfall to Klausenbergh. Here I stopped for the night at the Hotel Royale. I had for dinner or rather supper a chicken done up some way with red pepper which was very good but thirsty Mem. Get recipe for Mina. I asked the waiter and he said it was called Paprika Hendl and that as it was a national dish I should be able to get it anywhere along the Carpathians. I found my smattering of German very useful here, indeed, I don’t know how I should be able to get on without it. Actions available.

Patrick: And why did I do this before having dinner instead of after… but whatever that’s not important. The important thing is that it reads the text of the chapter; it read the quotation to start, and then started reading the contents of the chapter itself.

Screen reader: A section with a block quote heading. Actions.

Patrick: So we have another heading section with a block quote and I believe I can demonstrate…

Screen reader: Characters … Headings: Chapter 1 a novel like chapter. Heading.

Patrick: Yes I can quickly and easily jump back up to that top heading if I want to do that. So I can navigate from heading to heading. But we’re gonna get back to…

Screen reader: We left in pretty… A section with a block quote. Heading. Actions available.

Patrick: For some reason it wouldn’t let me jump back to this one… it’s supposed to… It seems more like a VoiceOver issue than a Content issue here. Screen readers can be buggy at times

Screen reader: I will now share a letter I received from my love. 17. Chatham Street. Wednesday the 10th of May. My dearest I must say you tax me very unfairly with being a bad correspondent I wrote to you twice since we parted and your last letter was only your second. Besides I have nothing to tell you. There is really nothing to interest you. I must stop. Good night. Bless me in your prayers, and Mina, pray for my happiness. Lucy. Action.

Patrick: So that’s a letter that was written, and it was contained in a block quote. Now this is something that VoiceOver doesn’t recognize; I mean it reads the text just fine I don’t miss that; but doesn’t identify that it’s a block quote. With some screen readers, say, if you’re using JAWS or NVDA on Windows in a web browser, they will identify the start and end of a block quote. The VoiceOver is not doing that here, so that’s one thing that could be improved just to clarify to what’s the reason this is a quotation but the text is read which is definitely better than it being skipped completely.

Screen reader: Separator. Dimmed. Page 5 of 12. Lucy. A section with a context break. Heading. He displayed a skill in the choice of ground, in the use of light troops, and in securing his own supplies whilst he cut off those of the enemy, which Kartikaya himself, God of War, might have envied. Doctor Heraclius Gloss was a very learned man. Although this was a… Section with a context break.

Patrick: that is another thing that VoiceOver doesn’t explicitly recognize there’s a stop between the two bits of text which may be the context break, but it’s just recognized as a separate paragraph. Which, you know, again just for reading is okay, but if a context break has more important meaning it’s not being conveyed.

Screen reader: A section with and without a language shift heading. Action.

Patrick: yes this one demonstrates a language shift. So that is including text of another language within your content. And this is important because it affects how VoiceOver will speak it, as you will hear.

Screen reader: With a marked up language shift. Heading. The French expression “avoir l’esprit de l’escalier” refers to an inability to think of a witty comeback or any sort of intelligent response until it’s too late to be of any use. Actions.

Patrick: I know I’ve experienced that many times. But again the importance – you can hear the voice change to a French voice to speak the phrase because this has been marked up correctly, it’s identified in the content that that phrase is French as opposed to the English, which is the rest of the content. So VoiceOver knows to speak it with a French voice to pronounce French words correctly.

Screen reader: Without a marked up language shift. Heading. The French Expression avoir l’esprit de l’escalier refers to an inability to think of a witty comeback or any sort of intelligent response. Actions available.

Patrick: Now I don’t speak French and even I know that wasn’t pronounced correctly, least of all because it’s not the same as the French voice itself pronounced it. But even without that I would have known that’s not right. And that’s what happens when it is not marked up properly – the screen reader doesn’t know that these are actually French words it’s trying to pronounce so it will continue with the English voice or the English pronunciation rules and it will mess them up.

Screen reader: Page 6 of 12. the French expression av… Chapter 2 A more scholarly chapter. Heading. I once asked a young dissertation writer whether her suddenly grayed hair was due to ill health or personal tragedy. She answered it was the footnotes. Horizontal bar. Joanna Russ How to Suppress Women’s Writing How to Suppress Women’s Writing. A section with lists. Heading.

Patrick: Again we had a… we have a new chapter with an intro and again there’s probably a block quote in there or something that voice over isn’t identifying… I mean it reads the text just fine so it’s a minor… you know minor issue I’d say but for books that are more complex where these things matter it could be a potential issue. So let’s say for really academic textbooks where these features are used a lot more than in novels this could be a problem for VoiceOver users attempting to read. But again it’s important to still use these features because there are maybe other apps which may handle them better and it will encourage Apple and other software companies to improve things and implement proper support.

Screen reader: The practical man may justly observe at this point that the world of single vision is the only world he knows, that it appears to him to be…

Screen reader: Actions available.

Patrick: (I missed the heading for the second time) But this is a section with lists. The lists are useful for organizing information, steps, related bits of information like that. So there are two ways to do it.

Screen reader: Bullet real, Bullet solid, Bullet and self-consistent.

Patrick: And that is an unordered list so it has a bullet character before each, to separate them, and VoiceOver knows to treat each as its own item so that it’s easy to scroll through. They’re separated, it doesn’t read them all together like it would if they were just a sentence in a paragraph. Or, the second way to do a list is coming up and it’s a numbered list.

Screen reader: Plainly then it is the first business of the charlatan to: One. Create if he can some feeling of dissatisfaction with the world within which the practical man has always lived and acted, and Two. To suggest something of its fragmentary and subjective character. Actions avail….

Patrick: That’s an ordered list; you hear the numbers ahead of each item instead of bullet characters, and that indicates that there’s a specific order that these things should be done. And the numbers make it clear to a VoiceOver user what the order is. Again they’re separated, so you swipe through separately or it’ll pause between reading each one if you’re reading from the top to the bottom of the page all at once.

Screen reader: Images section. Heading. Regular image.

Patrick: So here we have more images and this will get into more in-depth descriptions.

Screen reader: One day when he was strolling in the Square at Balancon he saw a large wooden hut from which came the sound of terrible howling. While on the platform the mountebank incoherently invited the crowd to come and see the terrible Apache Tamer Tomahawk or rumbling Thunder. A drawing of a shirtless white man. He reaches upwards with one arm against a starry night sky. Text reads per aspera ad astra. Image. Actions avail….

Patrick: So again we hear the image with its description – very helpful.

Screen reader: Figure one illustration from Finland in the 19th century.

Patrick: and it’s titled as well for our convenience.

Screen reader: Finland in the 19th century. Image with linked long description. Heading. Figure 2 Map from The Map that Changed the World. A map of the Camerton and Limpley Stoke Railway in North Somerset. Click the link below to navigate to Long description. Image. Figure 2 Map from The Map that Changed the World. The Map that Changed the World. Long Description for Figure 2. Link. Actions avail…

Patrick: So what we have here is a map and the description for that is going to be a little bit longer than is advisable to put into an alternative text attribute, so what they’ve done is they’ve written it separately in an appendix, provided a brief description here, and then provided a link to jump to the long description. So if we double tap that, it will…

Screen reader: Long desc… Appendix. Long Desc…

Patrick: jump to the page and we can read the long description here.

Screen reader: Figure 2 map from The Map that Changed the World. Heading. The Map that Changed the World. Heading. A map of the Camerton and Limpley Stoke Railway in North Somerset. The legend identifies two tracks the S&D Jt Rly and the GW Rly as well as the Kennet and Avon Canal. Action.

Patrick: OK we’re not going to read the entirety of it but you get the idea you’re able to have descriptions that are several paragraphs long in this way and people who don’t want to read it don’t have to click the link; people do have much more room to explain what’s on the map, give all readers a good idea of what it shows.

Screen reader: The GW… In the Northeast quadrant… Return to figure 2. Link. Action.

Patrick: And then this is important as well, they provide a link to return to where we were.

Screen reader: Return to… Images section. Heading. Regular…

Patrick: So it brings us right back to the page we were on before we clicked that link so then we can return and keep reading.

Screen reader: Regular image. One… Long description. The doctor immediately… Page 8 of 12. Actions available. Section with a footnote and an endnote. Heading. Footnote section. Heading. Before this superb specimen of man in his last transmigration, Heraclius Gloss, pale with joy, stood lost in profound meditation. Star. Endnote section. Heading. Then having executed a fantastic somersault absolutely incompatible with the dignity of a man, the four-handed gentleman gave way to the most unseemly hilarity at the site of the doctor’s beard. One.

Patrick: So this section deals with endnotes and footnotes and this is something that does not work correctly with VoiceOver. You heard at the end of the first one, it said star, which is an asterisk character, and at the end of the second paragraph, it said one, which is supposed to be you know a link with the number one leading to endnote number one, but it doesn’t identify it as a link and there’s no way for me, as a VoiceOver user, to isolate that and tap it to activate it. So this doesn’t work correctly it tells me there’s a footnote number one but unlike the image description, I can’t jump to it and read it. So that’s something Apple needs to improve.

Screen reader: Section with a table. Heading. Actions available. So here’s a table, and tables are great for organizing information with relationships, or charts, anything like that. We have an example chart here.

Screen reader: Section with a… Name of emperor. Name of Emperor. Length of reign in years. Name of Emperor. Length of reign in years. Name of Emperor. Length of reign in years. Cause of death. Action.

Patrick: And this is unfortunate. You can hear it’s repeating the name of Emperor and length of Reign in years; VoiceOver is not handling this correctly which is disappointing because it handles tables great in web browsers and other apps so that tells me it’s the implementation in the Books app that isn’t quite compatible. It should be reading all the leftward columns when I focus on a row, or to the right, it shouldn’t be doing that. It should be reading each on its own and it does this in not just the header row either.

Screen reader: Tiberious. Tiberius 22. Tiberius 22 possible assassination.

Patrick: Tiberius 22 possible assassination. On its own it doesn’t make a lot of sense because it a it’s not reading the headers with each; like if it read “Name of Emperor Tiberius”, which is what it’s supposed to do, that would be much more helpful. And then it should be reading “Length of reign in years 22. That’s what it should be doing; it shouldn’t be repeating Tiberius and then even 22; it shouldn’t be repeating each of the previous columns data in the further right columns. So again this is a VoiceOver issue, there’s not so much a Content issue, it’s a VoiceOver and Books not implementing this properly.

Screen reader: Section with a sidebar. Heading. One day when he was strolling in the Square at Balancon he saw a large wooden hut from which came the sound of terrible howling. While on the platform the mountebank incoherently invited the crowd to come and see the terrible Apache Tamer Tomahawk or rumbling Thunder. A sidebar. Heading. This is the text of the sidebar. Endnote. Heading. 1 Link 1. To…

Patrick: OK so we… let’s unpack some of that. There’s a sidebar, which again, VoiceOver reads, but doesn’t necessarily identify it. I mean it only does so because there’s a heading saying that this is a sidebar, but that is not VoiceOver recognizing the sidebar. So again this is something that there could be a bit more compatibility. Just basically a saying a sidebar, and possibly providing more options to like, say, skip sidebars or whatever for people who want to do that. That’s not here so it’s just reading them as plain text, which is better than it ignoring them completely but again, for more academic texts that could be a bit of a problem.

Screen reader: This is the text of… Endnote. Heading.

Patrick: OK so here’s our endnote from before…

Screen reader: One. Link. One to be fair the beard was weird. Actions available. One. Link.

Patrick: And in this case…

Screen reader: Actions. One. -mous monkey

Patrick: This one is a link that I can click here and – more like tapping I suppose, click is a computer term – anyway you can activate the link and it brings me back to the page where it was referenced from. So I can click that way, but I can’t do it going forward so that’s still an issue.

Screen reader: Page 10. Page 10 of 12. One. To… Appendix. Long Description…

Patrick: And we’ve come back to the appendix, where the image description is. So, that is the end of the demo; the only remaining page is the… I’ll show you.

Screen reader: About the Author. Heading.

Patrick: About the author page; it’s plain text.

Screen reader: The National Network for Equitable Library Service NNELS is a repository of content owned and sustained by Canadian public libraries…

Patrick: OK we don’t need to read the entire thing. It’s text that VoiceOver handles very well. The demo for reading eBooks on iOS/ iPhone, I hope that was helpful whether you’re a reader or a publisher, to get an idea of how the Apple Books app works, and how the accessibility features are handled – again some well, some not so well. And hopefully, more work is done to make sure that the ones that are handled not so well are done better, as we know they can be, because other screen readers and apps do handle those in other situations. Even VoiceOver in web browsers often handles some of those better than it is in Books, because if that’s done then Apple Books could be a useful app for screen reader users to read all sorts of books; other fiction or textbooks, from basic textbooks to highly advanced. That is important and I hope Apple takes that to heart and makes improvements. But in the meantime publishers will be aware of how to make books accessible to as many people as possible and the challenges we may still encounter and we all work together to improve the state of reading.