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Apply Accessibility Standards

Accessibility and Open Textbooks

Accessibility allows all users to access online content, including those with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive and neurological disabilities. It’s essential to creating a truly open textbook – one that’s free and accessible for all students.

Universal Design and Open Textbooks

Universal design is the process of creating products (devices, environments, systems and processes) that are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations (environments, conditions and circumstances). It arose out of the broader accessibility movement, as well as the advent of adaptive and assistive technology.

In the context of open textbooks, universal design for learning or UDL means removing potential barriers to access for students by designing content for all learning styles.

If you’re not sure how well your textbook utilises the principles of UDL, ask yourself:

  • Do I have visual materials that present key concepts that not all students may be able to see or understand?
  • Do I have multimedia materials (e.g. audio, video) that present key concepts that not all students may be able to be hear, see or otherwise access?
  • Do I have documents that present key concepts in a format that not all students may be able to access?

Open Textbook Accessibility Checklist

Below is a list of minimum requirements your open textbook should meet to be considered accessible:

  1. Content is organised under headings and subheadings.
  2. Headings and subheadings are used sequentially (e.g. Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.).
  1. Images that convey information include alternative or ‘alt’ text descriptions of the image’s content or function.
  2. Graphs, charts and maps also include contextual or supporting details in the text surrounding the image.
  3. Images don’t rely on colour to convey information.
  4. Images that are purely decorative contain empty alt text descriptions. (Descriptive text is unnecessary if the image doesn’t convey contextual content information).
  1. Links are meaningful in context and don’t use generic text such as ‘click here’ or ‘read more’.
  2. If a link will open or download a file (like a PDF or Excel file), a textual reference is included in the link information (e.g. '[PDF]').
  1. Tables include row and column headers.
  2. Tables include titles or captions.
  3. Tables don’t have merged or split cells.
  4. Tables have adequate cell padding.
  1. A transcript is available for each audio resource containing relevant non-speech content, including:
  • the speaker’s name
  • all speech content
  • relevant descriptions of speech
  • descriptions of relevant non-speech audio
  • headings and subheadings
  1. Videos have captions of all speech content and relevant non-speech content.
  2. Videos include audio descriptions of contextual visuals (e.g. graphs, charts).
  1. Simple equations use symbols that will be correctly interpreted by screen readers (e.g. minus signs and not hyphens).
  2. Complex equations are written in MathML or written in such a way they can be translated into MathML (e.g. written in LaTeX and rendered with MathJax).
  3. Equations are images with alt text descriptions if MathML is not an option.
  1. Font size is 12 point or higher for body text.
  2. Font size is 9 point for footnotes or end notes.
  3. Font size can be zoomed to 200 per cent.

For more information about web accessibility standards, see the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Accessibility Statements for Open Textbooks

Once you’ve done all you can to make your textbook accessible, it’s a good idea to include an accessibility statement. An accessibility statement provides information to readers with questions about the accessibility of your textbook, including:

  • your organisation’s accessibility policy
  • an overview of your textbook’s accessibility features and how to use them
  • work you’ve done to make your textbook accessible – including accessibility guidelines you’re following (e.g. WCAG 2.0), laws you’re conforming to and user testing you’ve performed
  • contact information so people can submit issues, suggestions or complaints related to accessibility.

Some tips for writing a useful accessibility statement:

  • Use clear and simple language – avoid jargon and technical terms.
  • Include information about how readers can personalise their experience, such as –
    • features of the platform used to publish or host your textbook (for example, you could mention that Pressbooks users can export content in the file format of their choice to read on their preferred device)
    • the ability to change browser settings
    • a link to each available file format
    • assistive technologies.
  • Be transparent about known accessibility issues, including –
    • describing what you’re doing to fix the problem and the time line
    • providing any temporary workarounds.

Example accessibility statements: BCcampus Open Education Accessibility Toolkit, Adoption Guide and Pressbooks Guide.


Adapted from:

Open Textbook Accessibility’ in USask Open Textbook Authoring Guide - Ver.1.0 by University of Saskatchewan, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

Universal Design’, ‘Appendix A: Checklist for Accessibility’ and ‘Accessibility Statements’ and in B.C. Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit (2nd ed.) by Amanda Coolidge, Sue Donner and Tara Robertson, used under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

Universal Design’ in Open Textbook Publishing Orientation (PUB 101) by Open Education Network, used under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

Accessibility’ in Authoring Open Textbooks by Melissa Falldin and Karen Lauritsen, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence, based on Modifying an Open Textbook: What You Need To Know by the Open Textbook Network, used under a CC BY 4.0 licence.