Indie author and ALLi Advice Centre editor Debbie Young explains how to reach more readers with your ebooks by making them more accessible to the print-disabled, i.e. those who have trouble reading conventional books due to visual or other physical disabilities.
These six quick and easy tips will help you avoid classic rookie formatting errors that make ebooks difficult or impossible for a significant proportion of potential readers around the world. They’re all simple to understand and implement, and there’s no good reason NOT to do them, so do yourself and your books a favour and get into the habit of using them all!
- Text should be text. By that, I mean don’t load any text as images, such as logos or graphics of fancy titles, because these won’t be recognised as text by devices designed to turn ebooks into audio for the visually impaired.
- Avoid fancy typography effects such as drop caps. Again, these won’t “translate”, and although they may look pretty, they won’t be legible to text-to-speech readers.
- Use formatting styles consistently, particularly headings, to enable readers to navigate between chapters and sections easily. Don’t just format headings as you go along, but set up styles for “heading 1”, “heading 2” etc and mark your headings up as these styles.
- When adding images, include meaningful captions that add value to the image – not just “picture 1” or “illustration” or just the picture credit. For those who can’t see the detail of pictures, good captions help them interpret images more effectively.
- Similarly, use the “alt tag” feature to describe each image. Think of an alt tag as a subtitle, explaining what’s in the image and describing it to those who can’t see it at all. This should include the function of the image, not just a straight description, e.g. not just “photo of woman sitting at restaurant table” but “photo of young woman alone at the table in a fancy restaurant looking angry that her date hasn’t turned up.
- If possible, avoid the use of tables or other graphics – but if you must use them, e.g. in a textbook, try to keep them as simple and unfussy as possible, and to bear in mind how they will look if blown up to a large size on an ereader by someone who can only read big print. Will they fall off the edge of the “page”? Can the figures be presented so that they won’t be distorted or lose their meaning when enlarged?
For More Detailed Guidelines
These tips draw on some important research and guidance developed by the International Authors Forum in conjunction with the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Accessible Books Consortium. You can read much more detailed guidelines in the IAF’s free guidebook here.
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