With the 2025 deadline for the implementation of the European Accessibility Act approaching fast, experts from across publishing gathered at the virtual Frankfurt Book Fair under the subtitle All you need to know from international accessibility experts to present how the sector can get ready and fully seize the opportunity the Act presents for all readers.
Report by Cristina Mussinelli and Elisa Molinari Fondazione LIA. Originally posted here.
The 2020 edition of the Frankfurt Bookfair, the most important event for the international publishing industry, went 100% digital for the first time ever. Nevertheless, the organizers were able to offer a rich professional program of events, seminars and conferences.
Frankfurt Book Fair, IPA (International Publishers Association) and FEP (Federation of European Publishers) decided, in collaboration with Fondazione LIA (Libri Italiani Accessibili) to move the event on accessibility online. That event was foreseen within Aldus Up, the recently approved project funded under Creative Europe that gathers in a network the most important the European book fairs.
The event “European Accessibility Act (EAA): a chance for publishers”, was conceived as the first of a series of initiatives focused on accessibility, that the project will organize in the different EU bookfairs in the forthcoming years under the coordination of Fondazione LIA. You can read more about the Euroepan Accessibility Act below this report.
The seminar, chaired by Anne Bergman-Tahon, FEP Director. opened with the remarks of Hugo Setzer, IPA President, and Peter Kraus vom Cleff, FEP President.
The first session of the seminar was an introduction of the new legislation by Inmaculada Placencia-Porrero, Senior Expert Disability and Inclusion DG Employment Social Affairs and Equality European Commission. She presented the new Directive providing both the general scenario and the implication and the requirements for the publishing industry. Monica Halil Lövblad, Head of the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Accessible Books Consortium further explained how this directive is inter-related with the Marrakech Treaty.
The second part of the session aimed to take the spectators on an accessibility journey, to better explain what problems visually impaired people face if a publication, a website or an app is not accessible and the benefits if they are accessible. Fondazione LIA provided a short video (below) showing the experience of a visually impaired person in searching, accessing and reading a publication in the two different situation: not accessible and fully accessible.
The accessibility journey, starting with the production of e-books following the Born Accessible principle, through the creation and distribution to stores and online platforms of metadata describing the accessibility features of the contents, thanks to the possibility of buying or borrowing e-books on accessible websites, and finally by making reading accessible to all.
Cristina Mussinelli, Secretary General of Fondazione LIA, explained what makes a publication accessible and how to create Born Accessible ones, including accessibility from the very first steps in the traditional workflow. She also provided information on the available international standard guidelines and the tools to check the compliance of the e-books with the requirements described. She also highlighted that creating accessible digital publications means create higher quality publications for any reader.
Once the e-book is produced as accessible, it is important that it is also distributed in a fully accessible environment. Paolo Casarini, CTO and IT Director at Società editrice il Mulino, explained why and how they decided to acquire the knowledge to make PandoraCampus, their most important web platform providing students access to their publication, in an accessible format, with the support of Fondazione LIA. All the work they have done is based on the international web standards, such as WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) and WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative, Accessible Rich Internet Applications). They also made metadata available to end-users providing detailed information on the accessibility features of the publications and published a statement describing all the work done to embrace accessibility.
Luc Audrain, accessibility expert and former head of the accessibility project at Hachette France, stressed the importance of metadata noting that Onix and Schema.org. If used correctly these can provide end users with detailed information on the accessibility features of the digital publications, such as presence of reading order, structural navigation, linked table of contents, alternative image descriptions, etc. This will be very important as one of the goals of the Directive is to make accessible publications available in the market and so will be fundamental for any end user to know if an e-book responds to each need before acquiring it.
The last step of this journey is the reading experience. The Act requires both the reading devices and the e-reading apps to be accessible. Wendy Reid, Accessibility and Publishing Standards Lead at Rakuten Kobo, described the work they are doing in this field. She explained also that, as for the publications, all the features that are required for accessibility, such as text or font adjustment or line spacing, will make the reading experience better for everyone. The reference standards are the WCAG.
The session closed with Anne Bergman interviewing Thomas Kahlisch, Representative of the European Blind Union and Director of the German Centre for Accessible Reading (dzb lesen) on the relevance of the Directive. He highlighted as a fundamental element the strong collaboration among the different stakeholders: publishers, the different actors of the publishing value chain, organizations representing print impaired persons and specialist organizations.
The concept of born accessible publications and of mainstreaming their distribution in the traditional channels has only emerged in recent years so many parts of the supply chain are not yet aware of the role they have to play in the accessible digital ecosystem, where if only one element in the chain fails, accessibility is lost and the end user is penalized. Accessibility should become a crucial element of the strategy of the whole publishing value chain by understanding users’ needs and acquiring the specific knowledge, though training and collaborating with those who have already embraced accessibility. This will be fundamental if the industry is to be ready by 2025.
The European Accessibility Act
The common goal is to set the roadmap, create awareness and provide the adequate knowledge to the publishing industry, in preparation of the entrance in force of the so called European Accessibility Act, the EU Directive 2019/882 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 April 2019 on the accessibility requirements for products and services.
The Directive will apply to many products and services such as consumer general purpose computer hardware systems (personal computers, notebooks, smartphone and tablets) and operating systems for those hardware systems, self-service terminals (payment or ticketing terminals), consumer banking services, electronic communication services, payment services, services to access audiovisual media services. It also includes all e-books, dedicated reading software, e-reading devices and e-commerce placed in the EU market from June 28, 2025 by European and international business operators. Any publisher selling e-books in Europe and all the actors of the e-publishing supply chain will then need to respect the accessibility requirements set by this new legislation.
As e-books and software e-reading solutions are considered as parts of a service that the concept of service provider includes publishers and also all the other economic operators involved in their distribution:
- distributors and online retailers, e-commerce websites and mobile apps, online platforms;
- software e-reading solutions;
- DRM solutions;
- Metadata managing systems.
The Directive in fact requires all these actors to make content available to users through accessible services so that any user can carry out the entire process independently.
The goal is to offer everyone the same opportunities to read and get informed, without distinction.
To break down the current barriers it is necessary that a person with a visual disability can independently carry out all the steps necessary to select, buy and read. The seminar offered a chance to better understand the role that every actor of the e-book value chain has to play in order to be compliant and to build a fully accessible e-publishing ecosystem.