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CSU ATI eTextbook Accessibility Project Briefing

Project Purpose

The project is designed to help CSU campuses evaluate, select, and implement eTextbook products that are as accessible as possible for students, staff, and faculty. Emphasis will be placed on developing and disseminating authoritative guidance, information, and resources (e.g. templates, evaluations) so that campuses can successfully tackle the rapidly-growing accessibility challenges associated with eTextbooks.

eTextbook Project Briefing document for printing purposes (.doc)

Campus Challenges Addressed by This Project

The size, complexity, and growth rate of the eTextbook marketplace makes it difficult to identify accessible platforms.

  • eTextbooks are now offered by all major higher education textbook publishers, all major US bookstores, several large technology companies (e.g. Google, Apple) and numerous smaller firms (e.g. eBrary, NetLibrary, Copia).
  • Many Publishers currently operate multiple eTextbook initiatives or partnerships as a means to test the strengths and limitations of various business models and hedge the risk associated with a move into the eTextbook marketplace. As a result, a specific eTextbook may be available in multiple eTextbook platforms operated by different vendors.
  • eTextbook platforms often support multiple delivery methods (hardware, software and web applications), multiple eTextbook applications which take advantage of the unique features of each supported operating systems (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android), and multiple file formats for a particular eTextbook.

Result: There are far more eTextbook usage scenarios than there is sufficient capacity to analyze them.

CSU Response: The project will restrict its initial focus to the following issues and priorities:

  • eTextbook platforms whose content is (or soon will be) offered through the CSU Systemwide Academic Technology Services Initiatives. Currently, this includes CourseSmart, VitalSource, NOOKstudy and CafeScribe.
  • Software and web-based eTextbook applications only (not hardware readers). This is based on the premise that 1) hardware devices will continue to grow as a choice of the user rather than the institution and 2) software and web solutions currently offer greater potential support for accessibility than hardware devices. In addition, accessibility evaluations will focus on the reader application (not the underlying text). This is based on the premise that if the reader applications cannot convey digital content in an accessible manner, the level of accessibility in the underlying content is immaterial.
  • Text-based content and features (excluding digital audio books or supplemental multimedia materials).

Future investigations may expand to address other eTextbook platforms that are widely-deployed (e.g. iBooks), added to systemwide initiatives, or designed specifically for persons with disabilities (e.g. Blio).

Accessibility documentation is often unavailable or difficult to locate.

  • Many vendors don't offer VPATs or any other form of accessibility documentation.
  • Among vendors that do offer accessibility documentation, some provide it only upon request or restrict sharing.
  • Many vendors don't aggregate all available accessibility-related information which necessitates a manual search of the vendor website, product documentation, and/or phone or email contact with vendor contacts.
  • While some third-parties (e.g. disability advocacy groups, non-profit organizations, or higher education institutions) do conduct accessibility evaluations, most don't publicize this activity or share their findings.

Result: Campuses that search for accessibility information may be unable to gather sufficient information to accurately gauge the accessibility of the eTextbook platform. Even if they do gather sufficient information, the search process will likely be resource-intensive and redundant to work occurring at other campuses.

CSU Responses

  • Aggregate, vet, and post all useful accessibility information in a central eTextbook accessibility repository
  • Allow campuses to contribute this repository as well as comment on the utility of existing material

Accessibility documentation, when available, is often inadequate.

  • VPATs aren't always accurate, specific, and/or complete.
  • Vendors may not provide a VPAT for each unique eTextbook Application despite potentially significant variations in accessibility features and gaps across the product line (e.g. Windows, Mac, mobile, web).
  • Vendor contacts—generally sales representatives—often lack accurate, timely, and/or complete information regarding the accessibility of their eTextbook platform.
  • Product information can become obsolete quickly due to rapid product release cycles—particularly for software and web applications. Accessibility information is often not updated following a new product release.

Result: Campuses often lack sufficient, up-to-date information to accurately gauge the accessibility features, gaps, or workarounds for eTextbook platforms. As a result, the campus may be unaware of what accommodations may be necessary once a product is adopted.

CSU Responses

  • Develop a CSU standard method for gathering all critical product accessibility information.
  • Work closely with eTextbook vendors whose products are being evaluated to verify the accuracy and timeliness of the accessibility documentation they provide.
  • Provide guidance to vendors on recommended methods to produce accessibility documentation that is accurate, complete, and up-to-date.

Accessibility testing reports are often unavailable or inadequate.

  • Vendors only rarely provide accessibility testing results either as a supplement to, or in lieu of, accessibility documentation such as VPATs.
  • Accessibility testing reports often omit information that is critical to evaluating the relevance and accuracy of the results. Examples of commonly omitted information include the version number of the product, technical details regarding the testing environment, and the tools and testing methods used.
  • Assessors may review the eTextbook platform on only 1 operating system or using only a narrow range of product features that do not adequately reflect the intended usage of the product within the CSU.
  • Not all campuses have the capacity to conduct accessibility evaluations. Among those that do, methods and tools used to conduct assessments vary and there is currently no effective way to share such evaluations or ensure that an evaluation has not already been conducted.

Result: Campuses may be unable to determine whether the eTextbook platform they are considering will be usable by persons with disabilities will be accessible given their intended usage. Campuses may conduct accessibility evaluations on products that have already been evaluated by another campus or outside entity.

CSU Responses

  • Develop a system-wide standardized testing process (methodology, use cases, tools, etc.) to evaluate eTextbook platforms in a manner that supports apples-to-apples comparisons and facilitates campus selection of platforms that best meet their accessibility requirements.
  • Conduct accessibility evaluations on high-impact eTextbook platforms.
  • Provide a central repository to aggregate eTextbook accessibility evaluations completed by ATI and CSU campuses.

Important real-world accessibility issues are often not covered by documentation or evaluations.

  • Third-party applications or websites that are used for installation, configuration, or operation of the eTextbook Application may not be accessible for persons with disabilities.
  • Some technical features of eTextbooks that aren't required by technical standards can significantly affect usability for persons with disabilities (e.g. contrast adjustment or navigation by sections and headings).
  • Page numbers in eTextbooks do not always match the corresponding pages in their paper counterparts. While this may create usability issues for both the faculty member and all students, this may be especially problematic for some persons with disabilities.

Result: Campuses may be inadequately prepared to provide accommodations that address the accessibility gaps.

CSU Response: Develop system-wide guidance and recommended practices for eTextbook adoptions that address these additional considerations.

Some eTextbook vendor practices don't adequately meet the needs of persons with disabilities.

  • Many vendors don't provide persons with disabilities the accessibility information they need to determine whether they will be able to use the eTextbooks once purchased:
    • Some vendors don't allow users with disabilities to try eTextbooks before purchase to determine if they are compatible with the user's assistive technology.
    • Very few vendors provide customers with accessibility metadata that describes the level of support present in the eTextbook Application or a specific title.
  • Not all vendors allow users with disabilities to return eTextbooks—even if they are unable to use them.
  • Many vendors don't provide technical support channels (e.g. web-based knowledgebase, discussion forums, or real-time chat programs) that are usable by persons with disabilities.

Result: Persons with disabilities who are unable to purchase the eTextbook (or who are unable to use the eTextbook once purchased) will be unable to us the additional features of the eTextbook or benefit from any cost savings. The campus will also be obligated to provide accommodations to ensure that the book content is delivered in a manner that is equally-effective and timely.

CSU Response:

  • Work closely with eTextbook vendors to share findings, priorities, and recommendations and increase awareness of accessibility issues.
  • Leverage the market impact of the CSU to encourage eTextbook vendors to increase accessibility support in their products and business practices.
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