An Accessible E-book Reader

By Amit Pandey, Accessibility Consultant, LearningMate Solutions

What is an e-book reader?

An e-reader, also called an e-book reader or an e-book device, is a mobile electronic device that is designed primarily to read digital books and periodicals. While any device that can display text on a screen may suffice, specialized e-reader devices can optimize portability, enhance readability, and maintain a certain level of accessibility so that people with different needs and abilities can also consume the content.

Need for accessibility in e-book readers

For an e-book reader to be “accessible,” it must comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 for Levels A and AA. Also, a thorough usability and accessibility testing should be done with visually impaired and keyboard only users.

Features of an accessible e-reader

Contrasting colors

Colors are very important for any visual platform. WCAG asks us to maintain a certain level of contrast in colors, which can help users with disabilities such as low vision, color blindness, photosensitive epilepsy, etc.

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*Image Source:

Provide multiple options to the user:

Options such as inverting the colors on screen in the dark mode put less strain on the eyes, improving the readability of the text. It is one of the most in-demand features in 2019 by users with or without visual impairments. Besides the regular black-on-white reading experience, accessibility compliant e-readers provide the “dark mode” with inverted colors (white text on black) as well as a sepia option (black text on sepia) for readers who prefer screens with low contrast color.

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Three modes of the screen display, A: White, B: Sepia, C: Black (dark mode)

Markup highlights:

Something that gets overlooked on many platforms is a contrast of selected or highlighted text. E-book readers find sections that they want to revisit, and they highlight that content with annotation to serve as bookmarks. The color of the highlight can make the selection easier to view.


Compatibility with Windows high-contrast mode:

While the dark mode is a part of the accessible e-reader platform, a similar but very useful and often overlooked assistive technology is the Windows high contrast mode. This enables the user to access even more features than is possible with the e-reader platform. The accessible e-reader also takes into account the user’s preferred settings and adjusts itself to accommodate to their preferences.

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An e-reader without the Windows high contrast mode (L) and with the high contrast mode in yellow (R)

Keyboard navigation for keyboard-only users:

Users with motor disabilities, mobility impairments or a temporary injury cannot use a pointing device such as a mouse. These users will need to navigate websites by using the keyboard. They can use the “Tab” key to both move through any interactivity (links, tabs, buttons, etc.) or form controls (input fields, buttons, selections, drop-downs, etc.) on a webpage. In the context of the accessible e-book reader, all the interactive items should be navigable through the keyboard, and each item should have an accessible name that the screen reader can use to differentiate between similar interactivities on a page. The focus order should be intuitive and logical, that is, from top to bottom and from left to right.

Multiple ways for presentation and layout:

Some other features of an accessible e-reader include the ability to perform the following:

  • Adjust the font size contextually, not just through the +/- buttons
  • Adjust alignment
  • Toggle between serif/sans serif fonts
  • Enable sensible themes to remove accessibility barriers

SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language):

SMIL is a World Wide Web Consortium recommended Extensible Markup Language (XML) to describe multimedia presentations. It defines HTML markup for timing, layout, animations, visual transitions, and media embedding, among other things. SMIL allows presenting media items such as text, images, video, audio, links to other SMIL presentations, and files from multiple web servers. It is very useful for people with hearing disabilities.

Alt-text for infographics and complex imagery:

While a screen reader can read text content, content presented graphically – through images and infographics such as bar charts or graphs – require an alternate method to convey their meanings. This is where “alt” attributes and textual transcript come in. The “alt” attribute is a way to transform the visual content to text and readable audio, to make it accessible to all user groups.

Resize and Reflow:

The ability to zoom in and out and be able to resize the content as per the user’s need is critical for people with low vision, as this helps them to read in their desired font size with sufficient text space. The critical part is to be able to provide an equal experience regardless of whichever size the text has been zoomed to, and to wrap the text sideways to avoid horizontal scrollbars. This will help keyboard-only users also to easily access the content.


There are many features that can be added to the platform for accessibility. However, the features mentioned above can set up a strong base. Just as a good book benefits a lot of people, good accessibility features benefit even more readers, by helping the same book reach a wider audience. The idea is to keep the door open for as many people as we can to ensure that users with various abilities and needs can have an equal reading experience.

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