Plain Text E-books Are Totally Accessible
Today I would like to discuss accessibility when it comes to e-books. Now as most of us know, many of the popular e-book formats are not very accessible to those with print disabilities such as the blind and legally blind. The reasoning behind this is because many of these e-book formats have to use proprietary software to allow the reader to read the book, and many of these software programs aren't accessible to the blind or visually impaired.
Screen reader accessibility is extremely important if you want the blind and visually impaired to be able to access your e-book when it is published. Now while I can't speak for many of the e-book file formats out there, I can say that the Kindle e-book reader for the P C is pretty accessible in that it does allow for screen reader access.
However, even though Kindle is pretty much accessible, the problem lies in the file format itself as well as with the software. You see, Kindle is a proprietary e-book standard which means that the file format associated with Kindle e-books is proprietary to the software used to view it.
However, plain text is not proprietary and needs absolutely no specialized software in order to view and edit it. Not only that, but plain text files are the most accessible file format around and the simplest too. It would be totally awesome if e-book authors would also publish their works in plain text for those who don't want to read their books in those proprietary file formats.
However, unfortunately, e-book authors don't publish their works in plain text all due to copyright issues. Now while most e-book authors don't publish their works in plain text, I definitely do because I know for a fact that plain text will always be around long after all those fancy file formats have disappeared and are replaced by yet newer proprietary format schemes that may or may not be accessible to blind readers and publishers.
You see, much of the problem lies in the fact that most all e-books are made with fancy fonts and paragraph styles as well as with a lot of graphics and so on. Sure plain text e-books may not look pretty and such, but the most important fact here is the information that is inside them. Now of course, if your book is a comic book or one that requires a lot of images, I can see where this wouldn't be good for the blind or visually impaired since blind people can't even see graphics. However, books that jut have text in them shouldn't require a lot of fancy formatting and should only contain plain text rather than all those fancy styles and so on. Let's take very basic HTML for example.
Every computer, smart phone or tablet has a web browser. If you were to write an e-book using the most basic HTML tags, you can still create an e-book that is in plain text format, but yet still be functional for the reader. For example, if you only used headdings to separate the different sections of the book and hyperlinks to jump from section to section, or chapter to chapter, then you can create a really cool plain text e-book that can be viewed inside a browser that still wouldn't take up a whole lot of room.
Now while HTML itself needs a web browser in order to view it in, the thing is, is that HTML is so ubiquidous that even though it acts like a proprietary file format, it really isn'tone. It is just a plain text file format with very little in the way of markup that allows for it to remain plain text without all of the heavy encoding that is inside all of the word processing documents that are available today.
Basic HTML is very accessible and can be read by any blind or visually impaired person with a screen reader or screen magnification software. So if you want to publish your books in a simi-proprietary file format that is still plain text and totally portable, then basic HTML is really the way to go especially if you want to create an e-book with full navigation and accessibility. You don't need any java scripting, or any programming language to create your e-books, and all you will need is the most basic HTML tags to create it. This in turn will allow for you to create an e-book that looks good, and is totally accessible for the screen reader user at the same time as wll as for sighted users as well. Even sighted people can benefit from simplified e-books that aren't filled to the brim with extra garbage.
You see, what has happened over the years is that so many e-book publishing companies have gotten themselves all wrapped up in digital rights management that they lock up their e-books into proprietary file formats that are not all that accessible to print disabled individuals. And all of this garbage is in the name of the copyright. These protection schemes really do mar harm than good because as you well know, you can't take a Kindle e-book and read it on any other e-reader simply because those e-readers will not read Kindle books on them. This in turn forces you to have to purchase that book again to read it on the other e-reader. This really poses a huge problem for e-book accessibility because if you have to purchase the book all over again just because it is in another file format, then you run the risk of that new file format not even being made accessible to you on your new e-reading device.
This is why plain text should have been adopted as an e-book standard rather than PDF because even with PDF files, you still have to use a proprietary application in order to read them, and not all PDF files are accessible to the print disabled either. However, we all know that basic HTML is totally accessible, and HTML can be viewed inside any web browser no matter what flavor it is. So even though HTML needs a web browser in order to view it, it is still a great plain text file format because of the fact that it is ubiquidous. All basic HTML is is a plain text file format with just a few basic tag elements that help to mark up the text so that it can be rendered inside of a web browser like Firefox or Google Chrome.
So as you can see here, there isn't really any reason why publishers can't publish their e-books into a plain text file, or even into basic HTML to give their books some navigational appeal. Both the plain text format and the HTML formats are very accessible to print disabled individuals and both formats will indeed work great with screen readers.
Sure there are no digital rights added to these two basic text formats, but those digital rights schmems are just a road block for accessibility, plus they cause the files to be much larger in size than what they really need to be. Digital rights schemes are just a total waste of time anyway. Simply making all your e-books totally accessible is really the best way to go, and even though you're not using the digital rights schemes in your books, you can rest assured that all of your books are totally accessible and readable on all devices and software platforms. And, get this; if all those hardware based e-readers are able to read plain text files, then that means that when you publish your books, they will be able to be read on any of those devices without any problems whatsoever. This means that when people purchase your books and they have one of those portable e-readers, they can simply purchase your books and not have to worry about whether or not the file format can be read on the device. They already know that your book is in plain text format and that it can be read on their particular device.
You see, that is why I strongly believe that the plain text file format as well as the basic HTML file formats should have been adopted as the standard for e-books. This way, manufacturers of those e-readers could make their readers have different functions and such but yet still be able to read the plain text or HTML text based e-books with no problems whatsoever.
There is really no need for proprietary file formats that are all tied up with digital rights management schemes. That just causes more problems for the consumer in the end.
With basic HTML e-books, all you need is a few tags to format the book, and if you want, include specific font styles that when loaded into a web browser, can render the text in exactly the way that you want it for the reader. This way, you still can have the eye candy without all of the heavy coding that is done with files like Microsoft Word documents. This is because with HTML, the document renders the document the same way that a Word document is rendered with one huge difference. The difference is that all of the underlying code is still plain text and can actually be read by a human being whereas with Microsoft wWord documents, the code is in machine language which looks like gibberish to a human reader. Not onlyt that, but even thogh there is markup inside of the HTML document, the document is much smaller than a Word document due to the fact that all that is needed is the simple coding that renders the headdings, the links and paragraph separations. And yet, basic HTML is still plain text.
So there really isn't any reason why e-book authors can't simply publish their books in simplified HTML or as plain text. Both of these plain text formats are totally accessible and are permanent file formats that have far outlasted all other document formats put together.