Technological advances and mainstream devices such as tablets and smart phones that incorporate screen readers and magnification software out of the box have made it possible for people with print disabilities to access reading content from their mobile devices. Although the options for reading continually grow, there is minimal information available about the accessibility of apps that people use to read ebooks or listen to audiobooks, particularly through public libraries. To fill this gap, NNELS’ team of accessibility testers, all of whom have lived experience with a print disability, undertook a project to assess the accessibility of various mainstream public library apps. This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.
For the past two years, NNELS has conducted extensive testing of various apps including OverDrive, Libby, RBdigital and PressReader using screen readers and other assistive technologies. In order to perform a structured review of all features, we developed a detailed list of criteria for testing. Our team explored and tested the entire user experience for each app, from setting up a user account, to searching for books, magazines or other resources, to navigating results, checking out titles, and reading content. This human element was essential to provide feedback on the usability of different features in the various apps, and find issues that would result in barriers for individuals with disabilities trying to use these resources.
We wrote reports for each platform, including mobile apps in iOS and Android, the Windows and Mac versions of the platform (if available), as well as the websites. Each report highlights the accessibility of each app as well as the features that are not usable with assistive technologies, and includes recommendations to address some of the existing accessibility barriers, such as insufficiently labeled buttons and the need for more options for visual adjustments. These reports are also meant to provide information for public library staff, so they can advise their patrons on which products are most accessible for users of assistive technologies, and to create awareness about key features needed to increase access for users with print disabilities.
When we began this project we contacted all the app vendors to let them know about our initiative, as we wanted to ensure the feedback would be useful for their developers to improve their products. We shared the reports with the vendors, and invited them to respond. If they did respond, we have posted their comments on our website.
We did a new round of testing in the second year of this initiative, and this time our team beta-tested forthcoming updates to the Libby app, as well as the redesigned accessible version of the PressReader website, which is expected to become the main and only version in the near future.
We received some truly encouraging comments from PressReader and OverDrive:
NNELS has been instrumental in identifying the weaknesses of our legacy platform as far as accessibility standards go. Realizing that there was a lack of options, with regard to accessibility offerings in library digital providers, including ours; PressReader set out on a journey to prioritise a digital product that would be fully inclusive to all users. The goal was to provide a rich and equivalent experience for everyone regardless of if they are using assistive technologies or not. The new mode was re-imagined from the ground up keeping accessibility, usability, and aesthetics in mind. Our transportation vertical product was also built with the same accessibility in mind. Now PressReader, with all it’s magazines, newspapers, ebooks, and other digital content, will be available on cruise ships, airplanes, trains, taxis, and buses will be fully accessible as well. I am pleased to report that NNELS has played a big part in our push for WCAG 2.1 AA conformity, and we are committed to an ongoing platform development and coordination with NNELS. I wholeheartedly support the work of NNELS and commend them for all their efforts.
Alex Kroogman, PressReader CEO
At OverDrive, we are committed to creating a truly delightful reading experience for all users. We are currently working on several updates to improve the usability of our Libby app with screen readers and assistive technologies. We appreciate the partnership opportunity with NNELS and the informative feedback they’ve provided to our team.
Ryan Fish, OverDrive Executive Vice President, Product Management & UI/UX
NNELS’s team is proud to learn that the reports played an important role in creating awareness among app vendors about the need to design for accessibility. In our experience, when content creators and developers realize the importance of following accessibility standards, they are more open and willing to invest the time to correct issues and prevent accessibility barriers. For NNELS’ testers, it is exciting and empowering to know that our work is already improving accessibility of digital content. We believe that this is an exciting and important opportunity to improve accessibility of digital content through Canadian libraries and that it will have a positive effect on the lives of all readers across the country.