Making eBooks more accessible


 The RYA’s publishing team has changed the presentation of many of its books to enhance the reader experience.

This step-change began as an RYA-wide initiative to help improve accessibility. The obvious starting point for the team was making eBooks work for the visually impaired.

The project quickly evolved to aid readers with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, non-specific learning disabilities and those who are physically disabled or read with a switch device.

The research

The team began by undertaking extensive research with the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), who advised them on the types of conditions that some people struggle with and helped them understand what they needed to do.

RYA Publishing Manager Steen Ingerslev, said, ‘We got to try some glasses and various reading devices to simulate different conditions like glaucoma and so on. It was like trying to read through a filter. For some conditions you could only read parts to the side and for others, just the middle. It was enlightening.’

As part of that session, the RNIB showcased how the mobile assistive technology within devices such as Apple and Android phones and tablets are capable of making reading issues easier. But while the right technology can help, the presentation and distribution of the actual file is just as important.

The project

‘We took guidance on our design from many different sources,’ adds Steen. ‘We began to see that we could help people with a whole range of reading difficulties from specific learning difficulties like dyslexia to people who find huge swathes of text confusing.’

The team then took careful and deliberate design decisions such as making key adjustments to the presentation of text; centralising numbers, adding boxes, tables, borders and symbols; and thinking carefully about the layout of any images and text captions.

Improvements made include:

  • Using easier to read fonts like Arial, Helvetica and Tahoma
  • Adjustable text size and background colour
  • Compatibility with screen reader software, VoiceOver and Text-to-Speech
  • Text descriptions for images
  • Captions for videos
  • Ensuring the files are available through channels that support the many accessibility features, so that they are readable on multiple platforms and devices such as computers, tablets and phones was a big part of the success of the project.

Steen explains: ‘For those with low vision, enhancing contrast will improve visibility – particularly inverting the colour to give white text on a black background. However, high contrast can cause words to blur together for dyslexic users. Using technology to allow for things like the size and colour of the text or tone of the background to be changed to suit the reader has made a huge difference.

The solution

Having made the tweaks to the eBook files, the team then tested the many different ways to distribute them. Apple Books and Google Play Books were the chosen platforms because not only do they support the many accessible features, they also do justice to the large amount of interactivity in the eBooks, while covering as many of the mobile devices as possible.

Steen said: “We’ve put ourselves in a brilliant position and are looking forward to seeing how technology will change and therefore how our accessible options will evolve to take advantage of those changes.”

Instructor feedback

It’s not just students who have benefited. Several dyslexic instructors have thanked the team, saying, ‘it’s been a huge help’, Steen said. ‘It’s fair to say we will probably end up helping more dyslexic readers in the industry, than we will ever know. There are various types of dyslexia and many people find coping mechanisms to carry on reading. They might not necessarily tell us that they need help, so this is a really important step-change for them.’

Course material for students

The RYA is able to offer a bespoke service to training centres or instructors. Instructors looking for an accessible digital copy of course material to provide to students can email

They will need to provide the name of their Training Centre and the course the student is doing for us to be able to advise what accessible material is available (e.g. it is currently not possible to provide accessible charts or almanacs).

In order to provide accessible content to the student, we'll need their name, email address and whether they require a book available on Apple Books or a Google Play Book.

Turnaround times depend on the content requested, so do give as much notice as possible.

‘It’s all really positive,’ summarises Steen. ‘At the RYA, we are committed to making books that everyone can enjoy, so it’s fantastic to know that we’ve been able to help people with reading difficulties by creating the best product we can with the technology available.’

Find out more:

Where to get them
All the RYA’s Accessible eBooks are being released on Apple Books and Google Play Books. These platforms take full advantage of Apple and Android’s enhanced functionality and intuitive features. If you require an accessible RYA eBook, you should purchase through Apple Books or Google Play.


Wavelength: Nov 2018