This is the sixth post in our annual 12-part series covering the accessibility features we would like to see Apple bring to its products in the coming year. This series is being put together by Accessibility Editor Alex Jurgensen, with the help of several contributors.
6. More Support for Audio Ebooks in iBooks
For awhile now, iBooks has supported Read Aloud ebooks, ebooks that allow a reader to listen to narration of a book while the text being read aloud is highlighted. The feature, in it's current implementation, is being used primarily for children's books, where young readers can read along with a human narrator's rendition of the book.
The current Read Aloud functionality in iBooks uses a subset of the Media Overlay portion of the EPUB specification, a specification upon which many ebook features are based. This means that the iBooks implementation of Media Overlays does not support all the features Media Overlays are capable of supporting.
For instance, iBooks supports fixed-layout Read Aloud ebooks, a design format that is most common with picture books, but does not support reflowable Read Aloud ebooks, another design format that is most common for all other book types. A lack of support for reflowable Read Aloud ebooks means that most books cannot take advantage of the Read Aloud functionality of iBooks. In turn, users who would like to listen to their reflowable Read Aloud ebooks for pleasure or accessibility reasons (e.g. visual impairment or dyslexia) cannot, even if the book's creator has included the necessary narration files.
We would like to see Apple support reflowable Read Aloud ebooks in iBooks and encourage authors submitting to the iBooks Store to add audio narration files to their content. As part of this change, we would also like to see Apple enhance the current playback controls of the audio portion of Read Aloud ebooks to include all the same controls it uses for playing back audiobooks in iBooks. Making these small changes would bring greater readability to iBooks for everyone, allowing users to seamlessly switch between reading and listening to their book.
For more things we'd like Apple to include in upcoming releases, please see:
Accessible Apple articles take a significant amount of volunteer effort to put together. This year, we ask readers to consider making a donation to support the development of an independent living skills training centre for training Canadians who are blind, partially sighted, and deaf blind in independent living skills such as assistive technology, literacy, independent travel, cooking, etc. These skills are essential and training centres help provide them. More information and donation links can be found here.