Accessibility of eBooks

We've got a lot of information about the features of specific eBook readers and apps to help you decide which one - or ones - to get. Here is an overview of the factors you may find worth bearing in mind, but make sure you also read our eBook app and eBook reader reviews to get more detailed information.

Reading with text-to-speech (TTS)

Reading a book with synthetic text-to-speech is not the same as listening to a human-narrated audiobook. To find out more and to hear some samples, visit Text-to-speech in eBooks.

Listening to dialogue can also be tricky - if punctuation characters are not read out, it's difficult to follow a conversation, but if they are, it interrupts the flow of the dialogue.

However, the benefit of text-to-speech over recorded audiobooks is that it gives access to a much greater variety of material. Much of this material will not be recorded as an audiobook, or will only appear a considerable time after the book's publication.

Devices like smart phones and computers nowadays have text-to-speech built in. Often there will be a variety of voices available, or you can add more voices.

Changing display options

For readers who can see text with difficulty, there are two main features that can help - size and colour.

Font size

Dedicated eBook readers usually only allow text within a book to be changed. Remember that you will also need to get books onto your device, and then browse the list of books you have to open one before you start reading.

eBook apps that run on a computer or smart phone can make use of its magnification to help you get as far as opening your book, at which point you can increase the font size and then turn the magnification off.

Some eBook readers and apps have other options that may also be useful. There will often be a choice of font shapes, so if you prefer serif or sans-serif, you can have the one you like.

It's also worth looking for options to change margins, justification and line spacing. All these can affect how many words appear on the screen, and may thus improve your reading experience.

Colour

eInk devices cannot change the colours of the text, but some devices contain a light that can enhance its contrast.

Any device with a colour screen will allow you to at least invert the colours, and there is usually at least one more option, to soften the contrast between text and background.

Reading with Braille

It's sometimes possible to use a Braille display to read books. None of the dedicated eBook readers allow a Braille display to be connected, but iOS and Android devices allow wireless devices to connect, and Windows and Mac computers allow both wired and wireless connections to be used with a variety of screen readers.

Other factors to consider

Accessibility is crucial, of course, but there are other factors you may want to consider when thinking about which eBook reader or app to use. These include:

  • Portability - eBook readers fit in your pocket or hand bag. They are small and light, and have good battery life. They also have small screens and keyboards. Multi-function devices like tablets are larger and heavier than eBook readers, while phones have even smaller screens. A device may seem light when you pick it up, but remember you may want to hold it for some time if your book is gripping!
  • Flexibility - an eBook reader does one thing well, but only one thing. Phones and tablets are multi-function - they may not be brilliant at reading, but they allow you to do a lot more besides, such as make phone calls or use the internet.
  • Buying books on the go - all eBook readers have a Wi-Fi or 3G connection so that you can buy and download a book anywhere you can get an internet connection. Large font and TTS options do not extend to the online features, so you may need sighted assistance to purchase books using the device. Some eBook apps have the capability to buy books from within them. You can always use a computer to buy books and have them delivered to your eBook reader or app.
  • Cost - eBook apps are almost always free. eBook readers cost from £30 upwards. Tablets start at £80, and you can get a decent computer for £300.
  • Ease of use - eBook apps require you to be able to use a keyboard, mouse or touch-screen gestures. eBook readers differ in their weight (most are under 200g but some are twice that) and the size and placement of controls - older devices have physical buttons while almost all the new ones are fully touch screen. Stands are available for some eBook readers and tablet computers.

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