A previous version of this article was posted to NTLP's EReader-Labs mailing list. For subscription information, see http://nottypical.org/subscribe.
A librarian recently asked about accessibility considerations for ereaders to be circulated in a library. Here's how I answered.
As I'm sure you know, people different kinds of needs require different kinds of adaptive technology, so different accessibility features are relevant to different people.
With respect to ereaders, people often praise features that appeal to people with low vision, such as the ability to enlarge the font and change the background / foreground colors to increase or decrease contrast. Pretty much any modern ereader will offer these features, but be aware that some ebooks are created in a way that defeats the ereader's capabilities. (The first ebook version of J.K. Rowling's new book was locked at a tiny font size that was unreadable even for people with normal vision - see the article at
Font size isn't the only relevant feature. Low vision users would also care about how easy it is to read labels on the control buttons and touchscreen 'hot spots' for navigating and making menu selections.
When you get beyond low vision to users that actually need to have the book read aloud, there is a whole different set of requirements. You need not just the ability to read the book out loud, but also the ability to read the device's home screen and navigation controls, so that you don't need a sighted person to locate the book and turn the text-to-speech feature on. A lot of ereaders (including the Nook Simple Touch and the current $69 Kindle) fail in this area simply because they don't have audio capability. Most of the rest fail because the text-to-speech is just a cute "read aloud" feature and doesn't provide the navigation controls that a blind person really needs. Also note that the text-to-speech feature inside some ebooks is only available where the publishers have permitted it, because they are concerned about competition with their audiobooks.
The screen reader issue for blind people is an area that has gotten lots of publicity because of several lawsuits brought by the National Federation of the Blind. The iPad is the only device that has met their standards so far, except that even on an iPad, ebooks inside the Kindle app remain inaccessible. See this article -
http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/12/k-12/national-federation-of-the-blind-to-take-protest-to-amazon-denouncing-school-kindle-use-as-discriminatory-to-blind-students/ and this one which has a link to a very informative video showing how a blind person can use the iPad for ebooks, unless they are Kindle ebooks.https://nfb.org/national-federation-blind-condemns-amazon%E2%80%99s-push-put-kindle-e-books-schools (This is a rapidly changing landscape. Any information older than 6 months might not be valid anymore, and at any time companies might issue software updates that change things.)
Another area to pay attention to is features for users with physical or dexterity disabilities. The size and weight of the device might make it difficult to hold, and the buttons or touchscreen might be difficult to use. Adaptive tools or styluses might help in these cases. NTLP has an iPad with an adaptive case made by AMDI that is supposed to make it easier to hold, and some cases are designed specially to attach to walkers or wheelchairs.
There is a good overview of accessibliity features in eReaders here - http://atcoalition.org/article/accessibility-and-e-readers This article at No Shelf Required and the articles it links to are a couple of years old, but they give a good description of the issues and the kinds of technological solutions that exist, even if the actual device information
is out-of-date. http://www.libraries.wright.edu/noshelfrequired/2011/11/14/accessibility-and-ereaders-functional-requirements/ Another site I just discovered is http://www.rnib.org.uk/livingwithsightloss/reading/how/ebooks/accessibility/Pages/ebook-accessibility.aspx
You might want to consider a combination of iPads, for people that need the "read aloud" feature, and some other device, for people that just need large font and foreground/background changes. Or maybe offer some of the tools that integrate with ebook apps on desktop computers as mentioned at the mib.org.uk/livingwithsightloss link I gave above.
It will be helpful to get input from people in your community that actually live with the accessibility challenges you are addressing, or their caregivers, or the support organizations that work with them. If you are preparing a grant application, you can get letters of support from those sources.
Above all, run all this by your city lawyer, because ADA requirements are open to legal interpretation, and if somebody were to challenge your library services relative to ADA, your legal department would certainly need to get involved. It can be a minefield. Sometimes common sense and good intentions don't apply.