ATC Open Letter on Digital Publishing

The MSU Accommodating Technology Community drafted an open letter to insitutions of higher education and publishers regarding the accessibility of digitally published materials. The full text is below, and the letter is also available in its original Microsoft Word format as well as plaintext. If your institution or organization would like to be added as a signatory to the letter, or if you have any questions, comments, or feedback, please email Note that all signatories will be added to the bottom of this page and will be visible to the public.

Accommodating Technology CAFE
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1022

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Request for the adoption of open digital publishing format and delivery

Forthcoming government mandates and legal rulings are providing major impetus for academic institutions to revisit their accessibility policies, and the recent rise of digital publishing makes it a prime target for setting clear and concise goals and standards. Coupled with recent developments in electronic publishing standards, higher education institutions have an excellent opportunity to institute new policies for electronic publications to ensure accessibility and usability of published content for students, faculty, and staff.

Universities around the world adapt books in a variety of digital formats so that they may be usable by students, faculty, and staff with visual disabilities, dyslexia, learning disabilities, and other physical disabilities that prevent them from using the standard materials. Generally, each university supports a resource center which becomes an Accessible Media Producer (AMP). Publishers provide books to these offices directly or through services such as and Unfortunately, books arrive in a variety of formats that may or may not be accessible, including Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word, plain text, HTML and DAISY. As a result, AMPs devote countless hours to processing, converting and ensuring their accessibility. In contrast, electronic materials for use in elementary education (K-12) arrive in a single accessible format, the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS; a subset of DAISY). Schools receive these materials from a central source, the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC), which acts as an intermediary between publishers and schools. This centralized approach increases consistency and reduces the burden on schools, however it cannot scale to the needs of higher education. To cope with the larger volume of published materials in higher education, universities and colleges need to receive materials directly from publishers in a consistent and accessible format.

A new open standard from the International Digital Publishing Forum, EPUB 3, is expected to supersede the existing DAISY and NIMAS formats, and has the potential to become the de facto standard for accessible digital publishing. Since EPUB 3 has a number of advantages over existing formats and is predicted to become the most common format for the distribution of device-independent electronic publications by publishers, we believe that it represents a significant opportunity for ensuring that accessible published materials are provided to higher education.

The Accommodating Technology CAFE at Michigan State University recommends that all Committee on Institutional Cooperation members and other higher education institutions adopt EPUB 3 as a requirement for electronic documents received from publishers. To fully realize the goal that no students, faculty, and staff are disadvantaged or excluded, institutions must also require that these materials be accessible (compliant with WCAG 2.0 AA) and cross-platform and device independent (Windows, Mac, and Linux computers; tablets; e-readers; mobile phones; etc.). We further recommend that electronic document policies be reviewed annually, to keep pace with changing formats, technologies, and standards.

We urge publishers to support the adoption of the EPUB 3 standard for electronic publishing. By adopting a common standard and method of delivery we hope to avoid overly restrictive and specific legal rules regarding technologies, and to ensure that policies are developed with a voice from all affected parties: universities, publishers, and persons with disabilities.


The Accommodating Technology CAFE, Michigan State University

Additional Signatories

  1. Dianne Moore
    Reader Services Coordinator
    Office of Disability Support Services
    Lansing Community College
    May 20, 2011
  2. Debra M. Cox
    Department Head
    Educational Counseling and Disabilities Services
    Ferris State University
    November 8, 2013

(To be added as a signatory, email

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