ePUB versus PDF: ePUB is the new standard for accessible ebooks

Handouts Media

Scheduled at 11:45am in Meadowbrook I on Friday, November 17 (2017).



  • Rachel Comerford, Senior Director of Content Standards and Accessibility, Macmillan Learning
  • Amy Salmon, Senior Accessibility Consultant, Tech For All, Inc.
  • Rick Johnson, VP of Product Strategy, VitalSource Technologies

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: Beginner
  • Type of session: General Conference


The most frequent request that accessibility services offices receive is for ebooks. This used to mean creating a pdf or word doc that the student can navigate. As tech develops and standards are born, these formats are no longer the ideal experience for students. Accessible epubs represent an opportunity to provide files without waiting for remediation.


This presentation will explore the primary differences between a pdf ebook and an accessible epub. Presenters will discuss the accessible epub3 standards and how they are being applied as well as the systems being put into place for users to be able to easily find and understand the how the ebooks and ebook readers that they are using rate in terms of accessibility. This will include a discussion of certification and validation pilots that are being instituted by Benetech and the DAISY consortium. Finally, we will include a plea for participation: the epubtest community and the w3c epub community group actively welcome new participants. Help improve the standards that publishers follow, the accessibility of existing reading systems, and the information available about these course elements by joining these groups.


  1. What are the primary differences between a PDF ebook and an ePUB?
  2. What reading systems use ePUB and how can you tell if they’re accessible? A look at ePUBTest.org
  3. How do I know if the ePUB I want is accessible? Certification & verification programs with Benetech and DAISY

Disability Areas

Cognitive/Learning, Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Mobility, Vision

Topic Areas

Accessible Course Design, Administrative/Campus Policy, Alternate Format, Teaching about Accessibility in Curriculum, Uncategorized, Web/Media Access

Speaker Bio(s)

Rachel Comerford

Rachel Comerford is the Senior Director of Content Standards and Accessibility at Macmillan Learning where she spearheads cross-functional efforts to ensure customer satisfaction and access for all. Recent projects include the implementation of a company-wide accessibility training initiative, accessibility authoring and quality assurance guidelines, and a new customer outreach and response plan.

She has over a decade of experience in the print and digital publishing world. Prior to coming to Macmillan as an editor, she held a variety of editorial and sales positions at WW Norton and Pearson.

Amy Salmon

Since 2001, Amy has been providing reviews of technology products and websites, ensuring compliance with accessibility standards and best practices for people with disabilities. As a user of screen reader technology she has been a major contributor to several clients’ projects such as California State University, VitalSource Technology, United Airlines, and Verizon Wireless. Amy has published and presented several papers at the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities and the Accessing Higher Ground conferences, created and presented numerous accessibility training courses for TFA clients. Amy has a Master’s of Science degree in Rehabilitation for the Visually Impaired from Northern Illinois University where she graduated Summa Cum Laude.

Rick Johnson

"My three passions are technology, publishing, and education. VitalSource is a leader in all of these areas, and I'm proud that we work hard every day to improve our products and make education more attainable for all."

Rick Johnson is the Vice President of Product Development and Sales Engineering, and one of the founders of VitalSource. Rick manages the strategic direction of VitalSource's Bookshelf ® platform, guiding the architecture, and implementation of its clients and systems. Prior to his tenure at VitalSource, Rick spent more than 12 years with Apple Computer, Inc. where he was instrumental in the implementation of complex solutions for many higher education and corporate customers, and received numerous national and international awards. He is a frequent speaker on electronic textbooks, their integration into an institutional environment, and how the accessibility needs of individual students can best be accommodated in their delivery. He has served on multiple committees addressing the needs around delivering accessible content to students, was a member of the working groups responsible for version 2 and version 3 of the EPUB standard. Rick currently serves on the board of directors for IMSGlobal (opens in new tab) and the IDPF (opens in new tab), and is the co-inventor of three domestic and international patents dealing with electronic books and their distribution. He is a graduate of the communication and business departments of Biola University.


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