Please note, the Accessibility Toolkit was last updated in 2014. Recommendations included in the Toolkit may not reflect current standards or best practices.

Ebooks, ejournals, and databases


This section includes information about Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, (AODA) compliance for the purchase of library resources. The specific types of resources considered in this section include ebooks, ejournals and databases.

There are two challenges for libraries when procuring new resources. The first is evaluating the product, in terms of both content and platform, to determine what level of accessibility the vendor provides. The second challenge for libraries lies in ensuring that appropriate license terms are negotiated for every resource to ensure that material is either already available in an accessible format or may be converted to an accessible format if requested.

This section will provide information about how to evaluate resources in terms of accessibility and includes a checklist of considerations and links to additional websites with potentially helpful information.

What does the AODA Legislation say about library resources?

Under this section, the libraries of educational or training institutions that are obligated organizations shall provide, procure or acquire by other means an accessible or conversion ready format of print, digital or multimedia resources or materials for persons with a disability, upon request. Special collections, archival materials, rare books and donations are exempt from this requirement.

Section 18 of the AODA states that, when procuring resources, “Libraries of educational and training institutions” are expected to “provide, procure or acquire … an accessible or conversion ready format … upon request.” Academic libraries are expected to meet these requirements by January 1, 2015 for print-based resources or materials and January 1, 2020 for digital or multimedia resources or materials.

What is an accessible library resource?

Dresselhaus definition

In The Americans with Disabilities Act (2013), Angela Dresselhaus provided the following definition of an accessible library resource:

“Ability [of persons with visual, perceptual or physical disabilities] to obtain the same information, at the same time, for the same price and at the same quality [as persons with no disability].”

OCUL model license definition

The Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) Model License for Electronic Journals and Databases includes the following definition of “Accessible Formats”:

“Accessible Formats” means content in a format that is perceivable and operable by persons with visual, perceptual or physical disabilities and be useable with assistive devices, such as screen readers and screen reading software. Such formats will comply with accessibility laws within Canada, including the Information and Communication Standards of Ontario Regulation 191/11 and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (as such laws may be amended from time to time). To address the requirements of such laws, web content must conform with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), initially at Level A and increasing to Level AA to the extent required to comply with such laws.”

What kind of procurement decisions need to be made when purchasing?

  • Determine what level of accessibility is required (or what level of inaccessibility will be tolerated). Tatomir and Durrance defined an inaccessible database as one that missed four or more of the ten Tatomir Accessibility Checklist (TAC) criteria (please refer to the Tatomir Accessibility Checklist (TAC) section below for more information).
  • Decide if the interface or the content is not sufficiently accessible, is it available on another platform or could it be locally loaded on an accessible Scholars Portal platform.
  • If neither an alternate platform nor local loading on Scholars Portal is an option, options should be considered for making the content accessible upon request. These options may include but are not limited to a conversion-ready accessible format provided by vendor or digitization of a print copy.

Considerations when purchasing

Both the content and the platform need to be fully accessible.

Content specific considerations

Consider the file format:

  • Does the file format support adaptive technology or accessibility? And is the content available in multiple formats? (For example, file formats: EPUB3, TXT, HTML, PDF, DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System), MOBI)
  • Are there Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions on a file that might limit accessibility?

Platform specific considerations

  • Text equivalent for any graphical elements
  • Keyboard navigation
  • Proper labeling and use of headers
  • Online electronic forms that are properly labeled and accessible
  • Method to skip repetitive navigation links (all web pages should have a link which allows a user to skip directly to the main content, bypassing any site navigation information)
  • Description of and instructions for accessibility features

Additional considerations

In The Americans with Disabilities Act (2013), Angela Dresselhaus identifies the following general considerations:

  • Synchronized equivalent alternatives for multimedia (for instance, captioned video, transcripts of audio etc.)
  • Colour should not be used as the only method for identifying elements of the web page or any data
  • Screen flicker frequency (limit or eliminate the use of flickering, which can provoke seizures)
  • Timed responses (if any page responses are timed, the user should be alerted and given the opportunity to indicate that more time is needed)

Additional considerations are listed in the General guidelines for software section of this toolkit.

What tools are helpful to evaluate the accessibility of journals, ebooks, and databases?

Tatomir Accessibility Checklist (TAC)

In the article Overcoming the information gap (2010), Jennifer Tatomir and Joan C. Durrance provide the following criteria:

  1. Accessible versions of PDF web pages and documents.
  2. Skip navigation and jump-to links.
  3. Clearly labeled page elements.
  4. Text captions for tables, images, graphics, graphs and charts.
  5. Limited use of incompatible programming languages and scripts.
  6. Absence of identically named page elements.
  7. Text transcripts of videos, animations and podcasts.
  8. Logical and consistent page organization.
  9. Absence of timed responses.
  10. Digital forms and functionalities accessible and usable with adaptive technologies.

Additional information can be found in The Americans with Disabilities Act (2013) by Angela Dresselhaus.

Human evaluators

Library vendors and the VPAT

To see a full list of vendors who have completed the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), please visit the Vendor Accessibility Resource Centre (VARC) produced by the United States federal government. Library vendors who have completed the VPAT include: