Initial Impressions of Adobe’s Digital Editions Accessibility Update

I’ve written more than once about frustrations with books from libraries and other sources that require Adobe’s Digital Editions to access the content. Today Adobe announced an update with some level of accessibility support in a 1.8 preview to this product. The announcement says in part:


Digital Editions 1.8 has enhanced keyboard support, provides additional text magnification, support for high-contrast mode color-switching, and interoperability with the UIAutomation accessibility API to allow screen readers to read eBooks.


Take note though for screen readers in particular, Adobe indicates that as of now only Freedom Scientific’s JAWS on Windows and VoiceOver on the Macintosh are supported. Adobe indicates they are working with other companies in the industry to add support.


After trying this preview with JAWS on Windows with both a Welcome document included with the software and with a range of books from my local library I have a mixed impression. You can access the text of the books. That said, I’m not sure I’d agree with Adobe’s comment in the announcement that I should be able to read books successfully just yet. Hopefully this experience is improved.


In the welcome document, for example, all the text from what would seem to be a table of contents on page 1 is run together on a single line. Further, items that are indicated as links do not seem to have any method for link activation. Moving to page 2 in the same document, I’m greeted by the word “link”, repeated at least 20 times, again all on a single line.


Trying more complex documents such as software development manuals, recipe books, poetry and other material where format is important, more often than not, any meaningful formatting wasn’t present. At best tabular data had line endings so each cell of a table was a unique line. In many other cases, text was run together, much like the first page of the welcome document.


Reading books that contained little formatting, such as a novel, I was successful in reading text. However, it was easy to crash Digital Editions on demand by simply using a JAWS command to read by paragraph. The key combination is ctrl+down arrow and pressing it caused Digital Editions to crash instantly and disappear from memory. In the software testing world, we’d call this bug a 100% repro.


In the announcement talking about this preview of Digital Editions 1.8, Adobe does request feedback. I’d encourage readers to try this preview and give Adobe all the feedback you can. Adobe is also holding a drawing where multiple gift cards to online booksellers will be awarded. Card winners will be announced on July 25, at noon eastern U.S. time.


Updated Information as of 7/21/2011


Adobe replied on their blog linked here and on Twitter indicating that ctrl+F7 on Windows will present a dialog of links from a page. This key is also listed in the welcome document but see my earlier comments about tabular data not always being presented in a reading friendly fashion. This does work in the books I tried. I would expect to be able to open the links from the content too, much like you can when reading web pages. Link lists are handy but links taken out of context do not always make sense.

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