Guidelines on Accessible Publishing (2024)

Adopted by AHA Council, June 4, 2016, revised January 4, 2024.

The American Historical Association urges that published material be accessible to scholars with print-reading disabilities. Whether materials are published in print and online, or only online, to achieve this goal it is imperative that publishers make materials available simultaneously in accessible formats.

Current practices to increase accessibility include the following: Materials must be in EPUB 3.2 or later format with true, reflowable text embedded in them—not screen images. This makes it possible to resize the text (for readers with low vision) and read aloud (for readers using screen-reading software). If digital rights management (DRM) is used that is incompatible with EPUB 3.2, a DRM-free version should be available to persons with documented disabilities. The process for accessing a DRM-free version should be straightforward. Softwares are available that enable publishers to test accessibility features and should be test run with screen-reading software.

Images, maps, and figures appearing online should include alternative text (alt text), particularly when they are central to the themes, arguments, findings, and/or narrative of the publication. In this way, readers using screen-reading software can understand these elements.

Many charts and graphs are unrecognizable to screen-reading software. Numeric tables replicating chart data should be provided. Instead of using color-coding for charts and graphs, differences in line style or “texture” should be used so that the chart can be understood in black and white. Data tables should not be converted into images, and basic accessibility guidelines should be followed for table headers, titles, and so on.

Publishers should consider depositing an electronic copy with, which makes copies of many books available to students and others with print-reading disabilities. 

Helpful resources include The DAISY Consortium, which provides tools, standards, advice, webinars, and best practices for accessible publishing, and the DIAGRAM Center, a Benetech initiative that includes tools for image description, best practices, and more. Many publishers use BiblioVault, which includes an upload feature that checks epubs for accessibility features and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliance.

For alt text, the Cooper Hewitt Guidelines for Image Description provides a useful introduction and tips for writing alt text. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has several tutorials that explain how to address complex images, including maps and the use of long descriptions.