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6th European eAccessibility Forum
Putting eAccessibility at the core of information systems

26/03/2012, 9:00 - 18:00
Cité des sciences et de l'industrie, Paris

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The LIA project (Libri Italiani Accessibili) : towards mainstream distribution of accessible ePub e-books in Italy

Cristina Mussinelli (Italy)
Italian Publisher's Association

Speaker's information

photo Mussinelli

Cristina Mussinelli is the LIA project coordinator as she has been focused on the issue of accessibility in publishing since 2007, when she coordinated the Pro-Access Project, funded by the European Commission within the eLearning Program, participated by the Italian Publishers Association, the Federation of European Publishers and Dedicon. Since 1992, she has been involved in the digital and multimedia market. Since 1988 she has been responsible for the technological innovation and digital publishing areas within the Italian Publishers Association, the trade association representing more than the 90% of the Italian book publishing market, where she manages European and international projects, the digital publishing professional training course program, the Editech conference www.editech.info and the Permanent Observatory on Digital Content. Furthermore, since 2010 she has been a member of the Board of IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum), the global trade and standards association for electronic publishing, that develops and maintains the EPUB standard.



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LIA – Libri Italiani Accessibili is a biennial project started in 2011, coordinated by Ediser, a service company owned by Associazione Italiana Editori (Italian Publishers Association), and funded by the Italian Ministry for Culture. Its aim is to provide a service able to increase the availability of digital publications accessible for blind and visual impaired in full respect of both authors’ and publishers’ rights, through the creation of an online catalogue of 3,000 titles. The guiding concept of the project is to make accessibility part of mainstream production and distribution flows in publishing industry. At the end of the first year of work, focused on several introductory studies, the format identified as the most suitable to achieve this objective is EPUB 3, in line with general technological evolution, and able to allow publishers to adjust the way they produce their ebooks, without radically changing it.


The pace of technological development is unrelenting and offers visually impaired new opportunities for reading. Ebooks have the potential to be accessible as they can be read as Braille by the interoperability with refreshable Braille display, large print thanks to text reflow and magnification and audio by text to speech or synthetic speech.

The LIA Project

The LIA Project – Libri Italiani Accessibili aims to create a service to make more publications available on the Italian market in a format accessible to blind and visually impaired, in full respect of the rights of both authors and publishers. The keystone concept of the project is to make accessibility part of mainstream production and distribution flows in publishing industry,following a good practice approach more and more widespread internationally. The LIA Project is coordinated by AIE, the Italian Publishers’ Association, and managed by its consultancy firm Ediser. The Project is financed by the Italian Ministry for Culture. Funding complies with the “Fund in favour of publishing for blind and visually impaired people”. In order to reach its objectives LIA cooperates with UIC, the Italian Blind Union, as well as with other stakeholders working in the field of visual impairment. The LIA Project aims to create an online catalogue including fiction and non fiction titles of both Italian and foreign authors in accessible digital version; the intent is to convey some 3,000 accessible titles by the end of 2012. At the same time LIA is evaluating the prospect to continue its activity beyond the Project expiry date as well as to work for letting publishers include accessibility features in their regular production processes; the ideal final scenario would be to have accessible ebooks fully integrated in the mainstream publication flow.

The catalogue will be available on the LIA website, a completely accessible site featuring information on the Project and news from the world of accessibility. The site will also include information for publishers useful for the production of accessible versions as well as tips for visually impaired readers for the use of devices, software and technologies for reading accessible ebooks.

Why AIE?

AIE is the only national association of Italian book publishers and represents more than 90% of the domestic publishing market. Since 2001 AIE, directly or through its consultancy firm Ediser, has been working on the theme of accessibility and belongs to several international networks. The skills achieved thanks to such research and service experience in the field of accessibility and the contacts with the main international networks dealing with accessibility, like eAccess+, Enabling Technologies Framework and ETIN, allow LIA to be constantly up to date on technological innovation going on in the production, distribution and fruition of accessible products and to be state-of-the-art in the international scene of accessibility.

LIA: a mainstream oriented Project

The LIA Project is developed in a two year period and is split in two phases: a pilot phase and a running phase. During the first phase, concluded at the end of 2011, all preliminary studies have been carried out, in order to define technological, contractual, economic and organizational aspects of service creation. The major activities carried out in the first phase include:  

Survey on blind and visually impaired people’s reading habits and use of technologies

Thanks to a successful cooperation with Unione Italiana Ciechi (Italian Blind Union) and CNUDD (National Conference of University Representatives of Disabilities) a large quantitative survey has been carried out (1,505 telephone interviews to blind and visually impaired people aged from 18 to 65 years) and, in cooperation with the Institute for Blinds of Milan, a qualitative survey as well (3 focus groups including young blind and visually impaired aged from 15 to 28 years and one focus group with two of their experts in visual impairment). Such survey, carried out by Università degli Studi Milano-Bicocca and Doxa, the leading market research institute in Italy, is by sample broadness and depth of analysis one of the most accurate in the field at international level.

Analysis of accessible version production formats

Working with IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum), the international organization that manages the EPUB standard, the format presently mostly used by publishers for the production of ebooks, LIA identified such format as the most suitable for the production and distribution of its titles, also considering that in the recent release of the version 3.0 some accessibility features have been integrated. After some preliminary studies, LIA defined the file accessibility features in a specific chart shared with national and international accessibility experts.

Accessibility test

To assure a good functionality of EPUB standard, a test was carried out on how EPUB responds to accessible needs with assistive technologies and how usable the most common ereaders and reading software used in the mainstream are. Then the Institute for Blinds “F. Cavazza” in Bologna was appointed to carry out a series of tests with a selected group of blind and visually impaired users to examine the accessibility of the main ereaders and ebook reading software and their interoperability with assistive technologies. In particular, in the test phase the structure of some EPUB files was analyzed, representing different kind of trade publications.

Files were provided by publishers and then transformed in fully accessible EPUB, following the accessibility feature list. After that, in collaboration with a group of end users (5 blind and 5 partially sighted people) of Istituto Cavazza of Bologna, LIA tested three ebooks

converted in accessible version taking in consideration the “File accessibility features list”. The test’s aim was to explore if the EPUB files are really accessible with different devices, software and assistive technologies. In the end of this test phase, the accessibility of the most important Italian online e-book stores was checked and the accessibility of downloading and buying processes was assessed.  

Analysis of metadata

Working with EDItEUR, the international group that coordinates the development of ONIX, LIA contributed to the definition of some specific metadata related to accessibility (code list 196), now integrated in the new version of ONIX for Books, officially presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2011 and available on the EDItEur website (http://www.editeur.org/14/Code-Lists/).  

Design of production, cataloguing and distribution flows of accessible versions

After a detailed examination of the present situation of distribution of accessible versions at national and international level and the ongoing ebook production, cataloguing and distribution processes, LIA completed the analysis of the production and distribution model of the accessible versions it has managed, with the aim to get as much integrated as possible with mainstream distribution channels, and started contacts with the main online bookstores operating in Italy. The running phase of the system, started in 2012, aims to put into operation the first catalogue of accessible ebooks, to create technological infrastructure needed for service facilitation and to make accessible publications available online.

At infrastructure level, LIA is working in tight cooperation with partners selected for their competence in technological development with the primary aim to get the catalogue of accessible digital publications integrated as efficiently as possible in the mainstream flow. LIA is carrying out an analysis of mainstream digital distribution channels, ranging from platforms to ebookstores and digital libraries – in order to offer users the opportunity to buy or lend accessible files directly from mainstream sources, according to their preferences and needs – so as to identify the appropriate path to incorporate accessibility in the delivery process at large. In case elements hindering accessibility are detected at some stage, LIA’s purpose will be to draw attention to them so as to include all actors involved in a joint effort to have a wholly accessible stream.

At content level, the feedback following the first meetings with publishers has been positive.


LIA has illustrated its twofold task: on the one hand offer expertise to publishers to convert and certify existing files into accessible ones, on the other hand provide practical and clear guidelines for them to produce autonomously accessible files and put them in the chosen delivery chain.

The longer-term objective would be to have accessible files for all new digital publications produced by publishers on their own. A single reference point for accessible publishing, able to grant a well organized wide scope framework ranging from certification and conversion of contents to , under the aegis of the Italian Publishers’ Association, can be a good solution to tackle the urging theme of accessibility, capitalizing on the new opportunities accessible publishing brings.




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