Benetech, a nonprofit firm that develops technology for social good, announced the launch of Global Certified Accessible, a program that allows publishers to verify how well their e-book files meet the standards for use needed by students with poor or no vision, dyslexia or other disability.

The program, which is essentially a standardized ratings system schools and universities can use to gauge how well digital titles cater to disabled students, arrives in the wake of a handful of lawsuits filed over the accessibility of school materials. More schools and universities are demanding educational e-book content be certified for use for this community, to ward off future complaints. The GCA program, in addition to offering guidance to educational institutions in this area, also encourages publishers to include the features needed by visually impaired readers. The goal is to have publishers consider the needs of this population at the time the e-books are created rather than having to upgrade e-book content already in print.

Among the initial publishers and publishing companies using the GCA are Ingram’s Vital Source and CoreSource programs, in addition to HarperCollins, Macmillan Learning, Elsevier, Harvard Business Publishing, Amnet Conversion Services and Apex CoVantage.

Originally a pilot program, GCA is now open to all publishers. Although encouraged to submit all the books they publish to CCA for evaluation, a Benetech spokesperson acknowledged that publishers are more likely to prioritize and test their best education titles.

Ingram Content Group will integrate GCA into its Vital Source and CoreSource platfoms for use as part its accessibility ratings for e-textbooks. The move will allow school districts to easily identify certified e-textbooks from publishers participating in the accessibility program.

The GCA program allows publishers to make sure that students who are unable to read standard print text will have access to the same educational content as their fellow students. Benetech developed the standards used by GCA in partnership with Dedicon, which certifies accessibility for Europe, and with the Royal National Institute for the Blind in the U.K.

The GCA program reviews e-book files for over 100 accessibility standards, among them page navigation, reading order, proper coding and description, tables, links and lists and other data. GCA also oversees the quality of e-book personalization features, which include such elements as text to speech and adjustable font size.

Benetech CEO and founder Jim Fruchterman said the issue the program addresses "continues to grow" as many e-books still "lack core accessibility features that students require, falling short of procurement requirements and student needs.” Fruchterman added that the GCA “not only gives procurement offices the confidence that comes with third-party certified materials, it also allows publishers to serve a larger addressable market.”