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Making Pressbooks Accessible

What is Pressbooks?

Pressbooks is an open publishing software created by the Reubus Foundation. It has been created for book publishing and McLaughlin Library offers access to the platform. To use the software, you must submit a request for an account through the library’s Publishing and Author Support page.

A note on Pressbooks accessibility

There are several different elements to consider when ensuring that your Pressbook is accessible. This guide will walk you through the main considerations and give step by step instructions for implementing these changes into your book.

To first learn the basics of using the software, it is recommended that you review the Pressbooks User Guide.

It is also important to note that the suggestions in this guide are focused on ensuring that the web version of your Pressbook is accessible. Due to technical issues with PDFs, not all these changes will ensure that the PDF or ePub version is as accessible as it can be. The most accessible version of any Pressbook is the web version.

Book Theme

The book’s theme is chosen when you first create a new book. This theme will set the font for the main body text, the font for the headings, line spacing, and character spacing. Once a theme is chosen, it becomes difficult to alter these style choices; any changes would require the use of CSS sheets. It is best to choose a book theme that is already accessible.

Ensuring the book theme is accessible

Choose a style that has an accessible font and good spacing between the characters and lines. 

When selecting fonts, it is always recommended that you use a sans serif font. These are easier to read for a variety of learning disabilities. 

You also want to make sure the font you use has very distinct characters. In other words, different letters should not look nearly identical. One test to check this is called the “I l 1” test. When you’ve found a font, type an uppercase i, a lowercase L, and the number one. Each should look fairly different from one another if you have picked a good font. 

Another factor is the spacing between letters. Fonts that are very cramped are more difficult to read. Select a font with good spacing between letters.

Recommended themes

  • Malala
  • Jacobs

Content Organization

Content should be organized in a series of logical parts and chapters. Within each chapter, the content should be broken down into shorter paragraphs. Breaking down the content into sections and subsections that have a logical flow also makes the content easier to read.

Ensuring the content organization is accessible

It is important not only to visually signal to a reader that they are looking at a section title but also to signal this through proper header styles. This can be done by clicking on the dropdown at the top of the text and selecting the appropriate header:

The interface in Pressbooks for editing content in a chapter, which shows a box at the top for the chapter title and a second box below with a number of text style features and space for the content to be written. In the second box, a dropdown menu at the top left side has been selected so that a Heading 1 tag can be added.

Make sure to use the headers in proper descending order. Do not skip a header level, as this can be confusing for screenreaders! Start with Heading 1 as your main title, then use Heading 2 for subsections, Heading 3 for smaller subsections within Heading 2, etc.

Images and Alternative Text

Selecting good images and writing proper alternative text can help folks with a variety of vision disabilities. For anyone who requires a screen reader to read your Pressbook, alternative text, or alt text, ensures that they will get the necessary information that your image provides.

Selecting appropriate images

There are a few different types of images you may be adding to your Pressbook, each with a different purpose.

  • Functional Image: these are images that are conveying key information to the reader. They are a part of the main content in the book. There are several factors to consider when selecting functional images.
  • Decorative Image: these are images that do not add to the content, but instead enhance the aesthetics of the book. These do not require the same scrutiny as functional images.

Since functional images add to the content, it is imperative that they are as accessible as possible. Part of this process is selecting good images to begin with. 

When selecting Functional Images, make sure the image does not rely on colour to convey the information. For example, if you want to show a pie chart, the different colours used in the chart should not be the only way to know what the distribution between results was. There should also be a note of the percentages in each piece of the pie chart. You should also consider the contrast between colours. Poor contrast colour combinations (e.g., yellow and white) should be avoided as these make the image more difficult to perceive.

Since they are decorative and do not convey information, decorative images do not need to be evaluated as heavily.

Writing alt text

Alt text is text you will write that describes the key information in the image. This is done so that a screen reader can describe an image to a reader.

Before writing alt text, ask yourself if the image needs it. Any decorative image does not need alt text, as they are not conveying any information and are purely there for aesthetic purposes. Functional images do require alt text.

Alt text should be succinct – no more than a sentence or two – and should summarize the key takeaways for the image. Think about the purpose of the image when writing this: why did you share the image? What key information is displayed? Depending on the purpose of the image, you might write the alt text a bit differently.

For example, take the following image:

A page from the library website on Open Educational Resources. It is used in the text below to demonstrate how to write alt text.

Depending on the purpose of this image, you could write different alt text.

If the purpose was to highlight the building occupancy, the alt text might read: “A page from the library website. In the top right corner there is a box with a green checkmark beside it that states the library’s current building occupancy”.

If an image cannot be described succinctly due to its complexity, it is best not to use alt text. Pressbooks has a 125 character limit for alt text. If you exceed this character limit, it can interrupt the screen reader as it describes the image. Instead, create a page in your Pressbook for longer image descriptions, write the longer descriptions there, and then create a link to the image description in the image’s caption.

Adding alt text to Pressbooks

For regular alt text:

  1. First, add the image into the book. Upload the image file using the Add Media button at the top of the page editor
  2. Click on the image. A toolbar will show up. Click on the pencil icon – this is the image editor

The editing box in Pressbooks where content is added. In this box there is an image of a website page that has been right clicked, and a menu is showing that includes a pencil icon that allows for editing of image alt text.

  1. Type your description into the alternative text box. Keep the description to 125 characters.

If you need a longer description:

  1. Upload image
  2. Go to a new page of your pressbook and write the longer description
  3. Go to the image editor using the steps described above
  4. Add a caption that links to the image description


Links can be very useful for readers. They can provide extra support, additional information, or help readers navigate to other parts of your Pressbook.

Ensuring hyperlinks are accessible

Avoid using words like “here” or the actual url as your hyperlink text. These do not provide any information about what can be found at the link. Instead, write something descriptive. Generally, a few words that describe the resources found at the link are best.

For example, if I wanted to link to the library’s webpage about OER, I might write Information about OER at University of Guelph.

If you are linking to something that isn’t a webpage, it would be best to indicate this in the link text. For example, if I wanted to link to link to a PDF resource about OER accessibility, I might write The OER Accessibility Checklist [PDF].

When creating links in Pressbooks, the default will be that, when the link is clicked on, it will not open in a new tab. Generally, this is best practice. When a link opens in a new tab, it can be very disorienting. It can also disrupt a reader from reading or navigating the page the link was on. 

If for any reason the resource must open in a new tab, make sure to flag this in the link description. For example, you might write Information about OER at University of Guelph [new tab].


Tables are a succinct and useful way of displaying data but need to have strong organization to be accessible.

Tables should only be used in cases where you need to display organized data. Avoid using tables to summarize descriptive information.

Ensuring your tables are accessible

Where possible, avoid using split or merged cells in a table. This makes the table more difficult to read.

When building a table, always include the following:

  • Caption: include a title that describes the kind of data that can be found in your table
  • Headers: Tag your first row of data as your Column Headers and your first column as Row Headers. This is necessary so a screen reader can differentiate between the actual data in your table and the labels for the data
  • Space: Make sure you leave enough white space in your table. When the text is poorly space and very cramped in a table, it becomes difficult to read and can appear overwhelming. Try to leave space on all four sides of the content (even small amounts of space like in the example below will be adequate!)

To add these features, use the following steps:

  1. Make the table
  2. Highlight the cells that are either your Row Headers or Column Headers
  3. Click on the Table Icon, then click on Cell, then Table cell properties

The content editor in Pressbooks. In the bottom right corner of the top toolbar, a button that features a grid has been clicked, which reveals a dropdown menu with options for creating a table. The "Cell" option has been selected.

  1. Under Cell Type, select “Header Cell,” then under Scope, select either “Row” or “Column” depending if you are setting the row or column headers
  2. Click “OK”

The table cell properties box, which features spaces to input the width, height, cell type, scope, H-align, V-align, and class. The Scope button has been selected.

  1. Now click on the table icon and go to Table properties
  2. Here you can insert padding, which is the spacing on all sides of the text in a cell of a table. 10 is a good number
  3. Check the “Caption” box

The table properties box, which features a space for width, height, cell spacing, cell padding, caption, alignment, and class. The cell padding has been set to 10 and the caption box has been checked.

  1. When you click “OK” and go back to the main body of text, there will be a small text box above your table. Write your caption here

A sample table in Pressbooks. Above the table box is another textbox where a caption has been written.

Complex and detailed tables

Have a very detailed or complex table that absolutely must be included? Like with longer descriptions for images, you can also create longer descriptions for your tables and then add a link in the main body of text that allows readers to skip the table. This can be useful for tables that have a lot of text in each cell. To do this, you can create a caption for your table and then include a hyperlink called “Skip Table” that, when clicked, allows reader to go to the next part of the page without reading the table.

Embedding Media

Even if you are not the one who created the media that is being added to the book, it is important to review the media and check for accessibility.

Ensuring media content is accessible

Multimedia content, especially videos, need to be made accessible for a variety of disabilities.

Transcripts and closed captions are needed for videos to be considered accessible, and audio content should be accompanied by a transcript.

Add descriptions of any of the key infographics as well.

For videos made by others that you are embedding, make sure you check for these key features. Not all videos are guaranteed to have these features.

YouTube videos have a speed up and slow down option. The ability to change the speed of the video can be beneficial for a variety of learning disabilities!

Adding Equations (Math)

Latex, a popular tool for creating equations, is not screen reader compatible and will not be accessible. Pressbooks offers three options for making accessible equations. They are listed in order of preferred method.

Using Mathjax

This is the best option for accessible equations. To get this option to work, you must first go into the Pressbooks plugin section and turn off the Quick Latex plugin. From here, you can add the equation you are writing into the chapter’s main content using one of two syntaxes.

Shortcode syntax:

  • [latex]e^{i \pi} + 1 = 0[/latex]

Dollar sign syntax:

  • $latex e^{i \pi} + 1 = 0$

Using MathML

This is another markup language that is screen reader friendly. It can be added to the Text View of a chapter to create the equations.

Using images

This is the least preferable option but can be used if other options do not work. The formula can be created using latex, converted into an image, and then alt text can be added to describe the formula.

Aesthetic Considerations

While it can be nice to stylize your book with font and colour, not all styles and options are equally accessible.

Ensuring fonts are accessible

First, ensure you select an accessible book theme. When writing content in your book, make sure you are using a good font size. Typically, 12 point font will be sufficient for Pressbooks. Text should also be able to be enlarged by about 200% so that anyone using a magnifier can read the text.

Ensuring colour is accessible

Avoid using colour to mark your headings. Instead, the proper heading tags (e.g., Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.) will ensure the titles of sections stand out.

If you are using colour for a table or image, ensure there is sufficient contrast between colours. In general, colour combinations such as yellow and white, grey and black, and pastel colours with white will not have sufficient contrast.

Additional Resources

  • Wave: this is an online tool that you can use to check the accessibility of your pressbook
  • WebAIM Colour Contrast Checker: this is an online tool you can use to ensure that your selected colours have sufficient contrast
  • Accessibility Toolkit 2nd Edition by BCcampus: this toolkit goes over the accessibility topics covered in this document in more depth, and provides additional how tos and suggestions.


This guide is adapted from Accessibility Toolkit 2nd Edition by BCcampus, which is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 License.

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