Accessible Fixed-Layout ebooks with Circular Software

Follow these steps to create WCAG 'A' accessible fixed-layout EPUB3 directly from InDesign with Circular Software.

GreenLight icon


Adobe InDesign fails to create EPUBs to the standards required for modern accessible publishing.

"Despite being widely used by publishers of all sizes as the industry standard page layout tool for PDF and print production, InDesign is found to be not fit for purpose for those wanting to publish accessible EPUB publications…"
Ken Jones, Circular Software

Whilst Adobe InDesign can export to EPUB, the open standard for accessible digital publications, by using InDesign alone, publishers are left with errors and a lack of accessibility.

Exporting WCAG 'A' accessible fixed-layout EPUB3 directly from InDesign and with no coding is possible when using Circular Software. Read more about this topic here No-Code Accessibility for InDesign.

Whilst not all fixed-layout EPUBS will require all these steps, we do recommend following them, in this order, for the best results. Especially for your first few publications.

The steps to follow are listed below. Let's get started!

GreenLight icon

Step 1.

add Sections & landmarks.

  • A reader being able to know their current location in an EPUB and to be able to effectively navigate an ebook is a large part of accessibility.
  • Section labels are added into the EPUB page code to identify the kind of content that is on the page and major sections become landmarks to help with the navigation of EPUB. e.g. the cover, table of contents, and the start of the main body matter.

The Accessibility Tools panel in CircularFLO or GreenLight has a Section Labels section. Use the Section label tools to mark the starting pages

The Auto add section label to pages tool looks at the paragraph style applied to the first item on the page and if a match is found for an available label. After using the Auto add section label to pages tool, manually check locations of Section labels and remove any duplicates.

Section markers are added as text frames on the pasteboard on the non-printing FLO_INFO layer.

Remove a section marker by deleting the text frame object in InDesign.

Accessibility Tools Panel
Add section label to active page
Auto add section labels to pages
GreenLight icon

Step 2.

add Table of Contents.

  • Longer Fixed-Layout EPUBs should benefit from an internal table of contents within the EPUB code which helps with navigation.
  • Printed contents pages are often added as text rather than by using the InDesign table of contents feature, which makes them inaccessible.

Although InDesign has a table of contents feature, it is not always used. Circular Software tools have the ability to add an accessible table of contents to any fixed-layout EPUB.

Add Table of Contents Panel

Also, tappable hyperlink regions can be added to any part of the page which then act as cross references.

Auto add page links
GreenLight icon

Step 3.

add Reading Order.

  • As soon as there is more then one object on a page then the order in which that content is to be read becomes important
  • For good accessibility we need assume that the visual cues offered by text size and formatting are not enough and so we add the reading order

When faced with a well designed but complex spread an experienced,  sighted reader will quickly make subconscious decisions on the hierarchy and reading order.

Unfortunately, the reading order of an InDesign page bears no relation to the position of the objects on the page or the styling used, but instead is presented in a reverse stacking order. It is not easy to understand the reading order or to influence it without affecting the design.

Circular Software reading order tools give us a way to add reading order by selecting objects in sequence or drawing regions over the page.

Along with text frames, images and their captions, regions and full page artwork are also added into the reading order.

The applied reading order is shown with overlaid non-printing visual markers on the page which can be shared with others for approval.

Once added reading order can be modified.

Auto define reading order
Manually define reading order

In some cases we may want to text to appear on the page but not be added to the reading order. e.g. a running head or page number.

Hiding text from the reading order
GreenLight icon

Step 4.

Heading hierarchy.

  • The use of heading tags ensures users do not have to rely on visual styling to understand and navigate the document
  • Heading levels are applied to text by the use of InDesign paragraph styles

For the best accessibility headings should be applied using Heading tags. Also the order of the headings should be logical. A H1 tag is the top level with a secondary level of heading, an H2 following an H1.

Heading tags apply structure to content and can be used for navigation so should be applied in order. e.g. it is not correct practice to follow an H1 tag with an H3 tag. More info on heading hierarchy on the DAISY Accessible Publishing Knowledge Base.

Heading levels are applied by the use of InDesign paragraph styles and InDesign has a useful feature to view and edit all export tags in one dialog (InDesign Paragraph Styles Panel options > Edit All Export Tags…) More info Edit All Export Tags on EPUB Secrets.

Whilst InDesign doesn't actually apply these heading tags to fixed-layout EPUB… Circular Software does and also has tools and checks to ensure headings are correctly applied.

Label paragraph export tags
GreenLight icon

Step 5.

Image descriptions.

  • Adding descriptions to images and regions is an important way to add their meaning to those who may not be able to view them
  • Background images, decorative images and images that are fully described by on page captions should be marked as such

Rather than placing alt text descriptions into image metadata, the best descriptions take the context of the image or region on the page along with the intended audience into consideration.

Circular Software tools allow the addition and editing of descriptions to images and regions directly on the InDesign page, which are able to be shared with others, then apply the descriptions in the final output.

Circular Software tools connect with SIDD (Simple Image Descriptions Database) to connect people, documents and images to a lightweight but powerful and centralized source for contextual image descriptions.

Add / update image descriptions
SIDD (Simple Image Descriptions Database)
SIDD (Simple Image Descriptions) Setup
Simple Image Descriptions (SIDD) Tool
GreenLight icon

Step 6.

Check Text contrast.

  • Insufficient contrast between text and background colours can affect everyone but contrast is of greater importance for those with sight difficulties.
  • A Circular Software tool takes the colours from selected InDesign objects and reports their contrast ratios.

For print work, a text size above 18pt means a lower contrast ratio can be used but for fixed-layout ebooks, although text maybe larger in print, a smaller screen size may affect the actual size.

More info and help is available at the WebAIM Contrast Checker page.

Text Contrast tool
GreenLight icon

Step 7.

Add Accessibility metadata.

  • By declaring just how accessible (or not!) an EPUB file is, we can inform the retailer and reader about the features that the ebook has before purchase or download
  • Adding accessibility metadata is now a requirement for accessible EPUB

Structured information about the EPUB content lets everyone know the accessibility features and potential hazards. The expected structure for this metadata is ' metadata' and this is part of the EPUB3.2 standard and later.

More info on Accessibility Metadata on the DAISY Accessible Publishing Knowledge Base.

InDesign 2024.2 does have a way to add this metadata but all Circular Software users can more easily add A11y metadata to their InDesign files and exports by adding using the CircularFLO Metadata Panel.

Accessibility metadata
GreenLight icon

Step 8.

Add preferences panel

  • The CircularFLO Preferences Panel adds custom instructions that control the export of your document
  • Options include settings for graphics, reading order, language, read aloud and text

With no CircularFLO Preferences Panel added the default values will be used.

Auto conversion to the best Amazon file format (clue: it's not EPUB despite what you may have heard!) can be triggered when Kindle Previewer 3 is installed.

Post export validation with Pagina EPUB-Checker and accessibility checking with ACE, by DAISY can also be set up.

We recommend downloading these tools before your first conversion.

CircularFLO Preferences Panel
GreenLight icon

Step 9.

Run GreenLight AccessIBILITy CHEcks.

  • InDesign file set up and preparation is automatically checked and help given where needed
  • Spot and fix any issues whilst in InDesign, before exporting to EPUB

GreenLight from Circular Software ensures InDesign files are correct, complete and consistent. GreenLight comes in Custom, Pro and Free versions and we have made GreenLight FREE free of charge to run accessibility checklists. More info here.

With GreenLight installed, select and run the free GreenLight checklist Accessibility Checks - Fixed-Layout EPUB to check the readiness of the InDesign file or book. Checks include:

  • Fonts
  • Links
  • Styles
  • Metadata
  • Structure
  • Image descriptions
Selecting Checklists
Run a GreenLight checklist on a document
GreenLight icon

Step 10.

Export with CircularFLO.

  • All the file preparation from the previous steps using Circular Software tools and checks is now applied by exporting with CircularFLO
  • Create Fixed-Layout EPUB / Amazon file

Click the Create Fixed-Layout EPUB / Amazon file button on the Main Panel (Tools menu > Main Panel) to export two fixed-layout files.

For Fixed-Layout a single export creates both the Fixed-Layout EPUB3 and the Amazon file KF8.

This is the best method for Amazon file creation and is a better approach than using the same EPUB export (despite what you may have heard!).

The Amazon fixed layout KF8 file is auto created when chosen in the Preferences Panel and will be triggered when Kindle Previewer 3 is installed.

GreenLight icon

Step 11.

Validation & testing.

  • Automatically run epubcheck on your exports to ensure they are valid EPUB3
  • Run additional automated accessibility checks

Post export validation with Pagina EPUB-Checker and accessibility checking with ACE, by DAISY can also be set up.

Select the options in the CircularFLO Preferences Panel to run these two automated checks at the end of the export process.

We recommend downloading these tools before your first conversion.

EPUB validity with Pagina EPUB-Checker
Accessibility reports with Ace, by DAISY