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College of Information and Communications

Criteria for Evaluating Accessibility

General Guidelines

Choose books following these basic principles:
1. Books meet the criteria for good literature for children (e.g., is it a good story?)   
2. Do the characters and plot seem believable? is the story accurate for that time and place?)
3. Books are not obviously didactic.
4. Take individual differences into account.
5. Text and pictures are compatible and free from discrepancies.
6. Text and pictures are appropriate for the child’s developmental level.
7. Books with humor are popular with all children.
8. Chapter books and other books that have no illustrations should meet all the other criteria for picture books (e.g., font, adequate white space, minimum glare).

Children with print disabilities may have low vision or other visual challenges. They may have dyslexia, or they may be deaf and use American Sign Language (ASL) as their first language. Children who have difficulty reading regular print can enjoy books with multiple characters and complex plots, but the print aspects of the books present challenges. Children with print disabilities who have no visual challenges can often enjoy illustrations that are complex.

Choose books that meet the following criteria:

  1. The font has easily distinguished shapes and bold print. The same font is used throughout the story.
  2. Children with low vision need simple, clear, uncluttered illustrations. 
  3. Vivid, contrasting colors and well-defined spaces. 
  4. Illustrations with organization. Strong, heavy outlines help distinguish between the picture and its background. 
  5. Adequate white space between letters and lines and strong contrast with the background.
  6. Minimum glare on the page.
  7. Texture (pop-ups, shapes with texture, flaps) is a plus.
  8. Some children may need magnifiers; rulers or templates to help them follow a line, or other adaptive equipment.

Children with intellectual disabilities are challenged by stories with multiple characters and complex storylines. The children need features in a picture book that hold their attention and help them focus.

Choose books that meet the following criteria:

  1. A single main character with a straightforward story.
  2. Many simple, clear, uncluttered illustrations. 
  3. Illustrations with organization, vivid colors, strong contrast, and well-defined spaces.
  4. Illustrations with strong, heavy outlines help a child distinguish the relationship between a picture and its background. 
  5. Realistic stories, pictures, and photos geared to the child’s developmental level.
  6. Illustrations and language that provide redundancy and reinforcement.
  7. A font in bold print with easily distinguished shapes.
  8. Adequate white space between letters and lines. 
  9. Strong contrast between print and background.
  10. Lines of print parallel to the bottom of the page. Only a few lines per page.
  11. Minimal glare on the page.

Note: These criteria emphasize materials at the lowest reading levels. Some teens and adults with intellectual disabilities can read at higher levels.

Appeal: The book has potential appeal to teens and adults

Content and Typography:

  1. The content could interest adults. If children appear in the story, the focus is not on them.
  2. The print is large, with plenty of space between words and lines.
  3. There are only a few words on each page with good contrast between the print and the background.
  4. The font uses the most familiar shapes of letters, and there are few, if any serif fonts. Whenever possible, sans serif fonts should be sought and utilized, as they increase usability and accessibility for all users, including those without disabilities.

Photographs, Pictures, and Other Illustrations:

  1. If people are pictured, only adults or both children and adults, are represented.
  2. Illustrations are realistic, bright, colorful, and clear.
  3. Photographs are colorful with high-quality reproduction and good contrast with minimal glare

Special Considerations:

  1. Some books written at a higher reading level may be suitable if the content is sufficiently interesting to attract beginning readers and challenge them to learn new vocabulary and concepts
  2. Wordless picture books often have excellent potential if the pictures are not too babyish.


Unless the story’s setting is historical, hairstyles, fashions, and cars pictured should be contemporary. Books on looking for jobs and managing money should be recent enough to present realistic examples.

Avoid Subtle Messages:

  1. Avoid subtle clues that the books are intended for children (e. g., in one book otherwise good book, the text reads, “It helps you grow. It makes you strong.”)
  2. Watch for the covers of books that carry series titles like “Junior World Biographies.” Spines may be labeled “Chelsea Juniors,” dust cover notes may refer to children.
  3. Some otherwise appropriate books include “Notes to Parents” or “Notes to Teachers.”
  4. “Juvenile Literature” or a similar subject heading may be provided with the Cataloging-in Publication (CIP) information.

*For more detail, see Walling, Linda Lucas and Mary M. Cruce, Recreational Reading for Adults with Mental Retardation. In Walling, Linda Lucas and Marilyn M. Irwin, M. M., eds., Information services for people with developmental disabilities: The library manager’s handbook, pp.197-209). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Children in this category may have difficulty holding a book in their hands, turning their heads, or supporting their bodies. If they can hold a book, they may have little control of hand movements and grip. Motor impairments are often combined with other disabilities.

Choose books that meet the following criteria:

  1. Books are light weight, easily grasped and large enough but not so large that they are difficult to hold steady.
  2. Books should be sturdy. Board books are useful.
  3. Some children may need adaptive devices such as page turners and book stands.

Neurological differences and behavior disorders are so widely diverse that they cannot be fully discussed here. In this short space we consider the severe behaviors that might be associated with a particular label or that result from a specific neurological disorder. The child may have a label of autism or ADHD or the child may have been born to an addicted mother. The child’s behavior disorder may be the result of physical or emotional abuse or another trauma. Sometimes the behavior may be associated with seizures or breathing problems. All librarians should be aware of the signs of diabetic shock which can be observed in behavior.

A behavior disorder may manifest as aggression or withdrawal. The child may be overly verbal and uncooperative or non-verbal and overly compliant. Children who are withdrawn or overly compliant are often overlooked, but their behaviors are important clues also. Difficulty managing feelings and emotions is common, and the children typically have challenges in social situations.

Successful selection of picture books for children with these disorders largely depends on the selector’s familiarity with the specifics of the child’s impairment and the things that trigger the child. For example, one child may need books that have structure, order, a single main character, and a straightforward storyline to help focus; another may need the distractions of “cluttered” illustrations and convoluted story lines to help focus. A child may have a fear or obsession that must be taken into account. Parents and teachers are important resources. 

From a mother of children on the autism spectrum, here are suggestions for selecting picture books: “text: Rhyme. Rhythm. Repetition. stories that are highly structured, and particularly ones with a cyclical, plot and predictable language…how many words appear on each page; the longer it is, the harder it will be for my kids… the visuals: … strong typography but nothing too ornate or too small … interesting art, but … [not] too abstract… make sure it communicates story clearly. Subject matter … Huge bonus points if the book is particularly funny or exciting…they need lots of practice with new ideas in order to learn and grow… I am looking for books that incorporate elements they can connect with… must be really individualized for each child… kids’ current obsessions—what are sometimes called “restricted interests”. sensory elements. Does the book implicitly encourage movement or singing? Call and response? Fill-ins? Is there anything interesting about the book itself as an object to hold, use, and touch? Are there lights or sounds? If nothing intrinsic, is there an obvious way that a reader can add a sensory element?” (Mama Bibliosoph, n.d.) It must be noted that, as with other impairments, the range of abilities and disabilities is wide. Mama’s suggestions might not work for all children on the spectrum.*

*Mama Bibliosoph, Picking Picture Books for Kids with Autism, blog,, Kitaab World

It is not unusual for a child to have multiple impairments (co-existing conditions)  combined with a range of abilities. One example is a child with severe spastic cerebral palsy who is deaf-blind and intellectually disabled. Another example is a child labeled intellectually disabled who has limiting issues with motor skills while another child labeled intellectually disabled may be skilled at repetitive tasks involving dexterity. Levels of cognitive skills and impairment vary greatly. (Note: Children who have high intelligence combined with a disability are sometimes labeled twice exceptional or 2e.)

Choose books for each child based on the combination of abilities and disabilities, but simply combining criteria from two different lists is not sufficient. Abilities and impairments interact to exponentially increase challenges. Again, observe the child and do not assume what the child can or cannot do and understand.

An example from deaf blindness: (Many children with this label will need special format materials)


  1. Concrete stories that relate to the child’s life.
  2. Language based on vocabulary from the child’s experience.
  3. Books that are sturdy.
  4. Books with structure, repetition, predictability, and rhythm.
  5. Books with multisensory elements like texture, movement, and sound.

An example for a child with severe cerebral palsy who is intellectually gifted:


  1. Books with intriguing wordplays.
  2. Books with complex, detailed illustrations.
  3. Books with complex plots and multiple main characters.
  4. Books that are sturdy and lightweight.
  5. Books that are large enough but not too large.
  6. Provide book stands, page turners and other adaptive equipment as needed.

It is a truism that children who are differently abled often like to read about children like themselves. It is also true that not all books about children who are differently abled would appeal to a child who has the same impairment. Books “about” typically are written for siblings or children without impairments. Unless a child wants to learn about how others perceive someone with his or her impairment, those books would not be of interest. They might even make the child feel embarrassed or discouraged. Choose books told from the child’s point of view that would encourage a child with the same impairment to feel valued and empowered. 

First, consider the criteria for selecting books for a child’s impairment. Beyond that, choose books considering these factors:

  1. Is the character with the impairment in a supporting role, an observer, a doer, or a leader? Is the character depicted as superhuman or extraordinary rather than as an ordinary person? That is, does the story encourage the reader to see the character as unrealistically heroic?
  2. Does the character with an impairment have an active role in the story’s resolution? Is the character portrayed as unable to have an active role?
  3. Is there a balance among the roles of characters with impairments and those without?
  4. Does the book contain language that suggests that the character with the impairment is “other”? Does it objectify the character?
  5. Is it likely that a child with the same impairment would feel empowered by the depiction? Might the reader feel humiliated or discouraged?
  6. Does the character with an impairment grow throughout the story? Is the character with the impairment a static character only included to facilitate the growth in understanding of a character without an impairment? Does the story encourage sympathy and pity rather than empathy?
  7. Does the story portray the impairment accurately? (e.g., does a deaf character respond to visual and vibrational clues instead of sound?)
  8. Is the portrayal stereotypical? (e.g., a character who is blind can see nothing, or a child with any impairment is portrayed as pitiable and without ability)
  9. Is the language “loaded”? (e.g., are words like “slow” or “crazy” used to describe the character with an impairment?) If such language is used for purposes of the storyline, is the language resolved by the end of the story?
  10. Does the story emphasize differences? Does the story show children and adults with impairments as having needs and interests similar to those of other people?
  11. Does another character (or a narrator) speak for the character with the impairment? Do the characters speak or otherwise communicate for themselves?

Select books with features that are common for all the groups. Adapt using different formats to accommodate different abilities.

Some suggestions for choosing picture books to share:

  1. A single main character with a straightforward story.
  2. Many simple, clear, uncluttered illustrations. 
  3. Illustrations with organization, vivid colors, strong contrast, and well-defined spaces.
  4. Illustrations with strong, heavy outlines to help a child distinguish the relationship between a picture and its background. 
  5. Realistic stories, pictures, and photos.
  6. Illustrations and language that provide redundancy and reinforcement.
  7. A font in bold print with easily distinguished shapes.
  8. Adequate white space between letters and lines. 
  9. Strong contrast between print and background.
  10. Lines of print are parallel to the bottom of the page. 
  11. Minimal glare on the page.
  12. The text has rhythm and rhyme. 
  13. Humorous, exciting features in the story and pictures.
  14. Elements that encourage movement or singing can be pluses unless the group includes children with behavioral impairments who might be triggered.
  15. Big Books and projected books can help the children see the illustrations better.
  1. High quality literature should be used. There should be a rich plot, memorable theme, etc.
  2. The story should be exciting enough to keep the reader’s/listener’s attention.
  3. The narrator should have a medium to low pitched voice.
  4. Standard pronunciation is more appropriate than the use of dialects unless the story requires them. When dialects are used, they should not be so strong that it is difficult to discern the meaning.
  5. Descriptive narrations should not be dependent on illustrations.
  6. Sound effects and background music should enhance, rather than detract, from the story.
  7. Background sound should not interfere with understanding the narration.
  8. Page turn indicators should be evenly paced throughout the recording and indicators should allow enough of a pause for page turning.
  9. The tone of the page turn indicators should be clear and distinct but not too distracting.
  10. The emotional, intellectual, and social level of the child or teen should be considered (e.g., length of story, developmental age, and chronological age).
  11. A high-quality sound recording should be used.
  12. When recording a book, use proper equipment in a soundproof area.
  13. Provide instructions for use of audio readers.
  14. The full citation for the book and the name of the narrator should be included. It should be easy for the listener to tell whether the recording is abridged or unabridged.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.