Web and ebook technology is a boon to the advancement of the written word. But it’s complex work to bring digital texts into the world’s languages. This article by Jiminy Panoz is a helpful overview: “Internationalization is fascinating: the ebook case.” It’s concise for the complexity involved. There’s even some coverage of the languages we work with in India.
At the start of my work abroad in digital technology, I felt the floor of my knowledge bottom out. So many assumptions unraveled. The flow and layout of an entire document changes for right-to-left scripts, for languages without letters, for languages with letters and half-letters that morph and seem out of order. And then to account for variations of operating systems and software that render these complex scripts differently. The work requires new vocabulary and standards to begin to address the challenges.
A digital reading system like the one in the referenced article may have it’s challenges but it already builds on advanced work in linguistics, design and technology. Here’s what it took to arrive at the current problems of international web and ebook development: language requirements research, the pioneering work of SIL, Unicode, mobile platforms, web standards, and fonts for every complex writing system. These are all monumental tasks in their own right. All for the sake of universal access to the written word.
I develop websites and digital texts in complex scripts with people in South Asia. I’m surprised every time I watch one open it on their mobile phone and read it with joy. I’m grateful for the humble technology worker that makes a way for this good reading experience.
Accessibility is not just the responsibility of web developers. Accessibility begins with design decisions. Share non-technical tips for UI design to everyone on the team so they make more accessible design choices in future:
Easy on the animations.
Make sure background and text colors have enough contrast.
Be very careful when overlaying text on images, or don’t.
Double-check the readability of font weights and sizes.
Indicate external links.
Differentiate between action-oriented social media links vs. profile links.
Don’t rely 100% on icons and colors to communicate.
Consider what the design would look like without interactivity.
Limitations: Only the first page of a PDF will be displayed inline. This restriction is according to the specs. And you cannot point to a specific page of a multi-page PDF document like you can with an anchor link (ex. <a href="....pdf#page=2>).
So this technique is good for one-page PDFs or to display the first page of a multi-page PDF as a preview image, linked to the full document. If you use a Markdown editor like Ulysses, know that you can similarly use a PDF as an image.