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Accessing Resources

ebooks@cambridge: Accessibility

A guide to finding and using ebooks at the University of Cambridge

Ebooks and accessibility

Ebooks, in the right format, can meet a wide variety of accessibility needs, including enabling text magnification, changing background and font colours, supporting text-to-speech and working with assistive technologies. Unfortunately, not all ebooks are produced or sold in a format which enables these kinds of adaptation and some can put up a barrier to users with disabilities.

This page gives an overview of how accessible our ebook collections are and what we are doing to make things better.

DRM-free ebooks

In March 2020, Cambridge University Libraries adopted a 'DRM-free first' ebook purchasing policy. DRM-free ebooks have a number of benefits for users with disabilities, including people who use screenreading software, who need to change the appearance of text or who need to spend more time reading or working with a book. The lack of technical restrictions on DRM-free content also benefits all users, regardless of whether or not they have a disability.

Unlike DRM-protected ebooks, DRM-free titles:

  • Download as PDF files which are compatible with a range of accessibility software or can be opened with Adobe Reader, which offers a number of its own accessibility tools (to set up these and other options in Adobe Reader DC, go to Edit > Accessibility > Setup Assistant).
  • Can be downloaded and kept forever. This is especially helpful for users who need to spend more time reading books.
  • Can be downloaded in their entirety; there is no restriction on the amount of the book that can be downloaded, copied or printed.
  • Can be used and downloaded by an unlimited number of concurrent users, removing another potential barrier to access.

How can I tell if an ebook is DRM-free?

All of the ebook platforms we purchase from provide DRM-free titles except the following which provide a mix of DRM-free and DRM-protected ebooks:

(These links are to external websites and open in a new browser tab/window).

DRM-protected ebooks

A significant proportion of our ebook collection is made up of DRM-protected titles. These may present accessibility challenges, particularly when downloaded, since they open in Adobe Digital Editions rather than Adobe Reader, and have an expiry date (usually between 1 and 7 days).

However, many DRM-protected ebooks can also be read online (in HTML format) on the provider’s platform, without time limits. Depending on your needs, you may find that the online version is fully accessible. Platform providers are expected to demonstrate how accessible their platforms are through a published accessibility statement. You can search or browse platform accessibility statements via the SearchBOX finder service.

Obtaining alternate formats from publishers

If you have a disability and the available print or ebook formats do not work for you, please email or contact your college or faculty/departmental librarian. A DRM-free pdf can often be obtained from the publisher or from services such as RNIB Bookshare for your own personal use. Publisher supply times vary considerably so please plan ahead if at all possible.

ebook platform accessibility

Accessibility icon showing human figure with arms outstretched in a circleWe provide access to ebooks on lots of different platforms with different designs and functionality. Platform providers are encouraged and expected to publish information describing the accessibility of their platforms to users with disabilities via a platform accessibility statement. We have provided links to accessibility statements for our different platforms on the Find ebooks page of this guide.

If you have any questions or concerns about the accessibility of ebook platforms, please contact


Contact us

What is DRM?

Digital Rights Management (DRM) schemes are access control technologies that restrict usage of copyrighted material, such as ebooks.

Ebook platforms often use DRM to restrict copying, printing and downloading. For example, VLeBooks limits the length of time that an ebook can be used offline and the number of pages that can be copied or printed.

Not all ebook platforms use DRM. DRM-free platforms (such as Cambridge Core, Taylor & Francis Online) impose no technical restrictions on the use of their content. However, users are obliged to observe copyright law as well as any licensing terms governing the use of a platform.

We recognise that DRM-free ebooks are more accessible for all of our users and we try to purchase these whenever they are available from suppliers.

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