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College of Information and Communications

Criteria for Evaluating Accessibility

The criteria and some sample evaluations are based on those published in: Walling, Linda Lucas and Clayton A. Copeland. Differing Abilities, Children, and Picture Books, in Copeland, Clayton A., ed., "Disabilities and the Library," Libraries Unlimited, 2023.


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.

Sample Evaluations:

  • Henkes, Kevin. Kitten’s First Full Moon.
    Kitten thinks the full moon is a bowl of milk and sets out to reach it. Her humorous route to achieving her goal makes for a good story that is believable. Kitten is the single character in the easy-to-follow story. Illustrations are in black and white with strong, heavy outlines and good contrast. The story provides redundancy and reinforcement. Font is large and bold and marches straight across the page with adequate white space. There are few lines of text on each page. All text is black on white, and the paper is non-glare. The book could be used by any child who has sufficient visual skills.
  • Hutchins, Pat. Rosie’s Walk.
    Rosie is is a hen who goes for a walk around the farmyard. That’s the whole story if you read only the words. If you can see the illustrations, it’s very funny. To be successfully shared with a child who is legally blind or in a group, a running commentary on the illustrations would be necessary. A fox is following Rosie as she walks. She is unaware of him. He makes numerous attempts to leap on her and brings disasters on himself. He leaps and lands on a rake and hits himself in the head on the handle, he misses Rosie and lands in a pond, and so on. His final attempt causes him to disturb a bee hive … There’s a single line of large, bold easily read print with good contrast on each double page spread. Some illustrations are outlined, but all of them are complex with patterned designs that are not clearly differentiated. A child who is legally blind likely would not enjoy the book, but a child who has a reading disability like dyslexia or deafness likely could.
  • Cronin, Doreen. Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type
    Farmer Brown’s cows have a typewriter. They type demands to him, threatening no more milk till their demands are met. Then the hens begin demands. What is the farmer to do? This book has challenges for some children with print disabilities. For them, the book could be enjoyed if it is read aloud. Illustrations are bold, bright, and outlined in black, but poor contrast between the illustrations and the background on some pages might make it difficult to distinguish them. The greatest difficulty, though, is potentially the font. Much of it is in a fairly easily read font that is parallel to the bottom of the page, but the lines that the cows type are in a different font and the letters are uneven on the line. Some lines are not parallel with the bottom of the page. A child with dyslexia might find those lines difficult to read. On a few pages with a dark background, there is poor contrast between the text and the background. Still, most children would laugh at the humorous story and like repeating “Click clack moo.”

Children with intellectual disabilities are challenged by stories with multiple characters and complex story lines. 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.

Sample Evaluations:

  • Crews, Donald. Freight Train
    Each car in the train is different. There’s a tank car, a hopper car, a cattle car, a gondola car, an engine, and a caboose. Each car has its own bold color and distinct shape, with minimal detail in the illustrations. The shapes are not outlined, but there is strong contrast between the cars and the background. Each car, caboose first, is pictured standing still on the tracks. Above the car, its name appears in large, bold print that is the same color as the car. The print is parallel with the top of the page. Once each car has been introduced, the illustrations change to show the train in motion. The cars are still in bright, bold colors, but there are bars of different colors on each to suggest a the train’s forward movement. The text, still aligned with the top of the page, describes the movement of the train as it heads for its destination. This picture book is an example of a book that could be used with older children and teens who have more severe intellectual disabilities.
  • Feiffer, Jules. Bark, George
    George is a dog, but when his mother tells him to bark, he makes the sounds of other animals. She is so worried that she takes him to the veterinarian who discovers the problem. This is a story that is not believable, but it is straightforward and full of humor and surprises. Some children with intellectual impairments might have difficulty understanding the story, but they could still delight in the humor and share in making the animal noises. George is the main character throughout. There are several supporting characters, introduced one at a time in the story and the pictures, but the focus is always on George. Illustrations support the text. They are bold, bright, and outlined in black. The story provides reinforcement and redundancy. Print is large and well-spaced with some serifs. The background is colored in different pastels, but the contrast between the print and the background is strong. There is little glare. With the exception of two pages, the text is parallel with the bottom of the page.
  • McCloskey, Robert. Blueberries for Sal.
    This book is delightful, but it has been used as an example of a storyline that would confuse children with intellectual disabilities because there are too many main characters and the story shifts back and forth between Little Sal and her mother and  mother bear and her cub. Little Sal and her mother go to the mountain to pick blueberries. Little bear and his mother also go to the mountain to pick blueberries. All four of them become distracted by the delicious berries. Little Sal and little bear wander away and get lost. When they think they have found their mothers, they fail to notice that they are following each other’s mother, not their own. When the mothers realize the mixup, they franticly search and find their own little one. Children who can follow the non-linear story can enjoy the story and the drawings even though some of the Illustrations are dated because the book is seventy years old. There are many double page spreads that show little Sal and little bear eating blueberries on the mountain. Children could enjoy those illustrations. The illustrations are ink drawings that contrast strongly with the white background of the page. The font is slightly serifed, but the print  is large and parallel to the edge of the page. The contrast between print and background is strong, and there is adequate white space between the few lines of text.

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.

Sample Evaluations:

  • DeCamville, Cristin. 18th Birthday
    Ella is celebrating her 18th birthday when her parents say that she will be an adult. What does that mean? Will she have to give up doing things she likes? Will she have to do things that scare her? The novel is well designed for teens with intellectual disabilities or other neurodevelopmental disabilities. Amy is the single main character. The story follows her through her day as she wonders about the future and makes discoveries. The font is large and easily read on non-glare paper. There are only a few lines of print on each page, and the lines are parallel to the bottom of the page. There is adequate white space between the lines. The book has a few black and white illustrations with strong contrast.  The book includes a discussion section for interaction with teens.
  • Rosinsky, Natalie M. Light, Shadows, Mirrors, and Rainbows
  • An interesting, informative introduction to light and how it makes shadows and rainbows and creates images on mirrors. Most drawings are brightly colored and strongly outlined. Others have low contrast but those serve primarily as background and are not critical to understanding the text. The drawings appear to be mostly of middle schoolers or older. Thus, the book could be used by teens as well as younger children Print is in a simple, easily read font. There are only a few lines on each page, and the lines are parallel to the bottom of the page. Some information is in smaller print of the same font, but the print is still fairly large. The print contrasts well with the background, but there is some glare on the pages.
  • Greenwald, Kellie. 2008. Kellie’s Book: The Art of the Possible
  • Kellie is a young woman with intellectual impairment and a hole in her heart as the result of Down Syndrome. She saw her father, a sportscaster for the San Francisco Giants, writing his autobiography and decided that she wanted to write hers. This book, in her own words and illustrated with her own drawings, is the result. She talks about her family and friends, going to school, all the activities in life that she enjoys, the things she feels sad about, and her hopes for the future. Kellie’s striking illustrations are bright and bold. They are not outlined and might be difficult for some teens with low vision to distinguish. The text would be challenging for anyone with print disabilities. Kellie handprinted her story, and her handprinting is reproduced as the text. Children, teens, or adults with Down Syndrome could enjoy this book if they have help to read the text.

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.

Sample Evaluations:

  • Phillips, Jessica. 2018. Zoom Along at the Construction Site
    This board book introduces a child to construction equipment. The child is the builder. There is a mirror on the first page and one on the next to last page. Large circular holes are cut in the pages so that children can see themselves driving a different construction vehicle on each page. Illustrations are bright and bold with no outlines. Black print is easily read against colored background. The text for the story is a single line parallel to the bottom of the page. Additional text on other parts of the page is in a different, less easily read font. That text curves, but the text is not critical to enjoying the book.
  • Coat, Janik. 2018. Llamaphones
    An entertaining board book introduces homophones, words that sound alike but mean different things. A llama models each word on a separate page. On facing pages, the llama illustrates two words that sound alike. For example, on a left page the llama is a lighter green color. The word is pale. On the facing page, the llama has a large red bucket over his head. The word is pail. Each page has only a single large, easily read word aligned with the bottom of the page. The illustrations are bold and bright on white background. A few pages have texture or moveable parts that might challenge a child with poor coordination. This is an example of a book that could be enjoyed by teens and adults as well as by children. Children with print disabilities could enjoy this book as could children with a combination of differing abilities if the abilities include strong cognitive skills.
  • Spier, Peter. 1977. Noah’s Ark
    This is essentially a wordless picture book about life on the ark during those forty days. How did Noah and his family spend their days? How were the animals fed? How did they keep predators from prey? Who cleaned up after the animals? The book is an example of a picture book for a child with severe motor impairments who can easily focus and who has strong visual and cognitive skills. The only text is the story of Noah on two early pages and on the last page. One early page has columns of difficult to read text, but that page is not necessary because the story is so familiar. The other two pages with text have only single lines that align with the bottom of the page. The illustrations are small and brightly colored. The pages are cluttered with much detail. Black outlining of the bright images helps distinguish them. A child, teen, or adult with strong visual skills could spend much time studying each page.

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

Sample Evaluations:

  • Raschka, Chris. Yo Yes!
    Two essentially non-verbal boys discover how to communicate with each other and become friends. (Note: A boy who was non-verbal was once inspired by this book to write about his friend.) Throughout the book, the boys appear on facing pages. They are the only characters. The print is large, bold and parallel to the top of the page. There are no more than two words on a page. The illustrations are bright, bold, and outlined in black.
  • Scieszka, Jon and Lane Smith. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
    The Stinky Cheese Man stimulates creativity from the front cover to the back. Two author/illustrators created a humorous, imaginative book filled with fractured fairy tales, and complex visual and verbal wordplays. A child who knows the traditional stories will take special delight in the plot twists and turns. The Little Red Hen turns up as a worrywart interacting with Jack, the narrator, throughout the book. The book unobtrusively increases a child’s vocabulary as it humorously introduces concepts of “endpaper,” “title page,” and other parts of a book. A major part of the humor is in the illustrations, most of which require strong visual skills. One doesn’t need strong verbal skills, though, to imagine the stink on seeing the illustrated reactions of the cow, the flower, and the skunk to the cheese man. 

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?

Sample Evaluations:

  • Sotomayor, Sonia. Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You
    Children who are differently abled often feel isolated, misunderstood, and sad because of their difference. Sotomayor, who experienced those feelings herself as a child with diabetes, uses her own child-voice and the voices of children who experience a wide range of disabilities to encourage them to recognize strengths in their differences. Illustrations are bright and bold with no outlines. Most have strong contrast with the background, but some might be challenging for a child with low vision. The text presents many challenges for children with print disabilities. The font is small and there are many lines of text on most pages. On a few pages the text has poor contrast with the background. Several pages have only a single line of text, but the small font and low contrast with the background could mean that a child would not notice the words. On the positive side, the text is set in OpenDyslexic. For children with dyslexia that choice of font may offset the other issues with text. The content of the book is empowering for children, and adaptations could accommodate children with print disabilities.
  • Willis, Jeanne. Susan Laughs
    At the end of the book, Susan is revealed to use a wheelchair. Throughout the book, the story and pictures show her as an active child doing things all children do. Susan is the single main character who appears on every page except when she is hiding. Her bright red hair makes her easy to spot. The text aligns with the bottom of the page and has strong contrast with the background. A child who uses a wheelchair could enjoy the book and might discover new things to try. Some children with certain kinds of visual impairments (e.g., double vision) might be challenged by the illustrations. They are brightly colored, but there are no outlines. They are drawings with colored pencil and lots of lines at different angles.
  • Palacio, R. J. 2017. We’re All Wonders.
    Palacio’s novel Wonder is widely read. She has taken that theme and created a picture book about a boy with a severe facial difference. A child who “looks different” might enjoy reading about a child who faces the same kinds of problems. The story traces Augie’s life, including the hurtful behaviors of other children, his feelings about that, and how he, with his mother’s help, copes. The text is mostly large print with a few serifs. On most pages, the text is parallel to the bottom of the page. On a few pages, the text has low contrast because of a colored background. The illustrations are brightly colored, and many (especially Augie) are outlined in black. Augie is the single main character. His dog, Daisy, accompanies him. The superhero element is presented as a tool for the child to use rather than suggesting that he is a superhero. The story is straightforward and easy to follow. 

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.