How the Certification Process Works

If a publisher is confident in their workflow, they might consider getting certified accessible. This post explains how that process works.

  • Subject(s):

    Ebook Production

  • Resource Type(s):

    Standards and Best Practices

  • Audience:


Suggested Prerequisite

Before reading this, you might want to read:


Becoming a Global Certified Accessible (GCA) publisher provides added value to your digital books and a streamlined approach to adapting your production workflow to create born accessible books. In this post we will look at the steps involved in the certification process and the tools that certifiers use to ensure your EPUBs meet the accessibility requirements outlined in Benetech’s GCA Certification requirements.

Step 1: Meeting Your Certifier and Providing EPUBs for Evaluation

Once you have been approved to move on from the pre-certification stage, you will be introduced to your assigned Benetech trained certifier, in an introductory email. This email will give a brief outline of what the certification process will include, and a request to provide two (2) EPUBs for certification.

While any two reflowable EPUB files can be submitted for evaluation, it is good to keep the following in mind when selecting your files:

  • The books must be in reflowable EPUB file format. Children’s picture books and other fixed layout EPUB files cannot be evaluated as part of the GCA certification. This is due to their limitations of accessibility and lack of published standards specifically for these file types.
  • The EPUB files should ideally reflect the most complex genre or style of book you publish. Some common examples include poetry, textbooks and other non-fiction books that include elements such as complex images, tables, lists, endnotes, bibliographies and more. 
  • The books should come from the same production workflow. For example, if some of your books go through one conversion vendor, while another set of books go through a different vendor, it is important to mention this to your certifier. It is possible two books from each workflow will have to be submitted for evaluation for you to become fully certified as a publisher.
  • It is recommended to avoid sending books with a close publishing date. The certification can take more than a couple months, depending on the complexity of the books and the time available to work on the required changes. 

If you are uncertain about which books to submit, ask your certifier for clarification. Once the two books are submitted, your certifier will do a quick review of each book’s contents and complexity. They will then confirm both books have been received and choose one to begin certifying.  

Step 2: The Evaluation of the First Book

The first book selected for evaluation usually contains the more complex structure and elements of the two. This is to ensure you are introduced to as much success criteria as possible. Success criteria for certification is divided into two areas:

  1. Conformance: This criterion is built on WCAG 2.0 AA standards, EPUB Accessibility 1.0 Specification, and Accessibility Metadata, and is judged on a pass/fail basis. Any applicable failures must be addressed and resolved. A book cannot earn GCA certification until all applicable criteria passes.
  2. Born Accessible: This criterion is a more detailed look at the conformance requirements. Instead of passing or failing, the born accessible criteria is marked numerically from 0-4, with 4 being a full pass. The results will then be compiled and reflected in an overall percentage score. A book requires a Born Accessible score of above 80% to be considered eligible for certification.

GCA Certifiers use a few different manual and automatic testing tools to complete the evaluation process, which are discussed below. 

Tools Used During Certification


EPUBCheck is the command line tool that is used to validate an EPUB file against the EPUB specifications and maintained by the DAISY Consortium on behalf of the W3C. It is also available as a free application that can be downloaded and used on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. If you work with EPUB development, or are part of a digital publishing workflow, you may already be familiar with this tool. 

This is the first tool used by the certifier to ensure no errors or warnings show up in the basic structure of the EPUB file. If outstanding errors come up, your certifier may reach out to confirm if the correct file was submitted.

The best way to avoid issues coming up in this stage of certification is to use the tool in your own workflow and run the EPUB through EPUBCheck before sending it to your certifier. The application is a free download and only requires the user to drag and drop the file into it. 

Ace by DAISY

This is another automated tool that is becoming more common in digital publishing workflows. Its purpose is to specifically check for accessibility in an EPUB. Much like EPUBCheck, it is offered as both a free command line tool and a Windows/Mac/Linux OS application.

Your certifier will run the EPUB through Ace by DAISY and generate a report that includes:

  • Accessibility violations in the EPUB (including must-fix errors, warnings and more minor issues and best practices)
  • a summary of images and their descriptions
  • accessibility metadata 
  • heading structure

This is the starting point for the bulk of the GCA certification evaluation. Since Ace by DAISY only covers 20-30% in its automated testing, the certifier will then conduct a thorough manual review to fill in the blanks. A book cannot be considered WCAG 2.0 compliant by only being tested in Ace – a manual review is also required to ensure all criteria is covered.

Simplified Manual Accessibility Reporting Tool (SMART)

True to its name, the Simplified Manual Accessibility Reporting Tool (SMART) is meant to streamline the manual checking process by incorporating all accessibility standards and metadata requirements in the GCA certification. Ace by DAISY generates two (2) files: an HTML report, summarizing the accessibility findings, and a JSON file. This JSON file is dropped into SMART, which brings the information from Ace into the manual testing environment. 

SMART organizes the success criteria into the Conformance and Born Accessible pages and generates a report that clearly states where the EPUB has been successful and where it has failed or needs improvement. 

For more information on SMART, check out the Next Steps at the bottom of this article. 

Colour Contrast Analyser (CCA)

The Colour Contrast Analyzer does what the name suggests:  tests images to meet colour contrast requirements according to WCAG 2.1 standards. Your certifier will use this tool for the following:

  • images that contain text (for example: the cover image)
  • secondary content that uses colour to identify its place in the text (example: a sidebar with a coloured background that contains additional facts or definitions related to the text)

The CCA is available for free download and is a great addition to your production workflow, especially if you produce books that are heavily visual and contain elements that depend on colour to convey essential aspects of the book’s content.

Step 3: First Book Evaluation Results are Completed

Within a couple weeks of submitting your book, the certifier will compile all the testing results and send you a zip folder containing the following files:

  1. Ace by DAISY report: you’ll receive this report in HTML file format, which is a summary of the results Ace tests for automatically. Since it is entirely automated, your certifier does not make any manual entries in this report.
  2. SMART report: this report will also be in HTML file format. It will summarize the manual testing that was performed on the book, and you will be able to see the details as to where the book passed and failed. The format of the report is unchanging, but the scoring entries have been manually entered, as well as any notes that may have been added below the individual criterion.
  3. GCA Technical Report: this report is presented in a Word docx file format. It presents the same information as the SMART report but also includes detailed examples of how the code in the EPUB can be revised to meet the success criteria in the SMART and Ace report. The technical report also organizes the recommendations into required changes, strongly suggested changes, and suggested best practices for accessibility actions.

At this point, you will be asked to revise the EPUB based on the requirements and recommendations detailed in the three reports listed above. Ideally, the revised file should be sent back within two weeks. If conformance failures remain, or if the born accessible score is not yet over 80%, the same evaluation process will be repeated until the book passes conformance and has a born accessible score over 80%. It is common for a book to require more than one evaluation.

Step 4: First Book Passes Certification

Once the first book passes all required success criteria, it is then time to move on to the second book. 

Before starting the evaluation process on the second book, the certifier will request the second book to be revised based on the findings in the first book’s reports. This is an opportunity to:

  • Put into practice what was learned during evaluation of the first book
  • Reduce the number of errors in the second reports to make the evaluation more efficient as a result
  • Ensure your workflow is incorporating the required accessibility standards in a way that works for your team

This is as important a step as the evaluation of the individual EPUB files. And it is not a closed-book test either. Your certifier is available to help clarify any lingering questions from the first book and can offer additional support while you work towards adjusting your workflow to become born accessible.

Step 5: Re-Submission of the Second Book

Once all changes have been applied and you feel confident with the result, the second book is re-submitted and evaluated in the same process as the first book, using the same automatic and manual testing tools. Your certifier will send along a new set of the same three reports outlining the findings of the evaluation.

There will likely be a few new changes that need to be implemented that may not have occurred in the first book. But repeated conformance errors should be avoided completely, and the born accessible score should show a clear improvement over the first book’s results at the end of the second book’s first evaluation. 

If at this point the second book’s reports show a similar result to the first book’s reports, or multiple conformance errors have recurred, the certifier may request a third book to be submitted for evaluation to demonstrate your production workflow has made the required adjustments. If this is the case, the third book will follow the same process as the first and second book.

Step 6: Certification is Granted

Once the evaluation of the submitted books is completed and the qualifying scores have been achieved, certification is granted to the evaluated workflow. Your certifier will advise of this accomplishment in an email that will also include contacts from Benetech who are available to assist in next steps. 

Being granted certification includes:

  • The opportunity to auto-certify titles produced in the certified workflow for the following year
  • The inclusion in quarterly updates sent from GCA on accessibility standards
  • Accessibility metadata to include in all certified books to increase exposure
  • The GCA Certified Publisher seal that can be used in company-level accessibility statements or related marketing material

Approximately one year following certification, you will be required to participate in a spot-check to ensure the books produced in the certified workflow are still compliant. The best way to keep your books compliant is to read the quarterly updates and ensure your workflow has incorporated the required standards before certification is even granted. 

Everyone benefits from a born accessible workflow. Although the certification work may seem intensive and maybe even daunting, the result will be a stronger production workflow that will create the most accessible books over the long term.

Next Steps


What to expect from pre-certification

The Pre-certification Process

Summary of what to expect from the eBound–Benetech pre-certification process.

Subject(s): Ebook Production
Resource Type(s): Step-by-Step

Is Certification for You?

The Value of Certification

Publishers might opt to get certified because of the education and support they get in the process, and to show their commitment to accessibility.

Subject(s): Ebook Production
Resource Type(s): Foundations and Rationale

The SMART Tool

Simplified Manual Accessibility Reporting Tool (SMART)

SMART is a robust accessibility checking tool that tests content against a number of metrics to support making ebook content.

Subject(s): Ebook Production
Resource Type(s): Tools

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