Setting the Standard for a Culture of Digital Accessibility

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Many companies say they want to reach customers with disabilities, but they have failed to act accordingly. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) has been the international standard for digital accessibility for decades and is frequently referenced by the Department of Justice and in laws such as the ADA and Section 508. However, most organizations fall short because they have not taken steps to make accessibility a part of the culture of the organization, instead treating it as an “add-on” after digital content and products have been produced. 

Building accessibility into corporate culture

Jonathan Hassell, CEO of Hassell Inclusion, helped to develop ISO 30071-1 in response to the very low adoption rates of WCAG. Of more than 1 million surveyed web pages, less than 50,000 were “adequately accessible” to people with disabilities. As he worked with clients through his digital accessibility consultancy, he noticed that organizations that made digital accessibility part of their culture were more likely to produce digital content that complied with WCAG. 

To make WCAG compliance more achievable and efficient, Hassell helped create the international standard ISO 30071-1, which outlines how a company can create internal changes and best practices to prioritize digital accessibility. These standards encourage full buy-in from the C-suite and all departments so digital accessibility isn’t left up to the discretion of a few individual contributors who know what it is and how to do it; instead, it’s part of everyone’s job.

What is ISO 30071-1?

Like WCAG (ISO 40500:2012), ISO 30071-1 provides standards for digital accessibility. WCAG details how organizations should test for and implement accessibility in products and platforms. ISO 30071-1 goes beyond WCAG’s checklist of accessibility requirements and explains HOW organizations can achieve those requirements. These structural and process-based standards offer systems and best practices that are baked into an organization’s production workflow from the design phase. They ensure that everyone in the organization knows that digital accessibility is a priority and outlines how they can contribute to it. 

After the passage of ISO 30071-1 in 2019, Hassell conducted a survey of how well organizations are adhering to the standard and offered additional insights as to how organizations could more efficiently achieve accessibility compliance. 

Why are organizations failing to prioritize digital accessibility?

Even though WCAG has been around for nearly 25 years, according to the study, “just one in four CEOs and financial directors are aware of and committed to their digital accessibility obligations.” If the highest levels of a company are unaware or uncommitted to creating an accessible digital experience for their consumers, it’s no surprise that 39% of study respondents said no one at their organization is in charge of digital accessibility, and 36% of product managers weren’t “aware of their responsibility for delivering accessibility in digital products.” Nearly half (43%) of organizations said digital accessibility came down to individual contributors knowing how to make content and products accessible and being motivated to do it. Many organizations had no policies or training that would to motivate and enable all employees to make their content and products accessible. Only one in 20 (5%) surveyed said digital accessibility training is provided to their entire organization.

That leaves many organizations vulnerable to expensive digital accessibility lawsuits under the ADA, Section 508, and many other laws. 

How ISO 30071-1 relates to your PDFs

Many organizations produce important customer documents such as invoices, directories, product spec sheets, receipts, statements, reports, and more as PDFs. Failing to make these PDFs accessible can alienate people with disabilities, provide a poor customer experience, or lead to lawsuits. As mentioned in the Hassell report, many organizations don’t realize their PDFs need to be accessible just like their parking spaces, ramps, and their websites to comply with Section 508, Title III of the ADA, and other laws. Further, they don’t know how to make their PDFs accessible, especially in high volumes. Individual contributors struggle to make content accessible without the right support, training, and tools.

How can organizations prioritize PDF accessibility?

Put someone in charge

Upper management and C-Suite leaders need to be on board with digital accessibility but often don’t have the bandwidth, knowledge, or experience to implement such a technical scheme across an organization. Instead, management should designate a person or team to be in charge of ensuring accessibility across the organization. Designating a digital accessibility leader is a visible sign to the rest of the organization that compliance and inclusion are priorities. This accessibility lead serves as a source to answer questions, develop training and best practices, and hold each department accountable for making its content accessible.

Create an accessibility policy and make everyone aware of it

Choose which standards your PDFs will need to meet to be considered “accessible” so content creators can be confident about how their work will be evaluated for success. For most organizations, that will mean conforming to the latest WCAG standards, or Section 508 for those who receive government funding. 

Accessibility for everyone, not “per request”

Accessibility is best and most easily achieved when it’s “baked into” every product or piece of content, not retrofitted after a customer complains. This also improves the customer experience. For example, if a customer needs to access their PDF financial statement or invoice they should not have to contact the company to ask for one after discovering the first one they received was inaccessible. Instead, accessibility should be part of every PDF production workflow, whether for individual documents or mass-produced PDFs. 

Accessibility is everyone’s job

PDF accessibility often impacts many–if not all–departments in an organization because many departments generate PDFs. It may sound easier just to task one person or department with PDF accessibility, but that can create a bottleneck and send the message to most other employees that accessibility is “someone else’s job.” Training every content creator to make their own PDFs accessible demonstrates to the organization that everyone is responsible for accessibility and keeps publication and distribution timelines on track.

Provide the knowledge and training

Many departments and individual contributors might want to make their content accessible but do not know how to accomplish it. A central digital accessibility leader ensures that all content creators are trained on what an accessible document looks like, how to tag each PDF element, and how to check their work to ensure it’s fully accessible before it’s put in front of a client.

Provide the right tools or solutions

A digital accessibility leader would also provide the right tools to empower employees to make content accessible. Choosing the right tool or solution for employees that is easy to both learn and use is essential so employees are willing to use it efficiently and consistently. The tool or solution needs to be fast, easy, and accurate so content production stays on time and employees are confident that they can use it consistently. 

Equidox software uses AI-powered features to help users quickly and easily identify and add tags to each element of the PDF and can be learned in just an hour. Giving all content creators access to an easy-to-use tool like Equidox empowers them to make their content accessible so they don’t have to rely on other people or departments to make their content accessible. This helps each contributor take ownership of their part in the organization-wide accessibility initiative and avoids creating the bottleneck created by requiring all documents to pass through one department for PDF accessibility.

PDF remediation can even be automated and included as part of the PDF generation process for high-volume, templated documents, without rebuilding the template(s). Instead of changing the entire PDF production process, Equidox AI is an automated solution that attaches to the post-production process to add tags to existing PDFs. This AI-based solution is custom-trained to add tags automatically to all documents in the workflow, making even giant batches of PDFs accessible at the click of a button. It allows organizations to easily address PDF accessibility for every customer, making accessibility an achievable goal. 

Accessibility culture results in compliance

PDF accessibility compliance is essential so organizations can avoid lawsuits, reach a larger audience, and optimize their user experience. Building PDF accessibility systems and best practices provide sustainable strategies so all content creators can make their PDFs accessible without being slowed down by uncertainty.


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Nina Overdorff

Nina comes to Equidox with years of sales and marketing experience from a variety of industries and holds a BS in Language Arts Education. Nina has a passion for words, storytelling, and information, which she believes everyone should have access to regardless of ability. After spending time as a teacher with a blind student, she became much more aware of the limitations and abilities of web accessibility, and how essential it is to those experiencing disabilities. “Being able to access information equally ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for education, employment, and success in life.”

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