With so much of the country working from home, accessible documents are more important than ever. Whether you’re a salesperson sharing brochures or one-pagers, an accountant or broker sending out reports, a retail store providing product information, or just passing documents between remote co-workers, your documents need to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for accessibility.
Use content tools that create accessible documents
When you are creating documents that will be viewed or shared online, you need to ensure the tools you are using produce accessible documents. Some content creation tools contain better accessibility tools than others. MSWord, Excel, and PowerPoint have fairly good accessibility features. Next would be Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. InDesign and Adobe can also create accessible content. Beware of content tools that include email or mail merge functionality – they may not create accessible emails. You should download a free screenreader (like NVDA) and test any content you are creating to ensure that accessibility features are available and functional.
PDFs have limitations
Portable Document Format (PDF) files are one of the most popular due to their flexibility. They work on nearly any platform or device, and by design, they maintain formatting visually and have security features to prevent editing. In many ways, they are the ideal online document format.
However, even when you create a PDF from an accessible authoring tool by “saving to PDF” or “printing to PDF,” you can lose the accessibility features that you input. PDFs created using PDF authoring tools need elements tagged so that they can be read by assistive technology. If these elements are not tagged, the PDF must be remediated to be accessible.
Ensure all elements are accessible
Headings should be outline in format, nested levels. There should be no more than a single “heading one” per document.
Tag all images with alternative text (alt-text) that describes any images included in the document. Without alt text, all assistive technology users will hear from their screenreader is “image.” This doesn’t tell them what the image is or convey any of the information the image is meant to add to the document.
Alt-text is even more important for infographics such as charts, graphs, organizational charts and other complex diagrams meant to convey information. It’s best to include the data table from which the charts and graphs are derived. Then the alt text for the image can refer assistive technology users to the data table so they can obtain the details of complex charts and graphs. Other infographics must be described in detail so that the same information is conveyed to assistive technology users that everyone else obtains by seeing the image.
Tables must be properly tagged, marking heading rows and columns. Include a summary that describes the make-up of the table (example: “6 rows, and 4 columns, the first row contains merged cells”) so that assistive technology users can understand how the data is related. Without proper tagging, the table contents will just read as an unrelated series of numbers. With tagging, the user will hear what row and column they are currently in and what the cell data is.
The same is required for lists – without proper tagging, the list will be read as if it is an unrelated string of terms. Proper tagging will result in the assistive technology user being given the information that what follows is a list, and what number of the total list they are currently reading (“Item 3 of 10, ‘Add eggs and stir to combine’”).
Links must refer to the page they are addressing. That means it’s better to add a link with explanatory text than to have a string of the URL address. All people prefer to know where their link is taking them, so be sure to format links properly. Example: “What is PDF Remediation” is better than “https://equidox.co/blog/what-is-pdf-remediation/.”
Accessibility means reaching everyone
As the world moves more and more to remote work, digital commerce, and business-to-business sales, the need for accessibility is growing. Using digital documents is a fantastic way to keep your organization up and running. But in order to reach everyone, to reach every possible client, co-worker, or business partner, accessibility is a must.
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General Accessibility Resources
Tammy Albee | Director of Marketing | Equidox Tammy joined Equidox after four years of experience working at the National Federation of the Blind. She firmly maintains that accessibility is about reaching everyone, regardless of ability, and boosting your market share in the process. "Nobody should be barred from accessing information. It's what drives our modern society."