I enjoy doing puzzles. I have a knack for pattern recognition so they’re a fun way to pass the time. One of the nice things about most puzzles is that the box shows you what you should be making. You have a roadmap. But I’m not going to tell you about a standard puzzle today.
A few years back, a friend mailed me a puzzle with no picture. The box showed a plain white canvas. Each piece was white and there were no edges. It was still technically a puzzle. I had all the pieces and knew that they should go together. But after a few hours (and very little progress) I packed everything back into the box. I had other puzzle options that would be more fun. This one didn’t seem worth my time.
While not a perfect metaphor, this helps illustrate the difference between something that’s accessible and something that is usable. And when it relates to communications you’re sending to customers, you never want them to pack things up and move to the next option.
What makes communications accessible?
Laws like ADA, AODA, IDEA, and more create a legal precedence for accessibility and compliance. They require organizations to make reasonable accommodations for people of all abilities. Ideally, they should remove barriers so any person can live their life to the fullest.
As we’ve continued to learn, interpretations of these laws have expanded. In the digital age, we have to make website content and digital documents accessible.
There are many aspects to making content accessible. Tagging, color contrast, image alt-text, and more are all important elements of accessible content. This is a challenge for businesses that send a high-volume of transactional documents to their customers. Because it’s such a big job, automation is key. Many vendors provide AI assisted remediation to meet technical accessibility specifications.
But there’s more to it than meeting the technical requirements. It’s true that doing the bare minimum can help protect you from costly fines or lawsuits. But it won’t service your customers who need an accommodation / assistive technology. You may, in fact, be sending them a blank puzzle they will struggle to put together.
Customer communications need to be usable.
Because accessibility laws (like most laws) are open to interpretation, you can have a document that complies with all the necessary standards but isn’t actually usable for someone using a screen reader. For example, the standards say digital documents have to be tagged. They don’t say they have to be tagged well. And unfortunately, some tools to automate tagging don’t do it well.
When this happens, screen reader tools won’t be able to properly navigate the content. For example, if the table field association is not tagged properly, the screen reader may read out a number without identifying it as the “Amount Due.” Similar things can happen if you don’t provide descriptive alt-text for images and graphics. Without descriptive alt-text, a pie chart containing valuable information is a “graphical element.” Poorly tagged content will become a puzzle that isn’t worth working out.
The difference between accessible and usable comes down to how you want to treat your customers. Do you want to simply check a box, or do you genuinely care about the user experience?
How can you ensure usability?
You know now that an accessible document isn’t necessarily a usable one. Similarly, not every software or vendor will give you the results you need. Don’t send your customers an impossible puzzle. If you need to automate accessibility remediation at scale, you need to choose the right partner. Find a tool that prioritizes usability along with accessibility and compliance.
If you’d like to learn more (and see a tool like this in action) join us for an upcoming webinar. We’ll show you the difference usability makes.