February 9, 2016

Why Do I Need to Offer Alternate Formats?

What to consider when offering accessible documents.

Having worked in the accessibility space for many years, I get a chance to talk to many corporate organizations that need to provide accessible documents. They typically view accessible documents as being singularly focused on a single format such as braille. Braille is very tangible and identifiable as a tool of communication for those that are blind. However, the reality is that people with disabilities require formats that meet their individual needs. If we look at the landscape for those that are blind, partially sighted or have a cognitive disability, we find that there is no one single format for documents that meets the varied preferences and needs.

Print is universal for those that are sighted in any language. People that are sighted make decisions on how they will consume content – in a book, an audio book, or on a screen.

Unlike print, alternate formats are a representation of print in another communication format. These can include audio, braille, eText, Voiceye barcode, and DAISY. Each format requires either an assistive technology that a person learns to use, or embossed paper for braille where a person has learned to read braille. As a result, each person who has a visual disability may choose a specific format.

Depending on the severity or when a person loses vision, the needs of one user are different from another. A person who is blind from birth may have learned to read braille in school, however someone who has gone blind late in life may not have learned to read braille and may choose audio, eText, DAISY or another format like Voiceye or accessible PDF. A person who has partial vision may choose to read large print or use audio, DAISY or Voiceye. In fact, large print is by far the most demanded format, with 80% of all people with partial vision requesting large print to help them read a document.

Blindness or vision loss is a continuum and the method of consuming print in an alternate format depends on the comfort of the person’s vision, vision loss and the technology available to that person.

As technology evolves, there are more and more choices that allow a person the ability to read content but unfortunately, it is not ubiquitous for all vision impaired users. Braille for example, no longer is only paper based. Braille can be read using refreshable displays – assistive technology devices that have pins that fire out to create braille characters on a keyboard like surface. Smartphones can now read barcodes allowing for audio voiceover, large print and connectivity to a braille display. While technology evolves, the cost of purchasing these technologies increase and for those that may not have the financial means, access to these technologies become limited.

As an organization considering what formats to offer, there is no one choice. Organizations must consider if they only wish to meet compliance or provide accommodation for the best customer experience. Organizations must consider if electronic delivery – eDelivery or ePresentment is critical. Generally, organizations that offer electronic formats will generally be requested by their users to also meet accommodation requests in physical formats – braille, large print, eText or Audio.

What should an organization do when they consider meeting their regulatory requirements?

  • Consider making paper accessible by adding a Voiceye barcodes to your transaction documents that can be read by a smartphone application – this makes paper immediately accessible while offering audio voiceover, large print, large print high contrast and braille by a connected refreshable braille display. This gives the largest range of flexibility for users with tablets or smartphones.
  • eDelivery or ePresentment must be offered if eDelivery is offered for other transaction documents. This can be achieved by providing Accessible PDF in lieu of a PDF.
    • Voiceye can be combined with the accessible PDF such that printed documents either delivered now or in the future remain print accessible and the archived documents are accessible print ready
    • Instead of storing a PDF, deliver or store an accessible PDF, thereby reducing the need to self-disclose a handicap and make an unnecessary request for accommodation
  • Offer accommodation formats – physical for those that request braille, audio on CD, eText on CD or another format.

By following these three bullets, you will meet your compliance requirements and, meet accommodations allowing for the best customer experience.

To learn more about the Voiceye solution, attend our educational webinar February 24, 2016 at 1pm EST.