March 1, 2018

The Document Accessibility Journey

Leslie Wengenroth | Director of Marketing
hands holding ipad with various floating images

With the Section 508 refresh now in effect, most organizations understand that they need to deliver documents in accessible format to their blind, partially sighted and cognitively disabled customers. However, the process of developing and implementing an effective document accessibility strategy can still be daunting.

Before embarking on your accessibility journey, there are several basic considerations:

Your documents
What sort of documents are you currently producing that will need to be converted to accessible formats? It’s likely that your customer communications include static documents, containing the same information for all recipients, as well as transactional documents, such as bills, statements, invoices and explanations of benefits.

Highly structured documents are undoubtedly more challenging when it comes to accessibility. They are produced in high volume, contain unique content for each client, frequently communicate important information with a firm deadline, such as the due date for a payment, and of course contain highly confidential information.

What about documents that are available on your website? Although many companies are now aware of the importance of making their website accessible, if PDFs and other documents that are on the website are not accessible, then the website itself falls short of true accessibility.

You will also want to consider what other systems and solutions are in place, such as composition tools, production workflows, and content management systems. Creating accessible documents should not disrupt or add additional overhead to existing processes, but ideally should be integrated into your environment so that providing accessible documents is a normal part of doing business.

Your customers
What sort of customers do you have, and what formats are they requesting? There are numerous accessible formats, and different individuals will have different preferences. Someone who has partial vision or has lost vision later in life might prefer large print or audio, while someone who learned braille when young will request braille. The use of smart phones and assistive technology has burgeoned in recent years, but the adoption of these tools varies with different age groups.

You will need to deliver documents in multiple formats, but understanding your customers and their preferences will help you to prioritize and ensure a positive experience for all your customers.

Your internal resources
There are solutions for creating accessible formats such as Accessible PDF and Accessible HTML5 in house, and service providers who will create, test and deliver these formats as well as braille, large print, eText, audio, and other formats. Most companies use a blend of internal and external resources, but determining what can be done in-house and what should be outsourced depends on a number of considerations. The solutions and tools you use will also impact your options for resources, since they require varying levels of skill. Taking advantage of automation can also reduce costs and the need for specialized resources.

Not only do you have to assess whether you have people, or could hire and train staff, with the skills to tag documents for accessibility, but you need to factor in the importance of testing. An accessible file is not going to meet your customers’ needs if when using a screen reader the reading order doesn’t make sense. Effective testing requires the right tools, including the use of multiple screen readers, as well as a thorough understanding of accessibility in general, and specific industry standards and guidelines.

Industry standards and regulations

Finally, understanding what the industry standards are for each format, and what current regulations define in terms of adhering to these standards is a critical factor for success. The gold standard for web and document accessibility today is WCAG 2.0, developed and maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). WCAG 2.0 provides comprehensive guidelines, so is the best standard for ensuring compliance and meeting your customers’ needs.

CrawfordTech is widely recognized as document accessibility experts, and has worked with many customers to help them on their accessibility journey. We invite you to join us for a complimentary workshop from 1:00 to 4:30 PM on Monday, April 16 at Xploration 2018, where we will review these topics and provide you with a blueprint for a successful document accessibility journey.