Blog - accessibility and assistive technology

Accessible Word documents made easy

By Olivia S. on 08 December 2014 • Go comment! about 'Accessible Word documents made easy'

Word has spread—our Document Accessibility Toolbar (DAT) is stirring a lot of excitement, and it hasn’t even been released yet!

We’ve been inundated with enquiries since we announced we’re developing a new tool to make document accessibility easy. Thanks to the support of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) through its 2014 Grants Scheme, the DAT is well on its way to being released on a global scale.

What is it?

Free to download, the DAT is a dedicated accessibility ribbon tab for Microsoft Word that gives everyone who creates a Word document access to a range of automated tools for easy implementation of accessibility techniques. It will also improve the accessibility of files in the Portable Document Format (PDF) as the accessible Word file will contain the essential components required for easy conversion to accessible PDF or HTML.

Why is it so important?

The DAT will not only make accessible document creation easier, it will ensure equal access to information for people with disability.

Over 4 million Australians have a disability. That's 1 in 5 people. (Australian Network on Disability, Stats and Facts) In fact, about 15% of the world’s population is estimated to live with some form of disability (based on World Health Organisation’s 2010 global population estimates), not to mention the growing number of people with age-related impairment. That’s a huge amount of people who may need to use different tools and approaches to access digital content, such as online documents (the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides further information about how people with disabilities use the Web). Ultimately, the DAT will increase the amount and accessibility of information available to people with disability or impairment. This is particularly significant where government information is concerned as public service messages are usually highly relevant and important to the community.

The ease and efficiency with which accessibility can be implemented using the DAT will also benefit anyone who uses Microsoft Word to create a document. Whilst there are global standards for accessibility of content in HTML and PDF, no such framework exists for documents produced in Word. There are a range of techniques that can be implemented to ensure a document is optimised for accessibility; however, many who create documents don’t have the knowledge, skills or time to implement them. This is of particular concern as the majority of information published online in Australia is originally created using Word before being converted to PDF or HTML. Through the DAT, we hope to influence government and industry to make accessibility part of a standard procedure for document creation.

The DAT also has the potential to strengthen people’s rights to advocate for accessible information. Someone who encounters an inaccessible document online can use the DAT as a validation tool to determine where accessibility techniques have not been implemented effectively. Armed with this information, they are in a better position to report accessibility issues to an organisation and campaign for change.

What does it do?

Each of the DAT’s functions is located within a dedicated accessibility ribbon tab to ensure they are easy for document creators to find and implement. As each specific function has been preselected by our accessibility experts, document creators can rely on the ribbon to guide them towards accessibility instead of having to determine which features are important for accessibility and which aren’t. The DAT will also act as a memory aid because users can quickly determine if they have applied all relevant fixes. In this sense it serves as a checklist for creating accessible content in itself.

Document Accessibility Toolbar (DAT) interface showing various functions within an Accessibility ribbon tab.

The DAT provides users with the ability to perform these standard functions:

  • Apply heading levels                                                                                        
  • Apply list markup (ordered and unordered lists)
  • Insert page breaks
  • Access to table structure options
  • Insert table of contents
  • Insert table of figures
  • Insert hyperlinks
  • Control settings for headers, footers and paragraphs
  • Insert footnotes, endnotes and captions
  • Specify justifications and indentations
  • Specify font options
  • Control borders
  • Insert and format charts
  • Accessible form controls and associated functionality e.g. reset or lock form 
  • Accessibility checker

In addition, the DAT features a number of custom-built functions with accessibility support added as a default, including:

  • Image alt-text function to check and apply alt-text
  • Data table tool to check and apply data table type
  • Colour contrast identifier
  • Word to HTML functionality
  • Screen reader specific to Word
  • Assign a document title

Who’s behind it?

The DAT was pioneered by a team of specialists from Vision Australia’s Digital Access consultancy. A global leader in accessibility training and professional services, Digital Access is highly renowned for its innovation and expertise. Having already contributed to a number of internationally acclaimed accessibility tools, such as the Web Accessibility Toolbar, Colour Contrast Analyser and Accessible YouTube Player, the DAT is yet another resource from Vision Australia set to make a huge impact in both the professional and disability industries.

Neil King, National Manager Digital Access

With more than 15 years’ accessibility and usability experience in Australia and Europe, Neil’s expertise and passion for inclusive design is widely recognised. Under Neil’s leadership Digital Access has become a world-class consultancy at the forefront of the accessibility industry in Australia.

Pierre Frederiksen, Digital Accessibility Specialist

Pierre is renowned as a leading technical accessibility specialist. With years of experience teaching and applying practical accessibility, a background in programming, and extensive knowledge of web technologies, he has developed a number of unique resources to support accessible content creation.

Leona Zumbo, Digital Accessibility Consultant

Having pioneered Vision Australia’s computer-based training in creating accessible Word and PDF documents, Leona’s expertise has since been drawn upon by the Australian Government Information Management Office, Adobe and W3C. Her passion for document accessibility inspired her conceptualisation of the DAT.

Where can I find it?

Recently introduced to Australian Government at an exclusive conference in Canberra, as well as at the ATEND Pathways 12 conference in Western Australia, we were overwhelmed at the positive response it received. We’re also proud to be presenting the DAT at these upcoming conferences:

2014 OZeWAI Conference
Bundoora, Victoria
8–10 December, 2014

30th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN)
San Diego, California USA
2–7 March 2015

The global launch of the DAT will take place early in 2015 (we've just got to do some final testing to make sure it's ready for public consumption). Once the final testing phase is complete, the DAT will be made available as a free download from our website.

We’re so excited to be leading a project that has the potential to make such a positive impact for so many people. Stay tuned—official launch date to be announced soon!

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