Blog - accessibility and assistive technology

5 Ways to Improve Document Accessibility

By Digital Access on 06 October 2016 • Go comment! about '5 Ways to Improve Document Accessibility'

Do you know how to make Word documents accessible to people with disabilities or impairments? If your answer was yes, then you already know:

  • The best fonts to use
  • Optimum colour contrast ratios and how to test colour contrast
  • How to apply true heading styles
  • The best ways to format your document
  • How to apply true list styles
  • How you should wrap text with images
  • How to write and apply image alt-text
  • Why ‘read more’ and ‘click here’ hyperlinks should be avoided
  • How to approach complex images, tables and graphs
  • How to bookmark tables for screen reader users
  • How to apply and label form fields
  • How to bookmark form controls

What about PDFs? If so, you’d be comfortable with:  

  • Which tags to use for different types of content
  • How to check and modify the reading order
  • How to write and apply image alt-text
  • How to identify decorative images
  • How to set the document title
  • How to add bookmarks
  • How to nominate scope for table headers
  • How to apply and label form fields
  • How to specify a logical tabbing order
  • The best way to display form errors
  • How to add form field tags

Do you know how to convert your Word document to PDF in a way that maintains as many accessibility features as possible? Quick tip: Clicking ‘Save as PDF’ isn’t the right answer.

If you don’t know how to do any of these tasks, or why you should, here are five ways you can improve document accessibility:

1. Know your obligations

It’s going to be really beneficial to know what accessibility is, why it’s important and what your obligations are. Our Accessibility Toolkit provides a useful introduction to accessibility and includes a handy guide to publishing documents online.

Trying to encourage your staff to embrace accessibility? There are plenty of links and resources in the Toolkit that will help them understand what it’s all about – a very important first step.

2. Use tools that can help

Our Document Accessibility Toolbar (DAT) is a dedicated accessibility menu for Microsoft Word that makes it quicker and easier to create accessible documents. It has a range of custom-built functions to optimise and validate a Word document for accessibility, such as:

  • A built-in screen reader that enables you to digest the contents of the document in a similar way to someone who is blind or has low vision.
  • A colour contrast tool that helps you find and fix colour combinations with insufficient contrast.
  • A table wizard that automates header column and row markup.

The DAT is available for free download as a single user or for multiple users.

Like most tools, the DAT may not be very helpful if you don’t know how to use it properly. That’s why we created an accompanying eLearning course called DAT 101: Everyday Document Accessibility. DAT 101 will introduce you to the DAT’s key features and teach you how to use them – all from the comfort of your own desk.

DAT 101 is available for purchase from a company called Learning Seat. Contact them directly to find out about licencing options and costs.

When used in combination, the DAT and eLearning course are powerful resources that can help whole organisations improve document accessibility. Ask your IT team to package and distribute the DAT across every staff computer, then support uptake by rolling out the DAT 101 eLearning course.

3. Invest in training

If you need to create and distribute documents as a regular part of your role, you’ll definitely benefit from a higher level of accessibility training.

Our Creating Accessible Documents: Word and PDF workshop is a full day of face-to-face training led by an instructor and based on computers. It provides important contextual information, comprehensively covers accessibility techniques, and teaches you the right skills to optimise conversion from Word to PDF. This course is run regularly in capital cities across Australia or can be delivered in-house for larger groups of about 12 or more.

For those who work primarily with Adobe Acrobat Pro, we also offer a workshop called PDF Accessibility Techniques and Testing. It covers advanced techniques to create an accessible PDF or remediate an existing PDF, but this one’s only available for in-house or exclusive delivery.

Like many investments, training is a great long-term strategy. With the right skills in-house, you can save on outsourcing and improve productivity. Plus there’s the value of knowledge sharing.

4. Know when to outsource

Sometimes you’re going to be better off outsourcing to the professionals. Particularly when it comes to accessibility remediation, which can be far too time intensive (even if you know what you’re doing!).

TaggedPDF is Australia’s first 100% dedicated PDF tagging service. Their team specialises in WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance and they have loads of practical experience remediating PDFs and Word documents for accessibility. They can also help you design and build accessible templates for future use.

For those times when in-house document remediation isn’t a possibility or is way too impractical, this is a very handy service to keep up your sleeve.

5. Get involved

Keep your finger on the pulse by tapping into the wide range of resources available to you.

You could join an online community. The International Association of Accessibility Professionals, or IAAP, has a member-based network called IAAP Connections where you can ask accessibility questions, discuss challenges and share resources. They also produce regular webinars and e-newsletters. Recently acquired by G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies, their presence in the accessibility industry is set to get even stronger.

Or, you could join one of the many events dedicated to accessibility. We’ve got PDF Day Australia coming up in Sydney on November 25, and the OZeWAI conference in Canberra from November 28 to 30.

And, of course, make sure you’re subscribed to our Digital Access e-Newsletter for more helpful articles like this one!


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