February 7, 2018
The global disability population is large and growing. Roughly one out of every five Americans has a disability, with a significant number including those with visual impairments. Yet people with disabilities are often excluded in today’s digital age. How do we close the digital divide and build a connected, inclusive world in which all people be can productive and independent participants?
It starts with equalizing the transfer of information. Most schools and businesses have high volumes of complex digital content that remains inaccessible to those who use assistive technologies and screen readers. In order for students, customers, and employees with visual disabilities and/or limited motor skills to fully benefit from electronic documents, they must be converted into accessible materials that adhere to today’s stringent accessibility standards.
Here’s what to consider when making your documents accessible:
1. Familiarize yourself with policies, standards, and best practices
While policy and technology are always evolving, there are laws and guidelines that lay the framework for accessible ICT in our current digital landscape.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. To adapt to changing trends, revised rules in 2017 refreshed compliance requirements under Section 508, and updated guidelines for telecommunications equipment under Section 255 of the Communications Act. The refresh went into effect on January 18, 2018.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are a series of internationally recognized guidelines for making the internet more accessible for all users. Developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C.), WCAG 2.0 guidelines state that the web accessibility is centered on four standard principles — perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
2. Set order, structure, and language
Screen reading technology doesn’t intuitively follow the intended structure of a document or webpage. That means that materials must be tagged in a way that allows users to navigate content in logical reading order. Establish the correct reading order by tagging heading and paragraph structure, properly formatting lists and columns, and identifying the primary language.
3. Get descriptive with images, infographics, and links
Alternative text is used to describe all visual elements on a page, so that it can be read aloud by screen readers. When tagging images, infographics, and links, adopt detailed language to help users grasp the full meaning and context of the content. Vague descriptions like “click here” aren’t going to cut it. Instead, try something like:
“If you would like more information, please contact The Viscardi Center by sending us an email at [firstname.lastname@example.org] or by calling [516-465-xxxx].”
4. Run an accessibility check
After you’ve made all necessary adaptations, software programs like Adobe Acrobat Pro have built-in features that allow you to check if the document passes or fails an accessibility screening. In some cases, a manual inspection may need to be conducted to ensure that the document has been successfully converted.
5. Know when to consult the experts
Let’s face it — transforming large, complex volumes of documents into verifiably accessible PDF files can be tedious and time-consuming, especially for organizations and businesses that lack the resources or expertise. The Viscardi Center’s Document Remediation Services team is dedicated to accurately converting bulk digital materials into files that meet compliance standards.
The process starts with a thorough assessment of each document, including PDFs, Word, and PowerPoint files. Next, documents are converted over the course of ten to fourteen business days. This involves, but is not limited to, tagging photos with appropriate alternative text labels and organizing content to be compatible with screen reading software. Finally, the accessible files are securely sent back — and you’ve just taken an important step toward improving the digital experience for all.
To learn more about The Viscardi Center’s Document Remediation Services and receive a free quote, contact Jim Corporal at JCorporal@viscardicenter.org or 516.465.1596.
Chief Information Officer, The Viscardi Center
Michael oversees all aspects of technology at The Viscardi Center, where he implements and innovates accessibility for students, staff, and faculty.