In my role as Accessibility Services Manager at Media Access Australia I am often tasked with turning inaccessible into accessible. The formats I work with are varied, from the Microsoft Office suite of programs to Adobe’s InDesign and Acrobat Professional. On top of this, every document is unique in its layout and presentation. What’s invariable though are the types of problems I encounter along the way. As an insight into document remediation, I’ve summed up my experiences in five points.
1. Start accessibility at the source
The best process for creating accessible content is to add accessibility components and tagging at the source document. For the most part, retrofitting accessibility can be fiddly and more time consuming than working with a document that was created with accessibility in mind.
You may have noticed that I said “for the most part” in the last sentence. I recently had the experience where the PDF I created ended up being more accessible than the client’s Word source file. So there are instances sometimes when there’s an exception to the rule!
Make your source document as accessible as possible.
2. Accessible content doesn’t mean boring content
There can be a fear that an accessible document is a boring document. This is not the case. It may take some practice but if you know the capabilities of your software (and importantly, how those capabilities tie in with accessibility), programs these days such as Word, InDesign and Adobe Acrobat Professional are flexible enough to allow for visually engaging content that’s accessible to everyone.
Don’t be afraid of highly visually engaging content. Just make sure you know how to fit accessibility to it.
3. Accessible documents engage more users
Creating an accessible document goes beyond simply adding heading styles and alt text to images. By adding information to a document’s properties such as keywords in the metadata section, you improve its search engine optimisation and therefore improve its chances of being read by more people.
Keywords increase search engine optimisation.
4. Understand the end user experience
I’m a true believer that all content creators need to understand the variety of end user experiences in order to understand why accessibility is important. Having knowledge of how screen reader software operates and how our content creation ‘talks’ to the software in order to be announced correctly is one example. Another example is of how screen magnification works with table structure and how our use of abbreviations can affect a screen magnification user’s ability to see content.
Outside of assistive technology, we need to consider whether our links are descriptive enough to avoid extra keystrokes for people with mobility issues, and whether our content structure is clear enough and presented in an easy to follow manner for people with cognitive limitations.
Put yourself in your audiences’ shoes.
5. Acknowledge the challenges
Lastly, acknowledge that accessibility can increase the time required to create content but realise that as your knowledge of accessible content increases, your time spent in its creation will lessen.
Keep in mind, by adding accessibility to your document you are reaching a far wider audience than a non-accessible document.
Accessibility really means mainstream, not specialised.