Accessible documents and automated tools

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Tuesday, 27 January 2015 10:21am

Media Access Australia spoke to Dr Jason Guo, Systems Architect and Web Developer at XiNG Digital, ahead of his presentation on using an automated content uploader to help create accessible documents at OPC IT’s web xChange event. Jason will be co-presenting with Bobby Graham, Digital Publishing Consultant at Bobby Graham Publishers.

Portrait of Dr Jason Guo

What are some of the major accessibility issues around documents that people need to be aware of?

Jason Guo: The Web Guide of the Australian Government states that "agencies are reminded that it is still a requirement to publish an alternative to all PDF documents (preferably in HTML)". This is due to the reason that some formats simply cannot claim full WCAG compliance. In most cases accessible PDF documents are still very difficult to navigate and are not as optimised for search engines as HTML formats.

How do these issues affect the access of different groups of people?

Despite accessibility treatments that can be made to PDF or Word documents, a 400-page PDF document is still a single, large document that may be very difficult to navigate. Although modern search engines will have no problems finding those large documents that contain information interested by users with various levels of disability, it may be difficult for them to locate the actual part of the document once the documents are opened on their computers.

What has been the traditional approach to resolving these access issues?

Tag PDF and defining reading orders have been widely used by designers to make the PDF documents "accessible". Acrobat Pro is also very difficult to use and subject to crashes when editing large documents.

What is the automated content uploader and how does it work?

The automated content uploader is a piece of technology XiNG Digital has decided to make freely available to benefit the world. Two weeks after it published on the Internet we have received numerous enquiries from Australia, the US and Germany. You can read more about the uploader on Drupal’s blog.

How does the automated content uploader get around access issues?

The HTML uploader makes it easy for content owners to provide HTML alternatives to their PDF documents. As HTML format is the "native language" of the Internet, all documents published in HTML format are favoured by search engines. We have successfully converted and published over 100,000 pages of documents for a client and the result is half a million views of the converted pages a month comparing to less than 10,000 before they took our approach.

Does the automated content uploader guarantee accessibility?

The uploader is by no means a magic wand that adds properties such as alt text to documents. The source HTML document will still need to be carefully prepared to meet the standard to start with. The uploader is more to break down the source HTML and structure it so it becomes more accessible.

What else should people know about accessible documents?

Accessibility as we see it is not only to benefit people with disability. It is more to non-discriminatively help all kinds of people gain easy access to the information they demand.

You can register to attend the web xChange event online and find out more about OPC IT online.

You can also read more on document accessibility at Media Access Australia’s Access iQ site. You can find out why the notion that PDF scans are accessible is a myth, why document accessibility and PDF/UA matters, a PDF accessibility round up, and read up on the Australian Government’s latest guidance on PDFs and accessibility.

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