Last post covered the need for Web accessibility and Miami’s commitment to the adherence of industry standards and guidelines.
Although law is a driving force behind new initiatives regarding access, readers challenged with identified “disabilities” are not the only benefactors. As user expert Jakob Nielsen stated, “It’s an oversimplification to distinguish between users with and without disabilities as if that were a dichotomy. It’s really a continuum of people with more or less severe disabilities.” That, in addition to the fact that the world’s population is getting older and more diverse, should be our motivation for allocating necessary resources toward the effort, not simply compliance with the law.
So, what can we as website owners do to enhance comprehension (i.e., accessibility) of our content? In the months ahead, we hope to provide some clear directives that you can use to verify the accessibility of your web pages. In the meantime, however, PDF accessibility is also a topic that you’ll be hearing more about.
For those of you who are unaware, PDF files are not typically created in Acrobat. They are usually created in another program and then converted to PDF. For example, many documents are created in a word processing application, such as Microsoft Word, and then exported as PDF documents.
Optimally, document accessibility should begin in the native document format. Dozens or probably hundreds of programs can create PDF files, but very few of them produce “tagged” PDF files. Tagging is just one of the many things that must be done in native document applications to support accessibility. Tags express the structure of the document, including the logical text-flow or reading order, and the presence of significant elements such as figures, lists, tables, and so on. Even seemingly small errors in document structure can easily render a file completely incomprehensible by readers with disabilities. In fact, you might consider using your computer with the screen turned off to get some idea of how important logical text-flow is to anyone who needs a screen-reader!
The common use and sheer ubiquity of PDF files can make the road to accessibility seem rather intimidating. To date, most content creators know very little about requirements and even less about methods for following them. As we educate ourselves and work to discover best practices for accessibility, we will pass along information to keep you “in the loop,” and raise awareness of what’s to come.