We all want to make things quick, easy, and as efficient as possible. Thankfully, we have amazing developers around the globe who thrive on making our lives easier. Tools such as Google Docs offer remarkable collaboration options. Chances are, your organization is already using Google Docs or a similar tool for collaboration. We aren’t going to get into the actual accessibility of the specific tools you use; we’ll leave that up to your organization’s accessibility officers. We want to talk about the end product. After all, that’s what you are sharing with the rest of the world, right?
So, what happens when you want to share your finished product in an accessible way? Your goal is to provide a document that looks the same to everyone, regardless of ability. The best way to provide accessible documents that maintain formatting and work on any operating system is a Portable Document Format, commonly known as a PDF. Lucky for you, your tool of choice easily converts your document to a PDF. Simple, right? That all depends on how well you prepare the document and if you create it with accessibility in mind and in compliance with federal accessibility guidelines.
Test the PDF to confirm accessibility
Let’s use a Google Doc as our example. You’ve done everything Google told you to do in order to make a document accessible. You’ve downloaded it as a PDF and want to make sure it’s accessible before posting it. How do you test a PDF for accessibility? You can use one or all of these options:
- Scan the document with CommonLook’s PDF Validator, a free and complete plugin for testing PDF accessibility.
- Run a full accessibility check with Adobe DC.
- Manually test the document using the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for PDFs. Note: Some manual testing is always necessary to ensure accessibility.
The PDF accessibility test failed. Now what?
If you downloaded a Google Doc directly to a PDF and tested it, you are now wondering what happened to all of the accessibility steps you took such as using heading styles, adding alternative text to images, and creating clean, easy-to-read tables. Unfortunately, they are all gone. The tagging structure of an accessible PDF is not created when converting a Google Doc directly to a PDF.
Instead of downloading directly to a PDF, the better option is to first export the Google Doc as an MS Word document. From Word, convert the Word document into a PDF. (If you choose to use MS Word online and do not use tables for layout purposes, you can usually skip this step and convert directly to a PDF.)
Depending on the layout you used in your Google Doc, you may need to make some adjustments in Word before converting to PDF. For example,
- add alternative text to images;
- confirm tables are only used for data and not layout purposes;
- add metadata such as a title; and
- confirm headings are labeled as headings and not just paragraph text styled to look like a heading.
This isn’t a complete list of accessibility checks, but it’s the most common elements that can fail with the quickest fixes. Be sure to run the accessibility checker in Word before converting to a PDF. Passing these checks will make the work you need to do with your PDF a little easier.
Once you’ve taken all the steps you can with your original document to ensure accessibility and have converted it to a PDF, test it again. If you are not familiar with how to use a screen reader for testing, the PDF Accessibility Checker mentioned above has a screen reader preview option. Not only does this option show how the document will be read to someone using a screen reader, it’s also beneficial to help troubleshoot the structure issues you find, especially with tables.
After confirming your document is accessible, you are ready to post it. If we manage your website, simply upload the document through our customer service portal, and we will get it posted accessibly for you right away. If you manage your own website, be sure to create a descriptive link to the document so your document is completely accessible to everyone.
Is there an easier way to ensure accessible documents?
Knowledge is your most powerful tool. The easiest way to create accessible documents is to embrace accessibility and learn the standards. Once you learn the necessary techniques, creating accessible documents becomes second nature. At first, you may feel like you’re learning how to type all over again, but the sooner you learn to think accessibly, the sooner you will be creating accessible documents without second-guessing and wasting time remediating PDFs.
Of course, if you need formal training, we can help! We offer various options for document accessibility training, including low-cost webinars, in-person training for small teams, and ongoing consulting. Request accessibility training information to find the best solution for your team right away.
What if I don’t have time to remediate all of my documents?
If creating accessible documents is not part of your job description or what you signed up for, we are the experts of choice. We have a painless process to give you the accessibility you need and everyone deserves. Our document remediation team works around the clock to provide you with accessible documents. Learn more about our remediation services, and let us help you stay in compliance with federal accessibility guidelines.