You are told your documents need to be accessible. They need to meet Section 508 standards and WCAG guidelines. They need to be accessible to people with disabilities, including screen reader users. But why? There are many reasons, so we’re glad you asked! To help answer your question, consider the following:
Does everyone really win?
We sure hope so! Sadly, this is not the case. When it comes to digital accessibility, not everyone can easily find and read everything they need to. Not everyone can read their email attachments, complete online applications, and find all the information that is available online. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18.7% of non-institutionalized people had a disability in 20101. Also, the World Health Organization2 reports that about 15% of the world’s population has some form of disability. It is important, even vital, that we provide equal access to all our digital content, including our disabled community.
If we provide accessible HTML content on our websites but fail to provide our attachments accessibly, we are only partially meeting the needs of everyone. The only way for your organization to be on the winning team is to ensure your documents are available to everyone. To accomplish this, most government, private, and public organizations will first create a document with a word processing program such as Microsoft Word and then convert their document to a PDF (Portable Document Format).
This process sounds easy, right? Don’t we simply select the “save as PDF” option and voila—accessible document? Unfortunately, more often than not, it’s not that easy. Here’s why:
- Accessibility features need to be added while we are creating our documents.
- There are a few final steps we need to perform in the PDF to completely make our document accessible
- Accessibility checks, including testing with assistive technologies such as screen readers, should be performed to verify accessibility.
Now you are thinking you will just keep your documents in the original format. That sounds great! Or does it? In order for all of your viewers to access your documents in their original format, they must all actually have the software your original document was created in so they can view it. So, you will now need to provide a link for them to purchase the software they need. (If you are providing a time-sensitive document, this is another place you may run into problems.) This is why we typically see documents attached in PDF format. Adobe’s Acrobat Reader3 is free for everyone, so your viewers will not have to purchase additional software to read your documents.
Creating and confirming the accessibility of your documents is a win-win for everyone! Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” What is your habit?
Did you know accessible PDF documents help with SEO (search engine optimization)? It’s important to note that just because a document is accessible, it doesn’t mean it is strategically optimized to be picked up by search engines. Likewise, just because you have the best SEO doesn’t mean your document (or website) is accessible. However, when a document is created according to accessibility guidelines, it uses recognizable text and proper semantics. Both SEO and accessibility depend on the structure to optimize functionality. By ensuring you are offering accessible content, you are increasing your SEO by allowing search engines to actually see your content.
At the end of the day, accessibility is always the right thing to do. Inclusion is more than just encouraging someone to do something. Inclusion means making sure you have adequate policies and procedures in place to allow everyone equal access to everything you offer. This means you need to provide all online content accessibly.
Once you do this, we recommend telling the world. Post an accessibility stamp on your website so everyone knows you are doing your part to include everyone. Hopefully, you will encourage others to do the same.
It’s the Law
As if the above reasons are not enough, there’s also a little thing called the law. Yes, providing equal access is the law. We often refer to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504 if it’s pertaining to education) when talking about legal requirements for accessibility. While Section 508 applies to federal government, there has also been other legislation passed by many states requiring IT accessibility.
The U.S. General Services Administration lists resources and links to laws and policies for individual states. If you are not sure what laws you are required to comply to, we recommend doing a little research of your own or speaking with your attorney to ensure you are complying to the laws set forth in your state.
We Can Help
Now that you understand the importance of accessible documents, don’t delay. Put policies and procedures in place now. Begin remediation of current content and ensuring you are only using accessible content moving forward. Contact us today to get started.