Tips ’n Tricks
Meaningful Accessibility is Law
Five tips to guide you in preparing your content for accessible PDF
Accessible publishing is a term that we are sure you’ve heard more and more these days. Due to recent court cases, it has become law across Canada to provide accessible content online in PDF, HTML or audio/video format. The increased demand to provide accessible information/documentation that achieves the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) or WCAG 2.0 compliance has meant that it has become a big part of our business too, particularly creating accessible PDFs.
Under federal and provincial law, meaningful accessibility is a requirement, not an option.
Technical versus Meaningful Accessibility
For a PDF to ‘pass’ it must meet certain criteria. An accessible PDF could ‘technically pass’ when run through a piece of software such as PAC Checker and Acrobat Full Check. Software such as these will generate a technical checklist report that shows at‐a‐glance whether it has passed technically for reading order, headings, lists, tables, etc. However, to achieve ‘meaningful accessibility’ requires much more effort as a person (not a machine) actually goes through a manual checking process to ensure that document ‘reads meaningfully’.
There are many service providers in our industry that will tell you their PDFs pass accessibility. But many times, when put to a ‘meaningful’ test, they fail. They meet the technical requirements, but fail on the meaningful requirements because they have only been run through software as a test. Achieving technical pass is not enough. Under federal and provincial law, meaningful accessibility is a requirement, not an option.
How to Prepare for Meaningful Accessibility
It takes team effort to create accessible PDFs or HTML. Designers and content creators must work together to produce documents that are meaningful, easy to read and understand for disabled users that rely on assistive technologies (such as screen readers).
This can be a daunting process if you are unsure where to start to prepare. You are not alone in this process, we’re here to help. Here are five tips to in preparing your content for accessible PDF.
1. Content Creation
Write your copy based with accessibility in mind. Be aware of the fact that the text you are writing will be read by an automated reader, primarily for those with sight related disabilities. Your language and writing style should be clear and direct, easy to understand for your audience. It needs to make sense to hear it, not just see it. Avoid using sensory characteristics such as colour, shapes, location on the page and/or orientation a means to convey information. Also avoid using too many abbreviations and create meaningful text descriptions for links such as “This link will take to our Services page”.
2. Heading structure in Word document
When writing your copy, set up a proper heading structure in the Word document so it can be transferred to accessible PDF easily. H1 (Heading 1) can only be used for the main title of the document. Every subsequent title should use Heading 2, Heading 3, and up to Heading 6. Headings cannot jump out of order, for example: Heading 2 cannot jump to Heading 5.
3. Metadata/Document Properties
As the author or content creator, you must provide us with the Metadata/Document Properties to be added to the file information. The following information is needed to pass accessibility:
- Title (the title of the document)
- Author (the organization or the person writing or producing the report)
- Subject (a short description about the report or publication)
- Keywords (some words in the documents that can be used for keywords search in Google – around 10 words would be sufficient)
4. ALT‐TEXT (alternate text description)
The purpose of alt‐text is to provide an alternative, descriptive text that meaningfully describes images (photographs) and figures (graph/diagram/chart). Alt‐text is also used for link descriptions. Alt‐text is read aloud to sight‐impaired users by a screen reader. It is important to provide alt‐text that is meaningful in the context of the document. Alt‐text should describe the image/figure concisely, in a few short sentences. Alt‐text is not needed for every instance such repetitive graphic design elements on the page. These can be skipped over if the images are purely decorative. We mark these as ‘artifact’. Or, in some cases, images are already described in the body copy itself.
5. Table Summary
Tables should be used only for the purpose of setting out statistical data and not for general content. They should have meaningful column headings and whenever possible appear as simple tables with single column/row header structure. A table summary is needed to pass technical accessibility requirements. Write a short, concise sentence(s) such as “The following table shows the enrolment of each course, by month, over the last 3 years”.
The steps above skim the surface of what you need to do to prepare for accessibility. To to learn more about preparing your content: