Document remediation and accessible documentation is not well understood, but it is an important part of the digital world, accessibility, and inclusion. Having accessible documents is an essential part of creating accessible web content and helps you to reach 100 percent of your readers.
Accessible documents are documents everyone can read. This includes people with full and partial vision, as well as those with no vision. It is important to create documents in an accessible format to ensure everyone, regardless of their abilities, can access, engage, and understand the content.
Document remediation refers to the process of making documents accessible. This involves modifying and restructuring documents to ensure they meet accessibility standards. This may include tagging document properties, creating alternative text, creating meaningful hyperlinks and creating accessible data representation. Creating accessible documents is much easier and faster than making documents accessible after they have been made.
To make a document accessible, different elements need to be tagged to enable assistive technology to read through seamlessly. In Word documents, images, headings, links, lists, tables and the read order need to be tagged. PowerPoint documents are similar, yet have some different elements including heading structure, slide transitions, animations, grouping images and other presentation functions.
Below are some simple tricks you can implement to make your digital documents more accessible for everyone, particularly people with disability:
Heading levels are values assigned to text in a document, being Title, Subtitle, Normal Text. This is an important part of accessible documents because it provides users and assistive technology with information about what they are reading and allows users to skim bodies of text for context. Making text bold does not tag and embed it as a heading within a document.
Headings are much more than big and bold letters are the top of a document. They communicate to a reader the structure of a document. A sighter reader might glance over the document and skim for bolded sub-headings, keeping an eye out for significant words. For someone who uses assistive technology, however, the content needs to be broken up by different heading levels. The heading levels should align with the visual presentation of the page. For example, this document would be formatted as heading 1 for the main heading, heading 2 for sub-headings and heading 3 for the paragraphs.
Alternative text tells readers who use assistive technology what they are looking at. Alternative text is brief and describes the functionality and/or the aesthetics of an image. An image’s alternative text may be informed by the context of the image. As an example, an image of a city may say, ‘busy city’, but it may also say, ‘busy city with lots of people crossing at zebra crossing’, if the picture is illustrating the need for pedestrian crossings in cities.
Alternative text (alt text) is a written description of a visual element in a document. It is read aloud to users by screen reading software, enabling people who are blind or have low vision to access the image. It is also displayed in place of an image if the file hasn’t loaded, or if users choose not to view images. It’s important for accessibility because often visual components in a document contain critical information. Including alt text means everyone, particularly people who use assistive technology can fully access the document and have a positive user experience. Alt text should be short yet convey the meaning and context of the visual item.
Meaningful Hyperlinks contain descriptions which clearly outline their function. Hyperlinks which say ‘Click’ or ‘More’ aren’t descriptive of their function. For example, if a hyperlink leads to a website about weather forecasts in Sydney, it should say Weather forecasts in Sydney, and not click here for more. Descriptive hyperlinks improve the user experience of someone navigating through a document using assistive technology. For document authors, this is particularly important as users are more likely to stop and click on links if they receive information about where the link will take them.
Tables and Blank Cells:
Blank Cells are not accessible through assistive technology such as screen readers. Functions like cell padding, cell spacing, or paragraph and line spacing can be read out by a screen reader instead. Tables in accessible documents should have defined header and row columns and provide a summary so users navigating a document with a screen reader can accurately assess, if and how, the information on the table is relevant to the text.
Tables are incredibly useful for organising and communicating pieces of data. They’re also easy for screen readers to navigate through, if they’re formatted correctly. It’s important to include a header row to give the content context and help screen readers navigate through. They should be kept simple (avoid splitting or merging cells) as it makes it difficult to read the information. Blank cells or columns should also be avoided as they mislead a screen reader user into thinking there is nothing more in the table.
Accessible Document Service:
Centre for Inclusive Design offers an accessible document service to ensure all documents, be those Word, PowerPoint, or Excel, are compliant with WCAG 2.1 standards. The team has over 15 years of industry experience in document accessibility. CfID has reviewed and remediated many documents for a range of organisations across digital transformation, the corporate sector, education and government.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.