To comply with accessibility law and be inclusive you must provide an equal experience for all users, regardless of disability. To accomplish this goal, you must develop all your digital content with accessibility in mind. The media platforms encompass websites, videos, e-learning, documents, and an ever-growing list of other mediums. The wide use of PDF documents on websites and in email means PDF document accessibility plays a vital role in an organization’s digital accessibility footprint.
When you are looking for a service to help with document audit and remediation you will find services that provide automated testing and remediation for documents. Automated testing and remediation is attractive from a cost and speed perspective. Unfortunately, automated document remediation, often, does not result in a document compliant with accessibility standards and does not provide an equal experience for people with disabilities.
Microassist’s document remediation team’s view is that automated tools are useful tools. The reports that they produce are evaluated by our experts and any true errors are fixed. Our accessibility team then audits the documents for accessibility errors–things that no automated checker can pick up, but which really matter. Our verification and remediation services provide an accurate, comprehensive, and cost-effective way to achieve accessibility with Section 508, WCAG 2.0, PDF/UA 1.0, and HHS compliance for PDF documents and forms.
When organizations rely wholly on an automated approach to remediating PDF files of their shareholder reports, research papers, and other critical documents, some key areas for accessibility compliance get missed. The following is a list of ten of the most common.
Number One: Color Contrast
Automated testing for color contrast is highly beneficial. However, it cannot catch everything. For example, some colors, like those on graphics, cannot be automatically checked by automated tools. Remediating color contrast issues definitely requires human intervention.
Related WCAG Criteria: WCAG 1.4.3 Contrast Minimum
Number Two: Alternative Text Context
Alternative (alt) text to describe images for people with visual disabilities. Automated scans do not account for the accuracy of alt text. The automated tools often only check if there is content in the alternative text field, they do not check the substance of the content. A human check ensures that the content in the alternative text field matches the intent of the image.
Related WCAG Criteria: WCAG 1.1.1 Non-text Content
Number Three: Hiding Decorative Images
Images like borders, paths, or unnecessary images should be marked as an artifact (not to be read by a screen reader) as to not cause distraction. Again, automated tools check whether something is tagged or not, but not necessarily if they SHOULD be tagged or if they are tagged in the correct way.
Number Four: Hyperlink Context
Automated tools can check if the hyperlink is set up correctly programmatically, but not that the text of the hyperlink shows the purpose of the link.
Related WCAG Criteria WCAG 2.4.4 Link Purpose (In Context)
Number Five: Use of Color
A human tester needs to determine if color is not used as the only visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element. Stating “Select the red button to close” would not be flagged by an automated tool.
Related WCAG Criteria WCAG 1.4.1 Use of Color
Number Six: Reading Order
While technology is very smart, it cannot replace human judgment for proper reading order. The intended order of the content can vary widely depending on the purpose of the document and its complexity. A shareholder report with tables, for example, may read completely differently or fail to align with the accompanying narrative text when relying on recommendations from an automated tool.
Related WCAG Criteria WCAG 1.3.2 Meaningful Sequence
Number Seven: Heading Levels
Setting the correct heading levels that describe the topic or purpose correctly is essential for understanding. Also, ensuring the levels are correct helps with navigation and identification of the content of the document. While automated tools can check for Heading levels, the tools cannot check that the order is logical and in the correct order.
Number Eight: Tooltips for Form Fields
If you use fillable PDF forms, the boxes or spaces where users can enter their text responses are referred to as PDF or Text Form Fields. Form fields must have the tooltip property added to allow a user with a screen reader to know the purpose of the form field. Tooltips work like the instructions for the form field, explaining its purpose. While an automated tool can check whether the fields have content, they cannot check the context to ensure that the tooltip or “instructions” give the proper information.
Number Nine: Tab Order
Keyboard users often rely on using the tab key to navigate a website or digital document. The tab order a document is set to focus when using the tab key is generally set to follow the document structure. While automated tools can check for the property to be set, the tools cannot check that the order is logical and in the correct order.
Number Ten: Document Structure
The structure of the document must be built correctly. If there is a list, it needs to be identified or tagged as such. A table must be built as a table for the content to be consumed correctly. A document could be tagged as only paragraphs and tools may not catch they are tagged correctly.
Related WCAG Criteria WCAG 1.3.1 Info and Relationships
Making your PDF documents and digital content accessible to assistive technologies like screen readers can be a critical step for your organization’s efforts in communicating to your clients and stakeholders. By removing any barriers for users with disabilities, an improved experience for all your users can be achieved. To learn more about the benefits of creating accessible PDF documents and how to get started be sure to check out my past article, Don’t Forget The Documents: Minimizing ADA Accessibility Liability In Online PDFs.
What will you learn next?
Learn how to make PDFs accessible to people with disabilities related to vision, hearing, mobility and cognition. This course will teach you how to make a PDF document WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant.