Accessible Documents

WHY Accessible Documents are Needed

All public facing documents that can be accessed on the internet should be accessible to all people. For all government agencies and companies that serve government agencies, supplying accessible documents is the law. People who have visual, cognitive, hearing or motor impairments have a difficult time accessing documents on the internet due to them being inaccessible. This means that people with certain disabilities can’t help themselves on the internet, preventing them from doing important things such as:

  • Reading educational and training materials
  • Accessing important documentation
  • Submitting online employment applications
  • Purchasing products and services

Image showing a word-cloud filled with accessibility-related words and a red keyboard key with the word "accessibility" on it.

WHO Needs Accessible Documents?

As of 2014, an estimated 285 million people worldwide are visually impaired. 246 million of those have low vision and 39 million are blind (Source: World Health Organization). As of 2013, over a billion people have some form of disability (Source: World Health Organization).

The following describes what types of disabilities negatively affect the ability to read documents that are not formatted correctly:
Image showing four circular "disability-related" icons.

Low Vision

The inability to read text that is in certain colors and fonts. To make documents accessible to people with low vision, use a 4.5:1 color-contrast ratio to ensure the documents can be read using a screen magnifier.

Blindness

The inability to read online documents that are not formatted to meet accessibility compliance standards. To create accessible documents for people who are blind, ensure every online document file is formatted correctly so they can be accessed using screen readers. Screen reading software is a form of assistive technology blind individuals use to identify and interpret what’s displayed on their computer monitor. Examples include JAWS by Freedom Scientific, Window-Eyes by GW Micro and VoiceOver by Apple.

Other Visual Impairments

The inability to read certain font types or text that is displayed on backgrounds with heavy graphics. The accessibility solution for this is to only use font styles that are noted within the federal guidelines and never use backgrounds overloaded with graphics. Links to the specific guidelines are listed below.

Hearing Impairments

The inability to hear multimedia elements and videos embedded in PDF files. If transcripts and captions aren’t added, people who are deaf and/or deaf-blind will be excluded from accessing the information. Including synchronized captions and transcripts will ensure accessibility for the hearing impaired.

Cognitive Impairments

The inability to comprehend complex or hard-to-understand language within documents. To compose accessible documents for people with cognitive impairments, use simple language that is clear and well written. The easier it is to understand the better. Some individuals who have cognitive impairments prefer to have content read to them using the same screen readers many blind people use. That being said, documents should also be formatted so they are accessible to screen reading software as well.

Motor Disabilities

The inability to access electronic documents using keyboards or other assistive technologies. Many people who have a motor disability can’t use a mouse to scroll or click on website navigation links, leaving them unable to operate dynamic elements effectively. Examples of motor disabilities include:

  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Arthritis
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Spina Bifida
  • Loss or Damage of Limbs

The solution here is to make sure all online documents are formatted correctly for accessibility so people with motor disabilities can easily access them by using keyboards, light signaler alerts, touch screens and other assistive technology products.

WHAT are the Guidelines for Accessible Documents?

The following guidelines were implemented so all public facing documents and web content are accessible to everyone:

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (amended in 1998 and codified in 29 U.S.C. 794d) is a federal law requiring all electronic and information technology (EIT) used by the government be accessible to people with disabilities. Technology that’s inaccessible hinders a person’s ability to locate and make use of information quickly and conveniently. Section 508 was put into place to break down the barriers in existing information technology, encourage the development of new technologies, and open the door to new opportunities for people with disabilities.

Specific Section 508 requirements are maintained by the Access Board in the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards section (36 CFR 1194).

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 was created by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and covers a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible. Version 2.1 was released in 2018.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) establishes policies and responsibilities for implementing Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. These internal standards were originally implemented in 2011 and apply to web pages, applications and all attached files.

Portable Document Format Universal Accessibility (PDF/UA)

ISO 14289 is the new standard for universally accessible PDF documents and forms. Compliance provides a top-quality reading and navigating experience for people using all types of confirming assistive technologies.

WHEN are Accessible Documents Needed?

The simple answer is yesterday, today, tomorrow, and into the future. People with disabilities should always have equal access to information.

Image of a blind man sitting in front of his computer with headphones on listening to accessible documents.

WHERE to Get Accessible Documents for Your Business

If your company or organization needs to bring its’ online documents up to the latest compliance standards, you’re in the right place. Learn more about our 508-compliant document remediation services today and start providing your blind and visually impaired customers with the accessible documents they deserve.

To get started, complete the form and upload your document(s)

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