Brief Summary on Creating Accessible Documents for People who are Blind

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Creating Documents with an Eye Toward Accessibility (pun intended)

One of the most important considerations when creating a document that lends itself to alternate formats like Braille, Audio and Large Print is authoring content that doesn’t rely heavily on visual elements like photographs, complex tables and charts, or other components that cannot be adequately described in a textual format.

Image content is fine for a sighted reader but brings no value to the braille reader, or to someone listening to an audio document.  With that in mind, the suggestion is to create your original draft document as usual.  Then, as an exercise, review your document and wherever you find an image or a table, try to replace the visual component with a text description.  When writing text to describe your pictures, use the Twitter rule and try to limit yourself to 140 characters or less when possible.  It’s okay if you go over but you don’t want to have 12 paragraphs of descriptive text for a single image.  If you find yourself unable to adequately describe the visual component, you should consider using a different visual element, or write paragraph text into the original document that provides the same information.

Color Contrast

For logo’s, font colors and other stylistic aspects; make sure the contrast ratio is adequate for someone with low vision.  Too often, well intentioned marketing departments and graphic artists will use a light blue shape with white text overlaid.  They’re trying to achieve an “airy” feel but what they end up doing is creating text that many people cannot read.

  • The standard for contrast ratio is 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text.

There are software tools and Adobe plugins that can help you determine if your document is non compliant.

Color contrast in several different colors.

Fonts

In addition, there are several recommendations related specifically to fonts.  Avoid decorative fonts and serif fonts when possible.  Consider using bold type to highlight important information because the heavier font makes the print more legible; and finally, steer away from italics or all capital letters.  These styles make it difficult to differentiate the letters.

A few decorative font examples.

Tables and Charts

For tables and charts, there are ways to “linearize” the content for a person with visual impairment or blindness.  That’s where Braille Works expertise comes in.  As long as the table or chart has the corresponding data, and is not just an image, we can create the textual content that will organize the information in a way that the reader or listener can consume it.

PDF’s

Lastly; when you create a PDF version of the document, make sure it’s Section 508 compliant so everyone who downloads the document can read it in the correct order, with images properly described.  Having the document remediated assures you that the person using assistive technology will be able to read the document in the correct reading order; that they will be able to properly navigate the document; and that all links, table properties and other components are easy to read and understand.

A man sitting in front of his laptop computer listening to a 508 Compliant accessible PDF document with Screen Reading software.

Creating Accessible Documents will Remain a Priority

We applaud the effort to create documents for everyone!  There are approximately 7.5 million people in the United States with a visual impairment or blindness.  Add to that number the fact that here in the U.S. 10,000 people turn age 65 every day; 7 days a week; 365 days a year.  Even more striking is the fact that virtually everyone over the age of 45 experiences some form of age-related vision loss that makes reading small print and distinguishing colors difficult.  It’s one of the fastest growing market segments and they control a significant number of resources.  By creating alternate format documents like Braille, Audio, Large Print and Accessible PDF (Section 508/WGAC), you’re tapping into a very large and widely overlooked population.

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This post was written by Jeff Frcho

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