Making PDF Documents Accessible

graphic of a page with PDF on it red and whiteWhy is a Word document often preferred by some readers over a PDF document? They are more accessible for more people. Not everyone can see well; can use a mouse, can read English well, can remain focused easily when they read, and not everyone uses assistive technology. And not all PDF documents can be read by screen readers. In a slideshare Tammy Stitz explains some of the issues and solutions. She covers some of the technicalities as well as basics such as colour contrast, reading order and Alternative Text (alt-t). Logical structure, use of headings and placement and attributes of hyperlinks. The slideshare goes on to cover a list of things that need to be checked. Finally you can test the document using PDF Accessibility Checker. There is also such a thing as a PDF Association.  

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Web guidelines don’t cover everything

one hand is holding a smart phone and the other is pointing at the screenA nicely written and easy to read article on the Axess Lab website explains that the WCAG – the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were only updated to include vision impairments and assistive technologies. But what about hand control? Motor impairments were not included, but this doesn’t mean they should be overlooked. Uusing a smart phone can be very frustrating when bumping to a page that’s not wanted and having to get back again – frustrating for anyone, but more so when it happens all the time. Axess Lab have provided some simple design solutions. See the article for more and for more about WCAG. Axess Lab lives the message and has a really clean site with easy language – a good example for others. Lots of resources here.  

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How to write meaningful alt-text

A laptop computer on a desk showing several pictures.When meeting a deadline to get something published on the web or social media it’s easy to leave out the description of the image in the alt-text box – but should you?. Alt-text is a description of an image that’s shown to people who for some reason can’t see the image. Among others, alt-texts help:

  • people with little or no vision
  • people who turn off images to save data
  • search engines

People with little or no vision are probably the ones that benefit most from alt-texts. They use a screen reader to navigate the web. A screen reader transforms visual information to speech or Braille. If you don’t include alt-text you run the risk of a screen reader trying to convey something like: “publicity_pre_launch_43.0001.jpg” or “cropped_img32_900px.png”. While Facebook has a built in feature to describe images automatically, the descriptions are too general. “Cat indoors” doesn’t say what the cat is doing. It’s all about context and meaning. Find out more from Axess Lab on how to convey context and meaning without writing an essay! Once you get into the habit, it doesn’t take long to do.

Some really useful tips here from Axess Lab – good information for everyone, nicely laid out and easy to read. As is often the case, attention to detail makes for greater accessibility and inclusion for everyone.

Editor’s Note: the alt-text for the picture on this page is, “A laptop computer on a desk showing several pictures.” And I’ve learned that a full stop at the end is important for screen readers. 

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Google spells out accessible, inclusive, usable

A woman stands on a stage with a woman sitting behind her. She is making a presentation to an audienceIt would be good if all designers took their lead from the likes of Apple and Google: inclusion, accessibility and usabilty are about the design process. Apart from clearly explaining how these terms are linked and can be used together, Google’s half hour video also has some tips and tools for designers. It shows how three different users have the same need: a man with a mobility disability (permanent), a boy with a broken arm (temporary) and a woman with an armful of shopping (situational). Individual situations might be different but they all have the same need for accessibility. And people have the same goals they want to achieve regardless of their situation. While this instructional presentation is aimed at an audience interested in designing apps, particularly the second half of the video, the messages in the first half can be applied to other design disciplines. 

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Seeing with saying: wearable AI

close up of the device sitting on the right arm of the wearer's glasses.Orcam MyEye is a wearable for people with low vision. It tracks your finger, reads what the finger points at and announces it. The device is worn on the arm of a standard pair of glasses. This is also a great device for people who have difficulty reading. Another design idea for one group that also suits another. The captioned video clearly shows how it works.

From the CoDesign website: “There is a clever, intuitive interface based on a gesture everyone understands: pointing. All users have to do is point at whatever they want the device to read; the camera identifies their hand, then takes a picture of the text and reads it. It’s so precise that you can point to a specific line on a page and it will start reading from that point. “We believe that pointing at something is the most natural thing a human does,” says Aviram, who serves as the company’s CEO. 

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J-U-S-T UD IT

A young man enters the therapy room. He is using Canadian crutches. He is shaking hands with the therapistJUST UD IT, is an acronym to help people remember the principles of universal design. In a short fact sheet published by Special Olympics Health, the principles of universal design are described generally, but also for people with intellectual disability. It points out that poorly presented information or communication can become a barrier to accessing health promotion programs or services. It also points out that universal design and accessibility are not synonymous and explains why. The acronym is as follows:

J: Jazz it Up – Ensure that your communication and presentations are engaging and interesting. No one likes to be bored!
U: Use Multiple Methods – Different methods help maximize your reach to the audience and allow more people to understand and participate. Written text, audio, pictures, video, touch, interactive activities are all great options to share your message.
S: Simplify – Removing jargon, using concise and simple wording, and using large easyto-read font that is spaced out allows more people to understand your message.
T: Test it out – Ask for feedback. Don’t assume that your method is reaching everyone, instead ask your audience how your presentation or product was received and then adapt accordingly. 

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Pinterest now more accessible

A picture of a mobile phone with a red screen showing a white Pinterest logoPinterest Lead Designer, Long Cheng, was dismayed to find that people with low vision could not get past the sign up screen. So they couldn’t create an account to access content. While iOS and Android each have an accessibility feature – Voice Over and Talk Back, which read aloud the buttons and options, Pinterest had failed to design their app with this type of feature. Similarly to Facebook and Twitter and other apps, Pinterest has a contingent of blind and low vision users. They bookmark stories and other items in the same way as others. You can read Long Cheng’s article written from a designer’s perspective and how Pinterest went about making the app more accessible and inclusive. Good to see companies confronting their shortcomings and not just changing their designs, but their culture to be more inclusive. This item was found on CoDesign website.  

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Technology, Design and Dementia

Most people with dementia live at home and can often benefit from a range of technologies – but what are the best and when should they be used? In a PhD study, Tizneem Jiancaro of the University of Toronto has sought some answers. The thesis looks at three perspectives, developers, people with dementia, and the caregivers and significant others. Design factors were considered alongside emotional factors as well as usability. Not unexpectedly, “…empathy emerged as an important design approach, both as a way to address diversity and to access users’ emotional lives”. The title of the thesis is Exploring Technology, Design and Dementia. It can be downloaded from the University of Toronto.

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Access inspector app

Screenshot of what the app looks like on a mobile. the colours are white and deep blue.Here is another app aimed at accessibility of the built environment. Access Inspector is from Japan and works with both iOS and Android devices. It is basically a checklist tool for assessing more than 40 common architectural features: accessible routes, doors, corridors, ramps, toilets, elevators, signage, etc. The developers claim it is based on international best practice and the principles of universal design. The details are on the official Access Inspector website.  It is available in English.  

Meanwhile Apple is proposing 13 new emojis to represent people with disability. People with guide dogs and hearing aids, and wheelchairs. Apple says its proposed additions are “not meant to be a comprehensive list of all possible depictions of disabilities – it is intended to be a starting point”.

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Artificial Intelligence: a re-think on inclusion

front cover with black upper case title, amplify accessibility with a purple V shape on its side and a young woman in sports gear runningAs technology and artificial intelligence (AI) evolves, businesses will have to consider the ramifications. Technology will determine the inclusiveness of our emerging digital society. These developments have the potential to bring many more people with disability into the workforce – provided accessibility and inclusive practice are considered today. Accenture.com has posted a report, Amplify You, on the state of play for digital inclusion. In the introduction they claim:

“As technology evolves and new platforms emerge, the way businesses design and develop new technology will determine the inclusiveness of our digital society. New technologies have the potential to bring an estimated 350 million people with disabilities into the workforce over the next 10 years—provided we design with accessibility in mind today.” 

The 24 page PDF report covers understanding the digital divide, design for humans, AI is the new UI, and more. I the last section, What to Do Now, it has bullet points under headings of: Understand the implications of accessibility, Design accessibility into your business, Build an ecosystem of accessibility – and continuously think about what is next.  

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