Image by: oonal, ©2017 Getty Images

Last month, we took a brief look at some of the accessibility laws in the US, Canada, and other jurisdictions that have implications for the customer communications you provide to the public. If your organization isn't currently addressing visual accessibility with your printed transactional documents, as well as those housed online, in archives, and in other ways, it would not be unexpected that a mandate to do so may be forthcoming from your legal and compliance departments.

If you find your organization is subject to visual accessibility requirements, now is the time to have a plan in place for deploying accessible documents. While doing so may be necessary from a compliance standpoint—with more and more of the population experiencing some degree of visual impairment—it is also an important way to improve your customers' experience.

Attributes of an Accessible Document

For many years, the only way to create accessible documents was to convert standard documents, such as a PDF, into an accessible format using a manual process, which was performed by skilled resources familiar with adding “tags” and other accessibility features to a document.

Put in simple terms, tags and similar features identify unique attributes of content, such as text, tables, graphics, lists, charts, etc. Page content navigation information and reading order are identified by these features, enabling assistive technology devices and software to "read" the document and present the content in a logical and easily navigated fashion. Tags also identify the heading and row descriptions so that the content of tables may be properly communicated, again, enabling quick and easy navigation by assistive technology devices. Tagging presents documents, such as a PDF, to the sighted just as a regular PDF would. However, when the same PDF is accessed using an assistive technology device, the tagged content allows a visually impaired user to navigate a document.

While many organizations still may be using this time-consuming and expensive manual process, today, automated document accessibility solutions do exist for static transactional documents, variable content transaction documents, as well as websites.

The Development of Industry Standards

Another important development in the marketplace is standardization, which provides technical accessibility specifications for developers of websites and software, to help ensure that users of accessible devices will be able to read websites and documents. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has established the primary international standard for accessibility on the web called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Blind and partially-sighted users accessing documents via portals and websites need a site that supports the use of their assistive technology devices to navigate to their documents. WCAG 2.0, published in 2008, provides comprehensive guidelines regarding how to make a website accessible, including the documents accessed through it.

Best Practices for an Accessibility Strategy

Adopting the WCAG 2.0 standard as the cornerstone of an overall corporate accessibility strategy will ensure that your customers, who cannot use traditional printed and electronic documents, will be able to consume their transactional documents in an accessible format. Implementing solutions in your enterprise’s document generation and presentment workflows that conform with the WCAG 2.0 standard is a best practice when it comes to ensuring compliance with accessibility legislation and meeting your customers' needs.

Ernie Crawford is the President/CEO and founder of Crawford Technologies. Ernie has more than 30 years of senior marketing and management experience in the high-volume electronic printing market.