3. Electronic Documents

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3.1. HTML5

HTML5 is generally accessible where the website accessibility standard of WCAG 2.1 AA or higher has been met, and as such, is a good default format for documents, resources allowing.

3.2. Images and Graphics

Use of images or graphics for decorative effect may interfere with the accessibility of documents to screenreader users. Also, all documents etc. should have their contents logically arranged in their displays so that information is not disorganised or disordered when being read or being navigated using screenreading technology.

Where images are used, necessary information should not be confined to an image, but should be contained in the text itself, with the image merely used as an illustration to the sighted reader. In other words, images should be supportive of the text rather than vise versa.

Nonetheless, the descriptions of images themselves need to put the screenreader user at as little disadvantage as possible in terms of the information being provided in that image. Where maps are used, details such as dimensions, distances, and directions should be provided in the image description, as relevant, but with the information being provided as clearly and in as much detail as possible in the text itself.

Alt text has a limit of sixty characters, and as such is often insufficient in terms of giving enough detail in the description. In HTML 5, where descriptions exceed 60 characters, all images, including graphs, charts, pictures, logos, etc., should have an option of an inpage link for a detailed description of each image, including all relevant details.

3.3. Accessible Word Versions

3.3.1. an accessible MS Word version at all times

File formats with the extensions .doc and .docx are the basic staple of word processing in Windows, and can be easily accessed on other systems also, including Apple and Android.
Every Windows Operating System contains WordPad, which can read and edit the .doc/.docx format, and free programmes such as OpenOffice.org also facilitate reading and editing in this format.

Where a document is begun/created in .doc/.docx, for example, in Microsoft Word on a Windows operating system, it is generally, by default, accessible to screenreading technology. Such accessibility can be improved on within Word (see below), but because of the general default accessibility of Word, where a statutory body is attaching or otherwise offering downloadable documents, there must always be an easily available Word .doc/.docx version of the document which is accessible to screenreading technology. This is in addition to any other formats which may be the default, such as .pdf or .ppt.

Although documents begun in Word tend to be, by default, screenreader accessible, pasting other formats into .doc/.docx may not work for screenreading technology, and if it is from an untagged .pdf or .jpg or .png, it is guaranteed to be 100% unreadable by screenreading technology.

Advantages of an accessible MS Word version

  • Word is more likely to be more accessible by default (without being dependent on proper tagging as with .pdf files, for example). By accessibility here, we mean that content and functionality must be readily available and usable by visually impaired readers (including screenreader-users).
  • Unlike our non-screenreading comparitors, who can use their eyes to browse different reading programmes, screen-reader-users need to learn new keyboard commands for navigation for each different platform they use, and if this can be avoided, it reduces the number of barriers to be overcome. Some of us have more skills, resources, and supports, to be able to overcome such barriers than others.
    For legacy and personal editing reasons, screenreader-users are already likely to have, and be familiar with, the commands of Word (or compatible programmes such as OpenOffice). Platforms such as Adobe Acrobat use other specific keyboard commands::
  • Screenreader users are more likely to be familiar with a wide range of editing possibilities when working with Word formats, so that they can customize a document to make it even more accessible according to their own personal preferences.
    Also, for everyday editing, a screenreader-user is likely already to have editing software that works with Word (e.g., MS Word or OpenOffice, and so, does not need to depend on another programme, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is also likely to cost more money if editing facilities are required.
  • Word and compatible programmes have better keyboard navigation options to those accessing .pdf files: e.g., bringing the focus to the beginning or end of a line, and to read or skip from paragraph to paragraph.
  • Unlike .pdf files, Microsoft Word has the advantage of being transformable into braille by Duxbury braille transcription software, which is currently the most used such software by braille transcription service providers in Ireland.
  • Forms and surveys in accessible Word .doc/.docx are fillable by many screenreader-users, which is not the case for them in .pdf or traditional paper form.

3.3.2. No Images

Unless the Word .doc/.docx files are very small, all images need to be removed, since not only are they inaccessible to screenreading technology, but they disproportionately inflate the size of a Word document, making such a document slow to download or impossible to navigate (using a screenreader) as a result.

As with 2.1.2 above, the same standards apply in terms of all useful and relevant information being contained in the text, as well as Useful descriptions of original images being provided in the appropriate places.

3.3.3. Formatting Within the Document

The Word document formatting should be kept as simple as possible, including:

i). Align Left:

Except for languages such as Arabic which are written right-to-left, documents should have a default left indent with no use of ‘justify’.

ii). Headings and Paragraphs

Use of heading styles is advised for optimal screenreader accessibility by screenreader users. Where an individual prefers different paragraph heading styles or the option of paragraph marker “No Spacing”, this should be respected as reasonable accommodation.

However, in all cases, not only should the original paragraphing be retained so that a screenreader-user can navigate by paragraph (using the keyboard), but where paragraphs are indented in the original document, for the possible facilitation of those with limited sight in navigating a document, including those who use screenreaders, such indentation should be maintained in the accessible word version.

iii). Text Should Not Be Presented in Tables:

Tables should only be used for the presentation of numeric data, not for the presentation of text.

iv). No Text Boxes:

Similarly, use of textboxes can cause unnecessary problems for screenreader users. This also means that framing an entire document in a box is problematic, since it can affect the focus of the screenreader. This is because text-boxes create a text area in a text area, and unless the text box is logically arranged by setting properties, a screenreader will either not get to read the text, or the text will not appear in a logical order to the screenreader.

Similarly, the default setting of “portrait” in Microsoft Word should be used, instead of saving the document to “Landscape”.

Along the same lines, document creators and editors should be careful not to preserve or produce text in ‘book’ view, e.g., where a line from page 2 on the left is horizontally aligned with a line on page 3, on the right). Editors should be careful when copying over such text, since Optical Character Recognition can alternate between the lines of each page, presenting them one under the other in the one column, meaning that the text is a mishmash of both pages.

v). Turn Off automatic Listing Functions

Automatic list functions such as autonumbering or autobulleting can cause navigation difficulties for screenreader users, and so, should be disabled when creating an accessible document in Word. Use of the asterisk (manually typed), followed by a tab-key indent, can produce a similar effect to bulleting, and typing of numbers instead of auto-numbering, which is also fully accessible to screenreading technology.

vi). High Contrast or Invert Colours Compatible

All text in a document should be compatible with the High Contrast or invert colours functions on Windows, Android and IOS operating systems, respectively.

vii). Font Size

Normal font size of 16 pt is recommended to facilitate easier reading. We recommend this as the standard in original documents to make them more accessible by default to partially sighted readers. If the original uses larger font sizes for titles and headings, then this should also be replicated in the accessible Word document to facilitate those with partial sight.

3.3.4. Pagination

Screenreaders will not automatically read the automatically generated page-numbers (as footers), and can often only read page numbers if they are manually typed at the top of each page. Of course, even if the screenreader could read the footer automatically, the page-number is, by default, in the wrong place for anyone having to listen to the text. We need to know the relevant page-number before, and not after, we read the respective page.

So, where the original document contains page-numbering (such as in documents with more than 5,000 words), this exact numbering needs to be reflected in the accessible Word version, with the page-number being physically written into the document before the corresponding text on that page – e.g., [page 9] or [p.9]. The square brackets mean that the page-number is easily searchable without being caught up in page-referencing of cited works. It is very important that the page numbering corresponds to the original pagination, so that text can be referencable – i.e., regardless of what the page-view in Word is displaying.

In short, the non-alignment of the automatically generated footer page-numbers in the Word version should not be of concern, not least because it is not automatically found by screenreading technology. What matters is that the text itself is preceded by its corresponding page-number from the original text, typed, not automatically generated.

3.3.5. No Gaps

Especially where there are no substantial images in the original document, there may be a useful alignment of the pagination of the original print/.pdf and the accessible Word version. However, where images have been removed (while keeping the image description, of course), large gaps of space may appear if an effort is made to make the page-views of the accessible Word version look identical to the original. This means that the screenreader-user might find themselves reading through the space, not knowing where it is going to end. Such gaps should be removed in the accessible Word version. In other words, once the page number is written before the corresponding text, it does not matter in the accessible Word version whether the page-view itself aligns with the original.

3.3.6. Full Editing Permissions

All accessible Word versions should be fully unlocked – i.e., including the removal of all protected editing permissions. This is so that visually impaired readers can customise the document to make it more accessible according to their own personal preferences.

3.3.7. Further Assistance

For a practical and detailed description of how to make accessible Word documents, a useful resource is provided by the University of Sussex

However, where there are apparent inconsistencies between the University of Sussex document and this VVI document, we, of course, recommend that this VVI document be prioritised – (VVI being the representative voice).

If this document has been followed, we are happy to answer any questions or give further advice, as well as test the accessibility of electronic documents produced on that basis. We welcome all feedback at info@vvi.ie

3.4. PDF format

If the default document is .pdf, this .pdf file also needs to be as screenreader friendly as possible. This is, of course, in addition to the necessary provision of the accessible Word .doc/.docx version described above.

To be accessible to screenreading technology, .pdf files must be fully tagged and properly structured.

In .pdf files, it should be remembered that the limit of 60 characters in Alt text boxes may not be sufficient to give a useful description of an image.

3.5. Email

As with Word .doc/.docx, in the bodytext of emails, tabulated text, textboxes or information (including links) embedded in graphics, should not be used. This is the case even where the email supplies a link to an onsite version of the same text.

Also, as with all other formats, graphics should be adequately explained in text. In terms of logos, etc., we recommend your communications team asking whether the graphics necessarily add anything useful to your organisation or body’s email communications.

If hyperlinks are used in emails, they should be followed by the target address. This has several benefits, including:

a). the recipient can know, before clicking, whether the website is secure or not.

b). the recipient can archive the contents in another format and fully access it later.

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