7.1. Option of Multiple Preferred Formats
Even the same person may require or prefer a variety of means of filling in a form or completing a survey. For example, the same person might prefer to read the form or survey in one format, but give the requested information in another.
7.2. Durable Formats
Where online forms or surveys are used, there should be an option of the retention by the form-filler of the complete form/survey in a durable format. For example, this could be done by the automatic generation of a Word document, sent by email, to the applicant or respondent.
7.3. MS Word Format
Where a form or survey is in Word format, it is generally not a good idea to just imagine it as if it were a traditional paper form. For example, the following is advised to make forms and surveys in Word more accessible to screenreader users.
- Question-numbers should be typed, rather than be generated using autonumbering
- Text should not be in text-boxes or tables
- Tick-boxes should not be used
- Guideing lines, e.g., “……..” or “_” etc., should not be used.
- Where it is planned that the form or survey is to be printed out by an office, having been completed by the applicant/respondent, it should be remembered that the completed form may not be so conducive to easy reading, since the pagination will have been altered from the original uncompleted form.
As mentioned in Section 4 above, Braille forms and surveys cannot be filled in in braille, but may be requested so that the reader can better access the questions. Some may even prefer to give requested information in a separate braille document.
7.5. Adobe PDF format
PDF file format of a form, which is currently the usual format for downloadable forms, is by default inaccessible to blind people wishing to be independent, apart from the remarkably intrepid, knowledgable, and patient, who can attempt to transfer them into Word.
It is arguable that where a sighted person has filled out a form for a visually impaired person and the latter is expected to sign that form, that such a signature is meaningless, since the visually impaired person cannot be sure what they are signing. So expecting a visually impaired person to deal with such a form, or coercing them to do so, as sometimes happens, is not acceptable.
Where a visually impaired person is agreeable to “signing” a paper form, all the information, as written by the assistant, needs to be read back to the visually impaired person before they can sign. Even then, the status of the agreement approximates to that of a verbal contract.
Many visually impaired people can use email, and one alternative to the penned signature is the use of email by either the office requesting verification, or by the respondent in the first place just sending a Word document, for example, in by email, or answering a form or survey’s questions in the body text of an email.
A combination of modes can be used also, so that, for example, an official can fill in a form for a visually impaired person over the phone, and the completed form can then be sent by email to the respondent, asking if they agree that it was completed correctly. An affirmative response suffices as a signature. Where a form is filled in over the phone, it is recommended, as above, that the information just received be read back to the applicant before they can be sent the completed form for their verification in a durable medium (e.g., as a Word document by email).
7.7. Reasonable Accommodation
Where information has been lacking in accessibility, late submission of documents, such as forms, public consultations, compositions in education etc., should never be penalised.
7.8. Online Surveys
Online surveys, as opposed to surveys by Word and email etc., have advantages for both the organiser and the respondent. The organiser can share links more easily, including via social media, and the respondent does not have to faff about with downloading a file to work on. Generally, respondents do not look for durable copies of surveys they fill in. As such, our advice is that an online survey be the default, but that an option be advertised along with all general advertising of a survey, in which forms can be filled in over the phone or by Word .doc/.docx on request.
Where a third-party service, such as surveymonkey, is used, it should not be presumed that the survey is accessible by default. Such surveys still need to be properly put together to be accessible.
The following are measures of accessibility in surveys:
- Questions should be easily navigable using tab and shift-tab.
- Tick-boxes for multiple choice answers should be easily ticked by using the spacebar.
- The screenreader user does not need to hear repetition the same question as they progress through the multiple choice options of that one question.
- It should be possible to activate and remove focus on a field via the keyboard.
- Resources allowing, consideration should be given to facilitating the completion of a survey by visually impaired people over the phone, and this alternative advertised along with the survey’s general advertising.