You may know that documents can be a barrier to accessing content for some users. In this demonstration you will learn more about what those barriers actually mean for users with assistive technology like a screen reader.
Common barriers with documents
There are three main barriers to accessing PDF documents on the web: the PDF reader, the PDF document, and the document’s tag structure.
1. PDF Reader
A PDF document requires a PDF reader. For some people, the web browser has a built-in reader that allows easy access to PDF documents. For others, a mobile app can serve as a PDF reader.
However, not all browser based PDF readers or apps are accessible, making even accessible documents difficult to access. This may require additional time or software for readers to download and access the PDF in an accessible reader.
2. PDF Document
After downloading and opening the document, if the underlying tagged structure that communicates with the assistive technology isn’t there, the document could appear to be blank or empty with nothing read aloud.
Missing tags can also make reading the document more difficult on small screens like mobile phones since the document may not reflow the text correctly.
3. PDF Tag Structure
If the underlying tag structure is present but it is not structured in an organized and logical way, the information could be impossible to understand.
Example of an inaccessible document
Listen to the inaccessible document read out loud by the built-in Adobe Acrobat screen reader in this video.
Example of an accessible document
Listen to the accessible document read out loud by the built-in Adobe Acrobat screen reader in this video.
Three tips to make your next document more accessible
1. Design with Styles
Using styles, like those available in Microsoft Word or Google Docs, is an important first step to making more accessible documents. These styles provide the tag structure assistive technology users need to navigate and understand your content.
For Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Slides presentations, using the pre-formatted templates is a great way to make the content more accessible for users. These templates provide a tag structure that is more consistent when viewed in a document format.
If saving content from Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, inserting a table and using the table styles can help provide structure to your content in a way that is more accessible for assistive technology users.
2. Use an Accessibility Checker
Most Microsoft Office products like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint contain a built in accessibility checker. This checker provides information on how to resolve common accessibility issues that may be in your content.
While Google doesn’t provide a built-in accessibility checker for Docs, Sheets, and Slides, the Grackle add-on is available for all Boise State employees. This checker is simple, easy to use, and effective at identifying common accessibility issues. It even has options to resolve errors in one or two simple steps.
3. Listen to your Document
One final thing you can do to check if your document is accessible is to listen to it using a reader. While this won’t exactly replicate the assistive technology experience, it will help you spot some potential issues in how the content is organized.
Microsoft Office has several options available with their built-in reader in Microsoft Word.
Adobe Acrobat also has a built-in reader you can activate to listen to all or part of your documents.
Bonus Tip! Create a web alternative
A great way to make the information in your document even more accessible is to add the content directly to your webpage.
This way, you have an accessible webpage and an optional downloadable resource. This provides users greater flexibility no matter how they access the content.
Check out this example for our sample flyer using the Text + Image panel.