There is lots of advice on just what is involved in making electronic documents like Microsoft Word documents and PDF files accessible and that, as it turns out, may be a bit of a problem.
While Accessibility is universally acknowledged to be a good and desirable thing, you would be hard pressed to find someone who will go on record as being against the notion of making electronic content accessible to persons with disabilities, you would also find that most of those same supporters of accessibility typically aren’t making their own electronic documents accessible.
Many people who want to create accessible electronic content have no idea on how to go about doing so, or once they begin to investigate the process, get discouraged when they discover there’s no “make accessible” command available for their favorite word processing and desktop publishing applications.
With all the other demands on an author’s time and the pressure of deadlines, it is easy to be put off by the volume of information one has to wade through in order to understand how to make a document accessible or prepare it for conversion to another accessible format such as PDF or HTML. Why can’t someone provide the short form guide to accessibility for the various formats?
Faced with the need to provide incentives to its own authors to create accessible electronic documents, the United States federal government went to work providing a series of guidelines that quickly get the point when it comes to accessible electronic document production.
The General Services Administration has assembled a compilation of concise federal guidance, checklists, and testing information for creating and maintaining accessible documents in various popular electronic formats, including Word, PDF, Excel, and PowerPoint. These various documents have been produced by a variety of U.S. federal agencies and represent best practices that have been incorporated into the Accessibility Community of Practice established by the Federal CIO Council, an organization comprised of the Chief Information Officers of the various federal agencies and major departments.
In addition to providing sound advice for making electronic documents accessible, the Community of Practice resources are indicators of how to make documents that will achieve Section 508 compliance and will thus be acceptable for use by government agencies.
The information is organized by document format: Microsoft Word, Portable Document Format (PDF), Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft PowerPoint.
Each format is then further organized according to Guidance, Check List, or Testing information.
- Guidance – Provides methods, tips, and techniques on how to author and check an electronic document in the given format to make it Section 508 accessible.
- Checklists – Sets of yes/no or pass/fail checkpoints to help find and fix accessibility issues in electronic documents according to their format.
- Testing – Information on conducting formal tests and remediation on already-authored and formatted electronic documents. The tests are also organized by document format.
Some of the Guidance Documents can be rather lengthy as they go into great detail concerning the process. The Checklists and Tests are brief and concise summations of what the Guidance Documents describe. If there is some question regarding the meaning of a particular checklist item, you can reference the Guidance document for a more thorough explanation. In addition to the written information there are also links to videos and tutorials for many of the formats.
The full URL for the Community of Practice Guidance is http://www.section508.gov/content/build/create-accessible-documents.