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Shannon Kelly

  PDF Accessibility


Five Steps to Accessible PDF Documents

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How do banks and financial institutions make their PDF statements accessible to individuals with disabilities, including blind and visually impaired customers? Shannon Kelly, a Document Accessibility SME from Actuate, gives an overview.

In my previous post, I listed four key reasons why organizations should provide accessible electronic documents to their customers. Given the fact that financial institutions have more documents than any other organizations that they must deliver to millions of customers around the world, it would make sense, from business, legal, and customer service points of view to ensure that any documents presented online are accessible and usable to customers with disabilities.

We have all seen bank statements, credit card bills and other financial documents presented to us in PDF format. Unless a customer with a disability requests an alternative format - he or she will receive a standard PDF document. We also know that financial statements have complex structures that include images, graphics, multi-page nested tables, lists, etc., and are not suitable for assistive technology such as screen readers unless they are properly tagged.

So how do banks and financial institutions make their PDF statements accessible to individuals with disabilities, including blind and visually impaired customers? Ultimately, what must be done to ensure that the content of the document is usable, navigable, and accessible?

This process includes five key steps, ensuring that required characteristics that make online PDF statements accessible to screen reader technology are in place:

1. A logical structure and reading order.
This allows screen reader technology to access the information on the page in a logical fashion, equivalent to how a sighted reader views the page. Screen readers inherently read from left to right, top to bottom. This is specifically important given most financial statements contain multiple columns of content. Without identifying the correct reading order the screen reader user would not be able to comprehend the information being announced (see Figure 1 below).

Ensure that your PDF document has a logical structure and reading order

Figure 1: Ensure your PDF document has a logical structure and reading order.

2. Alternate text descriptions for non-text elements.
Graphics, figures, and images are page elements in a PDF that are traditionally presented only visually. For the visually impaired, these elements must include alternate text describing what is visually displayed, which screen readers can interpret.

3. Navigational aids.
Identification of  headings, links lists, etc. allow screen reader users to utilize navigational commands within their assistive technologies  to go straight to a specific destination within the document or a website, rather than having to manually navigate word by word or letter by letter (see Figure 2 below).

Ensure your PDF document features navigational aids

Figure 2: Ensure the PDF document features navigational aids.

4. Security that doesn’t interfere with assistive technology.
The restrictions that are sometimes added to PDF documents – that prevent users from printing, copying, extracting, commenting or editing text – can be a hindrance to screen reader technology and its ability to identify tags and convert on-screen text to speech.

5. Fonts that allow characters to be extracted to text.
Fonts must contain enough information to be extracted as text. If that information isn’t all there, the PDF reader can’t substitute characters correctly, making the output incomplete. That may cause the screen reader to omit words or characters.

Traditionally, financial institutions require individuals to self-identify their disability by requesting an accessible format. Until now, to offer accessible statements, the solution included manually tagging these PDF documents. This manual remediation process is often costly, and always time-consuming, delaying the delivery of the statement to the customer which can hinder their ability to, for example, make timely market decisions. Today, we have a software solution that will automate the process of properly tagging the PDFs – ensuring online documents are readable and usable by users of all abilities. For more on what it takes to make a PDF document accessible, read this recent white paper, PDF Document Accessibility: Regulations, Risks and Solutions for Compliance, authored by The American Foundation for the Blind.


Related Resources

Blog: Four Key Drivers for Organizations to Provide Accessible Electronic Documents | Read Shannon Kelly's Post.

Publication: Towards an Inclusive and Accessible Future for All | Download PDF.

Event: Learning Technologies 2014 Conference | London, January 29-30, 2014 | Event Details.