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Shannon Kelly

  PDF Accessibility


Reflections on PDF Document Accessibility Events: What Matters for Our Communities Moving Forward

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Concerned by the possibility of litigation and inspired by emerging technology, interest in PDF accessibility has soared as companies look for new ways to make their online customer communications, statements and bills accessible to blind and reading impaired customers,writes Shannon Kelly, a Document Accessibility SME from Actuate.

Shannon Kelly presenting at the seminar in Charlotte, NC
Image: Shannon Kelly presenting at the document accessibility seminar in Charlotte, North Carolina.

This is a particular challenge for businesses using technology to convert enormous storehouses of data into print streams for traditional printed statements and into PDF for e-delivered statements, because moving to HTML often is not an option. To feed the interest in PDF and answer at least some of the questions that are out there, Actuate – a provider of patented high-volume PDF accessibility technology – has launched an ongoing series of events meant to keep the business community informed and to assist companies as they face the challenges of creating accessible and fully usable high-volume customer communications. It continues to be a great experience for me to be a part of these events, and there are many takeaways to share as we receive questions and feedback from business leaders from all over the U.S. and Canada.

So far, the Document Accessibility educational events have included:

A webinar series co-hosted with one of our consulting partners, SSB Bart Group, which has helped more than 1,000 organizations with their accessibility initiatives. This webinar series covers all aspects of document accessibility and ran between September and October 2013.

A Document Accessibility Seminar series, hosted so far in Toronto, Canada, and Charlotte, NC, these seminars are designed to answer some of the questions that exist around accessible PDFs, looking at industry guidelines and legislative requirements and how to best address them. Two more seminar sessions are planned in New York and Washington, D.C. in the coming months this year.

Hosting these events has put me in touch with many people from private and public sectors, at different stages of trying to introduce the concept of inclusionary practices when it comes to implementing accessible public-facing and e-delivered communications and documents within their organizations. Speaking to them has given me further insight into the questions and challenges that exist in this realm and the information people are searching for. To help business leaders meet their information needs, I will continue answering questions and sharing feedback from the field on my blog at

The first group of blog posts responded to the inquiries I encountered during and after the webinar series. I was asked for more detail about low and high-volume documents and the differences between them when it comes to accessibility. That led to the post, Not All Documents Are Created Equal, which outlines the difference between the two, starting from the way they are authored and continuing through to how they are updated and the tools that are needed to make them accessible.

Four Challenges of Making Credit Card Statements Accessible continues along the same theme, looking at the challenges companies face in making their high-volume customer communications accessible. Not all visually impaired customers want to self-identify as ‘disabled,’ and they don’t want to have to wait long periods of time for their statements to be converted into accessible formats either. This has become a focal point of the challenge since most of those who use assistive technology (such as screen readers) rely on this technology and often prefer accessible electronic documents over other traditional formats such as Braille. An additional obstacle is manually tagging documents for accessibility which can be both time and cost-prohibitive, particularly for organizations such as financial institutions which serve millions of customers.

These are just a few of the obstacles and challenges companies are facing today when trying to meet industry regulations, legislation, as well as the demands from their visually disabled customer base.

The feedback received from the seminar series so far has proven to be interesting since seminar participants also felt the need to write a couple of posts in response to some of the inquiries we received. After the Toronto seminar, Doug Koppenhofer, Actuate’s VP Global Sales and a guest on my blog, posted Embracing Accessible PDF Documents: Key Learnings from the Accessibility Seminar in Toronto. At this event, I spoke alongside Lou Fioritto - co-owner and Vice President of BrailleWorks and blind since birth – who demonstrated the difference between correctly and incorrectly tagged PDF files, and showcased some of the problems that have existed with poorly tagged PDFs in the past. Expected changes to legislation related to accessibility were also considered.

Finally, after the seminar in Charlotte, NC, Doug posted 'Full House at Charlotte Document Accessibility Seminar' to discuss some of the findings that came up there, including some of the great questions and interesting points that emerged during the Q&A session. Questions addressed at the seminar covered areas such as editing accessible documents, what happens to accessibility if tagging is altered and how to address dynamic content that changes within a template, like a bank statement.

These aren’t the only events I will be attending – this continues to be an extremely important topic, most familiar to U.S. federal government where legislation such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act has been bringing about accessibility changes for over a decade. However, many large organizations are beginning to take accessible web and web content very seriously, particularly with all the recent lawsuits and settlements, and now with changes to legislation such as the imminent Title III amendment under the ADA, new questions are surfacing on how to utilize technology to meet the demands.

Actuate’s experts are planning more events in the future to educate the business community and help address the challenges they are facing. I’ll post details here when those events are planned, as well as any news on changes to legislation and updates in the field of accessible PDFs.

To find out more about the Document Accessibility Seminar series, view the contributors’ presentations from Toronto here.


Related Resources

Blog: Making Our Encyclopedia Accessible in the Digital Age | Read Robert Pearson's Post.

Publication: Putting e-Accessibility at the Core of Information Systems | Download Free PDF.

Event: CSUN 2014 | San, Diego, California | March 17-22, 2014 | View Event Details.