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Weekly web accessibility tips are brought to you by Oklahoma ABLE Tech, WebAIM, and ATAP. For more information about Oklahoma’s electronic and information technology accessibility law and standards, please visit www.accessibility.ok.gov or call Oklahoma ABLE Tech at (888) 885-5588.
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Components of a Successful Policy
Evaluate Your Accessibility Policy and Implementation
Acrobat "Touch Up Reading Order" Tool
PowerPoint Accessibility Principles
Adding Alternative Text in Microsoft Office
Check Accessibility in MS Office and Acrobat
Create Accessible PDF Files
Using Headings in Microsoft Word
Screen Reader and Browser Combinations
Getting Started with Screen Readers
Transparent Backgrounds and High Contrast
Be Careful with Fieldset
Acronyms and Abbreviations
A commitment to accessibility is seldom successful if it is not written down, usually in an accessibility policy. While the contents of an accessibility policy can vary, most successful policies contain the following elements:
Evaluation should not be limited to web content. The quality of the web accessibility policy and implementation should also be evaluated on a regular basis. For example, an evaluation of your implementation process may help you uncover that your budget is insufficient, or that training of new staff needs to be improved. This evaluation should be used to help you improve or update your accessibility goals, objectives, milestones or other activities.
The two most important issues in in PDF accessibility are correct tag structure (PDF "tags" contain the accessibility information for screen readers) and correct reading order. The best way to evaluate and repair these two issues is with the Touch Up Reading Order tool in Acrobat Professional. To use the Touch Up Reading Order tool, select Tools from the right-hand menu, then select Accessibility > Touch Up Reading Order. If the Accessibility menu is not visible (it is hidden in version XI by default), make sure it is checked in the option menu in the upper-right corner of the Tools sidebar.
This tool can be used to change or update common tags such as headings, figures (or images), and tables. It will also display the current reading order of a page. If the order is not correct, select the Show Order Pane button to fix these issues.
When creating PowerPoint presentations, keep the following principles in mind:
Adding alternative text to an image in Microsoft Office is a pretty straightforward process once the correct method is identified. Unfortunately, the correct method is not always clear. For example, in Office 2010 for Windows, select the image and then right click on the image and choose the Format Picture option. With the Format Picture menu open, select the option for Alt Text in the sidebar. Two fields will appear, one labeled Title and one labeled Description. Although it would appear that the Title field would be the best place to put alternative text, it is not. Information in the Title field will not be saved as alt text when the file is saved as HTML or PDF. Put alternative text in the second box labeled Description. In Office 2011 for Mac, the process is similar, but you will need to remove the image filename (e.g., "logo.gif") from the Description field before adding alternative text.
While no automated accessibility tester can guarantee accessibility, they are useful in assuring that nothing has been overlooked. Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows includes a very capable accessibility checker, as does Acrobat X and XI. To check accessibility in MS Word or PowerPoint, select File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility and an accessibility checker will open in a sidebar. This checker notifies the user of potential issues such as missing alternative text or unclear link text.
Acrobat Professional X includes two different Accessibility Checks. The first, the Quick Check, is not very helpful and should not be used. The accessibility "Full Check" (available in both Acrobat X and XI) is a much better option. This can be a good tool to ensure that nothing was overlooked (e.g., document language and alternative text). To run the full check, select Tools in the right-hand column > Advanced > Accessibility > Full Check. The Accessibility check in version XI is a bit more complete than version X and provides better documentation.
While there are many ways to create a PDF file, not all of these methods will result in a file that contains correct accessibility information. "Printing" to PDF will create a completely inaccessible file--basically a big scanned image--and is never recommended. In Office 2010 for Windows, selecting Save > Save as type: > PDF will preserve accessibility information such as headings and alternative text. If Adobe Acrobat is installed, you can also select Create PDF from the Acrobat ribbon to create an accessible PDF (assuming the original file is accessible). It is still a good idea to check the final PDF file in Acrobat Professional (if available). Unfortunately, saving a PDF file in Office for Mac does not result in a tagged PDF file.
A good heading structure is probably the most important accessibility consideration in the majority of Microsoft Word documents. Headings allow screen reader users to navigate through the page easily and make the page more usable for everyone. Many people do not use true styles in Word. For example, when creating a heading, they simply change the font, enlarge the font size, make it bold, etc. If this is done, the document has no real structure that can be discerned by a screen reader. In Word, the correct way to provide structure is to use Word "Styles" panel. You can also add 1st, 2nd, or 3rd level headings using Ctrl + Alt + 1, 2, or 3 (Cmd + Option on a Mac).
Most popular screen readers perform best with a specific browser. For example, JAWS for Windows typically performs best with newer versions of Internet Explorer. NVDA, a free screen reader for Windows, works better with Firefox. VoiceOver, the free screen reader built into the Mac operating system, will only work with Safari. When evaluating web content for accessibility, ensuring that you are using the correct browser/screen reader combination will produce the best results.
Mastering a screen reader is difficult, but getting started with a screen reader is simple. All you really need to know is how to start and stop reading content on the page. In both JAWS and NVDA, pressing the down arrow key will read the current line, and pressing Insert + down arrow will cause the screen reader to keep reading. In VoiceOver for Mac, pressing control + option + arrow key will read the current line, and control + option + A will cause it to keep reading. In all three screen readers, pressing the control (Ctrl) key will cause it to stop reading.
GIF and PNG images used on the web often have a transparent background. This is useful when the web page background has a pattern or gradient, but if a user with low vision changes or inverts the background color, these images can become unreadable. For example, a logo that contains black text and a transparent background may be highly visible on a light background, but it is hidden completely if the user changes the page so that it displays white text on a black background. You can test for this issue by enabling the high contrast settings in your operating system and evaluating your own web site. If some of your images become difficult to read, change the image design so that it is readable regardless of the background color.
While the <fieldset> element is often used to organize groups of checkboxes or radio buttons, they do have their limitations and accessibility issues. Keep the following issues in mind when using fieldsets:
Fieldsets should generally be limited to describing groups of checkboxes and radio buttons. If these constraints make the use of fieldset inappropriate, consider the use of ARIA labeling techniques, such as aria-labelledby or aria-describedby.
Acronyms and abbreviations should generally be expanded in text the first time they are presented - for example, "WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)." Commonly known acronyms or abbreviations (such as US for United States) may not need to be expanded at all. Similarly, acronyms or abbreviations for which an explanation is unlikely to help clarify may not necessitate an expansion (for example, knowing that HTML is HyperText Markup Language may cause more confusion than assistance).
HTML provides the <acronym> and <abbr> elements (in HTML5, only <abbr> is allowed). The title attribute value should present the expanded content (e.g., <acronym title="Web Content Accessibility Guidelines">WCAG</acronym>. Screen reader support for these elements varies, with most screen readers not reading the expansion with the default settings enabled. If one wishes to use one of these elements, it should typically only be used on one (typically the first) instance per page rather than on all instances (if a screen reader is set to read the expanded text, it would then do so on all instances which would be burdensome).