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While fear of a lawsuit should not be the only motivation for an accessible website, understanding your legal obligation can be important. In 2010, the Department of Justice made the following statement: "There is no doubt that the Internet sites of state and local government entities are covered by Title II of the ADA. Similarly, there is no doubt that the websites of recipients of federal financial assistance are covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The Department of Justice has affirmed the application of these statutes to Internet sites...in numerous agreements with state and local governments and recipients of federal financial assistance."
Once a technical standard has been determined and an accessibility policy created, an implementation plan should be put into place. An implementation plan is usually highly customized to an organization and should address issues such as timelines, budget, training, communication, etc. This document, or series of documents, should be updated regularly.
A web accessibility policy will need to be reviewed and approved by the organization's administrators or executive officers. It will probably be heavily scrutinized and will most likely be difficult to update, so it should be as succinct as possible. It may also be made public, so ensure that the policy is attainable.
Just as Section 508 outlines accessibility requirements of any electronic and information technology procured (or purchased) by the federal government, your organization should require a high level of accessibility in everything your purchase. Accessibility requirements should be outlined in contracts and other communication with all vendors and contractors--it sends a clear message that accessibility is important and may also provide some protection to your organization if a vendor's accessibility claims are not accurate.
If you currently have a contract to use an inaccessible product, let the vendor know that you care about accessibility, and that it will be a deciding factor in selecting a comparable product in the future.
All personnel must be provided with the knowledge, support, and materials they require to carry out their roles in implementing institution-wide web accessibility. Support can be provided in a number of ways, including the following:
- Provide training that is appropriate for their duties (e.g., developers may receive a full day of training, support staff may receive two hours of less technical training).
- Have an individual or team available to answer any questions.
- Make support materials such as handouts or additional training available.
- If necessary, provide staff opportunities for additional professional development (e.g., attend additional training or conferences).
- Implement incentives and give recognition.
A shared commitment to system-wide accessibility is probably the most crucial element to ensure accessibility. Almost every exemplary group has a person who has assumed the role of "accessibility champion." This person encourages others to be passionate about accessibility, but their enthusiasm is seldom enough to carry an entire organization over time. Some of this enthusiasm must be transferred to the highest level of the organization and to the people creating the content. Without administrative support, an organization lacks the necessary focus and funding. On the other hand, imposing a new accessibility policy without support from the ground level is likely to be met with resistance.
Every organization faces time and budget constraints, but implementing web accessibility takes time and effort. This means accessibility will need to be identified in the role description and funding sources of key staff. This may include some web developers and accessibility support personnel, as well as less obvious positions such as those in purchasing, IT, HR, and training.
An organization is more likely to successfully implement accessibility if the following four key factors are in place:
- A shared commitment to accessibility
- A concrete policy and plan
- Sufficient support for personnel
- Ongoing evaluation
While these are not necessarily steps, the principles do build on one another. Creating a policy is difficult without administrative commitment. Training and other support will probably be lacking unless the need is identified and planned for in advance, etc.
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:
- A summary statement – This opening section should include a statement of commitment to accessibility, desired outcomes, etc. This might be the only paragraph that your president or CEO will read.
- Effective date(s) – When will the policy take effect and will it take effect at once or in phases?
- Scope – What site areas will be repaired first? Are there any legacy areas which will be excluded?
- A technical standard – Most standards in the US are based on WCAG 2.0 or Section 508. Some groups may find it beneficial to separate their policy (which should change very little and may include general language like "international standards") from their technical standard (which may change more frequently).
- Procurement – What about the things you purchase? This section is often overlooked.
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:
- Using the pre-formatted slides (e.g., title and subtitle, title with two columns) will almost always provide better accessibility than starting with a blank slide. It will ensure that your files have correctly-structured headings and lists, proper reading order, etc.
- Ensure that font size and contrast are sufficient, especially if your presentation will be viewed on a projector.
- Avoid automatic slide transitions and ensure that animations and transitions are simple.
- Do not save a PowerPoint in HTML, or any other 'web' format. Converting the file to PDF and adding additional accessibility enhancements to the PDF often provides the most accessible presentation format.
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.