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Meeting Recap: Designing Accessible Documents for Everyone
Published
2010, Q1 (March 29, 2011)
by Christina Eftekhar
Meeting Recap
  • What: Designing Accessible Documents for Everyone
  • When: February 18, 2010

Christina Eftekhar
Christina Eftekhar


Accessibility is a vast and important topic in technical communication and content creation. All authors have the responsibility to ensure their documents and web content are as accessible as possible for a range of disabilities.

Carolyn Kelley Klinger presented many practical and interesting tips for using Acrobat, FrameMaker, and Word source documents more accessible. She also showed how to use Acrobat to test and fix accessibility problems in PDFs.

Visit the meeting's information page for a summary of her helpful tips and tricks, her presentation slides, and a recording of the presentation.

Start at the Source

It is always best to prepare for accessibility within the source files. As with all documents, test for accessibility before delivering the files by:
  • Using built-in accessibility tools.
  • Testing with the WAVE toolbar for Firefox.
  • Checking the reading order in Acrobat (Save as Accessible Text in Acrobat). See Carolyn’s handout for more information about reading order.
  • Converting your PDF to accessible HTML using a tool such as the Accessibility Wizard at Virtual508.com.

Alternate Text

Alternate text is read by screen readers to describe the image. Screen readers usually say “Image” before the alternate text. Consider explaining (briefly) why the image is important. For organization charts or Visio diagrams, write something similar to “This organization chart shows the President at the top, and then…”

If images are close together, group them and give them one alternate text. Ensure that the text among all images is consistent within the document.

Accessible Tables

  • It is better to insert a table instead of drawing it manually because the tags behind an inserted table is more structurally sound.
  • Avoid using merged cells. Tables can be re-specified in Acrobat, so you can specify row heading, column heading, and data cells. Rows should not break across a page (but tables can).
  • Describe and label tables with a caption if it will be helpful to someone using a screen reader.

Other Tips

  • If there is an accessible HTML version of your content, there is no need to make the PDF accessible.
  • Use common fonts (Calibri, Verdana, Times New Roman, Arial, Tahoma, and Helvetica) because you’re less likely to have a problem. Acrobat cannot read some fonts and will drop letters or insert spaces between letters.
  • Do not convey information through color only (usually just for web sites).
  • Do not manually create page numbers and tables of contents. Use the authoring tool’s built-in functions instead.
  • Do not use hard returns to cause text to start on a new page. Use page breaks on other pagination features instead.
  • PowerPoint is very hard to make accessible. Use Virtual508.com and make an HTML version.

About the Presenter

Carolyn Kelley Klinger is an independent consultant working primarily for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) as a technical writer. New to accessibility, she has led her technical writing team at the NCI in the development of accessible documentation in the past year. Carolyn is a member of the Washington, DC chapter.

Christina is new to accessibility but finds it a great skill set for any technical writer. She can be reached at c dot s dot eftekhar at gmail dot com. End of article.



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