Communicating successfully is an essential part of providing service to the public, no matter what industry is involved. Add to that the fact that it is the law – the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requires public entities to take the steps necessary to communicate effectively with people who have disabilities, and the importance of understanding exactly what accessible documents entail is evident.
In its broadest sense, “accessible documents” are often covered under the umbrella of human readers, note-takers and sign language interpreters, and technology including assistive listening systems and devices, open and closed captioning, text telephones (TTYs), videophones, information provided in large print, Braille, audible, or electronic formats, and various other tools for people who have communication disabilities.
For the majority of people browsing through websites, reading attachments to emails, completing applications or requesting online information seems to be a relatively easy task, but the truth is that approximately three out of every 100 individuals struggle with low vision or blindness and find tasks like these daunting.
An accessible document can mean different things to different people. The goal for providers is to find a practical solution that fits the circumstances, taking into consideration the nature, length, and complexity of the communication as well as the user’s normal method(s) of communication. What hardware, software or intermediary is required to communicate effectively depends greatly on the situation. For example, the level and method of providing accessibility when a person is registering for classes at a public university is very different from what is required to communicate effectively in a court proceeding.
In most cases, public entities are required to give primary consideration to the type of auxiliary aid or service requested by the person with the disability. Details about specific requirements for different industries can be found on the Introduction to the ADA webpage.
For the most part, entities in the private and public sectors must honor the requested choice, unless they can demonstrate that another equally effective means of communication is available or that the aid or service requested would fundamentally alter the nature of the program, service, or activity and/or would result in undue financial and administrative burdens.
So, what is an accessible document?
An accessible document is a document created to be as easily readable by a low vision or non-sighted reader as by a sighted reader. It makes sense that making a document accessible is easiest when it is first created, and a few basic principles should be followed to make every document more accessible.
Some of them include:
- Adding Alternative Text to Images, pictures, clip art, charts, tables, shapes, embedded objects, inked entries, signatures, video, or audio
- Use meaningful hyperlinks
- Include closed captions for all audio files
- Utilize Accessibility Check tools in the newer versions of most programs
It might seem like a huge task to make all communications over various media accessible, but not doing so can be very expensive. In 2017, a Federal Court in Florida identified the WCAG guidelines as the “industry standard” for website accessibility and found that Winn Dixie Store, Inc., violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to render its website accessible to the sight impaired.