Appendix 1: Making information accessible
This appendix is for staff in public bodies who procure information. It discusses the list of necessary steps to make your information accessible to everybody:
- Structure your information properly
- Check your information's accessibility
- Publish your information in formats that your audience can use.
1. Structure your information properly
Information will be accessible to everybody if the people who create it structure it properly. Otherwise, that information will not be accessible.
When a document is structured properly, computers and assistive technology can make it available to people with disabilities. People who write documents in word processing software such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs, OpenOffice.org Writer, or Author-it, must use that software to structure their document. To do that, they must use software to specify headings, tables, lists, and other sections of the document. For example, here is the correct way to specify headings in a document when using Microsoft Word:
- Select the main heading's text with your mouse or keyboard
- Select "Heading 1" in the "Styles and Formatting" or "Styles" (depending on the version of Word)
- Select the first sub-heading's text with your mouse or keyboard
- Select "Heading 2" in the "Styles and Formatting" or "Styles"
- Continue doing that until all the headings and sub-headings have been specified.
Structuring a document in this way will allow software to understand the meaning of each part of the document. For example, if you specify headings properly in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Word can insert a table of contents automatically, because the software understands which pieces of text are headings. Similarly, assistive technology will understand how to present your information to people with different disabilities. If you create "fake" headings by just making normal text bigger, create "fake" tables by using tabs and spaces to give the visual impression of a tabular structure, and create "fake" lists by using dashes and new lines, assistive technology will not understand how to present your information to people with different disabilities.
A document's author should structure the document, as described above. The author will understand the document better than other staff members, and will be able to structure the document most accurately.
You could ask an accessibility expert to create accessible templates for the word processing software that you use. This can save you a lot of time, because the template can:
- Ensure authors enter the information in a structured accessible manner
- Ensure authors add the information that is necessary for accessibility, such as descriptions for images
Such templates can be designed so that the information can be easily converted to accessible formats.
If you ask an accessibility expert to create templates for you, you should also ask for a guide for authors and a format conversion guide. The guide for authors should describe how to use the template efficiently and avoid mistakes. The format conversion guide should tell you how to go about converting your document into accessible formats such as accessible HTML, accessible PDF, Braille, or ePub (Electronic Publishing).
If you need a Plain English version of a document as set out in section 28.(3) of the Disability Act, you should ask the document's author to create that too. For some documents, such as legal statements or environmental reports, the author may be the best person to produce the plain English version. This should be mentioned in your tender.
If you want somebody to write a document in Plain English, you can suggest guidelines such as the "Plain English guidelines" from NALA (the National Adult Literacy Agency).
Video and audio information
Video and audio information can be made accessible. Here are some examples of video and audio information on public websites:
- News "podcasts" (downloadable audio broadcasts, usually in MP3 format)
- Videos of council meetings
- Video tutorials for council planning departments
- Videos to promote tourism.
When tendering for audio or video services, include a description of how the information should be made accessible.
Recorded audio can be a help to people with vision impairments, people with dyslexia, and people with poor reading skills. However, the information in recorded audio is inaccessible to people with hearing impairments. Here is how to make sure that recorded audio information is accessible:
- Provide text descriptions of audio-only information, in the same order as the audio-only information, to allow your users to get the same results as someone who can hear the audio. A transcript of a performance is better than an original script, because the performance might have extra information that was not in the original script
- Ideally, provide a video of sign language interpretation for recorded audio information.
Live audio has the same advantages and disadvantages as recorded audio. Here is how to make live audio information accessible to everybody:
- Provide captions or the script when you are broadcasting live, audio information that follows a script
- Provide a live text caption service from a trained human operator with a special keyboard when you are broadcasting live, audio information that does not follow a script.
Recorded video with audio
Recorded video with audio is a great way to make information available. However, there are 2 main accessibility issues:
- Some users might miss information in the audio, such as a description or an explanation delivered by a narrator
- Some users might miss information that is only available on the screen, such as the location of the speaker, or captions that give the name and job title of the person who is speaking.
Here is how to make your recorded video with audio accessible to everybody:
- Either provide a narration within the soundtrack to describe important visual details that cannot be understood from the main soundtrack alone, or provide the same information in text descriptions of that video information, in the same order as the video information, to allow your users to get the same results as someone who can view the video information
- Provide captions for pre-recorded audio information in videos. These can be provided as optional for those who find captions and subtitles confusing
- Provide narration with the soundtrack to describe important visual details that cannot be understood from the main soundtrack alone (if the pauses in the foreground audio are too short to allow you to provide the narration, you could provide a version of the video that has additional pauses with the narration)
- Provide text descriptions of the video information, in the same order as the video information, to allow your users to get the same results as someone who can view the video-only information.
You will usually be able to come up with a free or low-cost way of making the information in recorded video with audio accessible, without having to rely on technology. For example, you may be recording a video of a councillor discussing a new housing scheme, and you may use a caption to show the councillor's name. That would be a problem, because the councillor's name would not be available to people with vision impairments. It would be expensive to use video-editing technology to add extra pauses and narration to the video to add the councillor's name to the soundtrack after the recording. To avoid having to do that, you could ask the councillor to say their name while you are recording. It is important to plan for this in the script or in preparations and to highlight such no-cost accessibility requirements while writing your tender.
Recorded video without audio
For recorded video without audio, make sure that the information that is available visually is also available as text or as audio. Here is how to do it:
- If your website has recorded video-only information, either provide an audio track that gives the same information, or provide text descriptions of that information, in the same order as the video-only information, to allow your users to get the same results as someone who can view the video-only information.
2. Check your information's accessibility
When you check the accessibility of information, you are also checking the quality of information. Check the spelling, grammar, and readability of every document before you publish it.
Someone trained in accessibility auditing will be able to give you an accurate, detailed explanation of how accessible your information is and what you can do to improve it. In some cases, you might need an accessibility expert; for example, you might need an accessibility expert to check that the sign language provided in a video is correct, or that screen reading software can interact properly with a menu in a DVD. You may find someone with the appropriate expertise from within your organisation. If not, you could contact other public bodies, or disability representative groups for guidance and advice.
If you have the expertise, you can also check your information's accessibility yourself. The "Take a quick look at your site" webpage from the National Disability Authority's website explains how to do a basic accessibility check on a webpage.
Here is the list of common errors that you or an accessibility expert should check documents for:
- Lack of main headings
- Misuse of sub-headings
- Use of font formatting to make normal text look like headings
- Words in a different language not marked as being in a different language
- Unexplained acronyms or abbreviations
- Images without descriptive alternative text
- Use of colour alone to convey meaning
- Badly written hyperlinks
- Grammatical errors
- Spelling errors
- Empty paragraphs or headings used for formatting purposes
- Lists that are not marked as lists
- Empty columns in tables
- Table row header cells and/or table column header cells that are not marked as header cells.
When tendering for an accessibility expert, check the expert's references and experience.
Including standards in your tenders and contracts will help you to ask for and receive the correct level of accessibility.
Make sure that any written document, audio file, video file, exercise, or game that you publish to the internet or to an intranet is accessible. The National Disability Authority's "Code of Practice on Accessibility of Public Services and Information provided by Public Bodies" mentions Level AA conformance with the "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0" from the World Wide Web Consortium.
If you print any document, make sure that the document is visually clear enough for your customers to read. Guidance on clear print design is available in the following:
3. Publish your information in formats that your audience can use
Make sure your default format is accessible
Make sure that the default format that you publish your information in is accessible. The Australian Human Rights Commission say in their "World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes" that "Feedback that the Commission has received from users and web accessibility experts suggests that traditional HTML is the most universally accessible format." Similarly, the UK government's Central Office of Information's "Delivering inclusive websites" says, "The presentation of lengthy non-HTML documents on the Web should generally be avoided in favour of web pages."
Try to publish in more than one format
State in your tender or contract that you want to be able to publish your information in more than one format.The more formats that you can publish your information in, the greater chance your customers have of being able to access your information.
When you publish information to the internet, your customers will need to have software available so they can view it. Many members of the public are unable to download and install new software, or to download updates to existing software, because they do not have enough knowledge or confidence. Many employees are unable to download and install new software, or to download updates to existing software, because of network restrictions. By publishing your information in more than one format, you increase the likelihood of your customers having software that can access it.
Many organisations create most of their documents as Word documents, and then publish HTML or PDF versions of those documents. You can easily increase the accessibility of your information by publishing the original Word documents on your website, beside the HTML or PDF versions.
Customers who use assistive technology can have extra challenges when they try to access your information. Sometimes the assistive technology will not work properly with certain software. For example, a customer might have an older version of screen reader software that does not work properly with the latest software that your documents or videos need. Your customers might not be able to upgrade to newer or different assistive technology easily, because assistive technology can sometimes be expensive and complex.
Make sure that your websites and publications tell your customers that you will provide the information that they want in an alternative format that is more accessible for them when requested, where practicable.
Keep a copy of the final draft
Keep a copy of the final draft of your information. That will allow you to make last minute changes if necessary, and keep the information accessible. State in your tenders and contracts that you must be able to keep a copy of the final draft.