January 17, 2019

Understanding Standards and their importance for Accessible Document Producers

Jane Black | Business Development & Channel Manager
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What is a standard?

ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, states on its website that it was founded with the simple idea of providing answers to a fundamental question. “What’s the best way of doing this?”

And standards, whether developed by ISO or not, do exactly this. They provide detailed specifications for products, services and systems, to ensure their quality, safety, efficiency and most importantly consistency, regardless of who is producing it. Standards can provide a strong basis for the development of national and international regulations or simply illustrate a consensus-based agreement on the best way to do something.

We all benefit from a wide range of standards in our daily lives. Some are critical such as those concerned with road safety, toy safety or medical packaging and some simply provide us with peace of mind when making purchasing decisions, from the diameter of the bolt we need to replace, to the measure of alcohol in our Gin & Tonic.

For those involved with the creation, storage and delivery of electronic documents, the Portable Document Format standard will be another familiar example. Once a proprietary format of Adobe Systems, control of the PDF specification was released to ISO to be managed as an open standard in 2008, greatly benefiting the format, application developers and consumers of PDF alike.

Why are Accessible Document Standards Important?

So how does this apply to producers of accessible documents? Quite simply, accessible document standards, which like other standards ensure consistency and quality, must be followed by document producers so that the documents they deliver are meaningful.

For those affected by a visual impairment, such as the blind or partially sighted, accessible documents provide access to important and personal information. Global legislation mandates that visually disabled consumers have the right to receive documents in an alternate accessible format, but it is the adherence to standards, by the document producer, that ensures that these documents are coherent, consistent and ultimately understood.

Various accessible document standards cover a range of document types from traditional formats such as braille to digital formats like Accessible PDF. National organizations such as the UK Association for Accessible formats (UKAAF) and the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) manage the braille standards for their particular regions. Whereas the digital format PDF/UA, is an international standard and along with other PDF standards is managed by ISO.

Digital Documents and Accessible Standards

For accessible document producers, digital documents, which can be accessed using assistive technology such as screen readers and braille displays, are increasingly required by a new generation of visually disabled consumers. The demand for documents in digital formats is shining a spotlight on the importance of accessible document standards themselves. Electronic documents that are not produced to standard are often not understood by assistive technology devices or at least require the devices to work harder to interpret the information that the document contains.

This should provide an important lesson to accessible document producers across the range of formats. That being that documents, regardless of format, that don’t adhere to the associated accessible document standard, when received by someone who is blind or partially sighted, will either be unreadable or require the recipient to work harder to interpret the information they contain.

Accessible documents must be made readable whoever they’re produced by and whatever format they’re produced in. Accessible document standards if followed correctly will ensure that this occurs every time. To talk to one of CrawfordTech’s accessibility experts about anything from document standards to automating accessible document production please contact us at sales@crawfordtech.com