Testing is a critical element in the document accessibility process. This is true whether you are providing one-off transcriptions or you’re implementing an accessible e-presentment solution for your transactional material. Accessible document producers generally include a quality assurance phase in their workflow but if you require additional testing you have a couple of options. You can review the output internally or you can work with a third-party tester.
If you decide to contract with a third-party tester there are some issues to bear in mind. First, context is really important. This may sound like a statement of the obvious, but testers need to have an understanding of the documents they’re testing. For example, they need to know something of the remediation and production process, as well as the intended audience. They may also need to be aware of certain internal specifications or legislative requirements. Let’s say you offer monthly statements in an audio format and the third-party tester questions your organization’s use of synthetic speech. Anyone who has ever gone through the self checkout at a grocery store realizes that synthetic speech is not nearly as pleasant to listen to as human narration. Having said that, producing audio files with human narration is both costly and time-consuming. Using synthetic speech means that your organization can meet the tight timelines that are mandatory for transactional material.
Another consideration is that testers must understand the role of the accessible document producer. While producers have to comply with standards and guidelines appropriate to each format, they must also remain true to the original document. They cannot modify content and can only adjust layout insofar as it is necessary to comply with industry standards in that format. If the conventional print document presents challenges to a sighted reader this will also be the case for someone reading it in an accessible format.
Finally, you’ll want to determine the qualifications of the testers. Again, this may seem like an obvious point, but there is a misconception that all screen reader users can test PDF files for compliance and that all braille readers can proof braille output. This is comparable to saying that all print readers are qualified to work as editors. Accessible formats are governed by industry standards and best practices, and testers should be able to demonstrate that they have a high level of expertise in the formats they are testing. Third-party testers don’t all have to be end users. Having said this, including end users in the quality assurance phase is an essential element in the process of making documents accessible.