will easily create fully accessible documents from her or his favorite authoring environment. The professor won't view this as an added burden but rather as an integral part of the authoring process, similar to spellchecking. Meanwhile, students with visual impairments will be able to easily read course materials because they will have been created with accessibility built-in by the person most qualified to create this accessibility information. Thus, the student will not be at a disadvantage compared to sighted students.
In another scenario, a job seeker with a visual impairment will be able to read job postings produced as PDF documents and fill out an online application form because the postings and forms will have been built with accessibility integrated into the documents and forms by their authors. This will enable job seekers to more effectively locate a suitable job and apply for it.
Effective Author-Level Tools
Central to achieving this vision are software tools that integrate into the authoring environment and ensure documents are made accessible by the author. In order for such tools to be effective, they must meet criteria.
o They should be integrated into the authoring environment so that the author does not have to exit the authoring application to run the accessibility tool.
o They should inherently verify documents against a well-defined standard, such as Section 508 or W3C WCAG 2.0. Once the tool finishes the verification and assuming the author followed instructions, the document should be compliant with the specific standard.
o They should provide the ability to both verify and fix compliance problems.
o They should impose a minimal burden on authors in terms of their knowledge of accessibility or the amount of work that's required to make a document accessible.
o They should use basic, nontechnical language and provide clear explanations and examples. It cannot be assumed that document authors understand technology or have more than a basic level of familiarity with their tools.
Accessible and Nonaccessible Formats
It should be noted that for tools to support a specific standard for a given document format, the document format itself must support the accessibility structures that are required by the standard. For example, formats like HTML 4.0 or PDF 1.8 support all basic structures required for Section 508 and WCAG 2.0. The Microsoft Word 2007 format, on the other hand, does not; for example, it doesn't provide support for row headers.
The degree of accessibility of a given format should be differentiated from how difficult it is to make the format accessible. For example and assuming tools are not used, while it may be significantly harder to add accessibility features to a PDF document than a Word document, a PDF document containing tables can be made accessible while a Word 2007 document cannot. PDF supports all the accessibility structures for tables while MS Word 2007 does not.
Author-level tools can bring document accessibility to the grassroots, but they have to meet a several criteria related to how easy they are to use and to how fully they support specific standards. Effective author-level tools make it possible to implement more optimal workflows that can enable content authors to create accessible content from the outset.
Deborah Kaplan is the director of the Accessible Technology Initiative at the California State University Chancellor's Office. She has several decades of experience in advocating for accessible technology and its implementation. She is the former executive director of the World Institute on Disability and a consultant to technology firms. As the director of the CSU's Accessible Technology Initiative, she oversees a comprehensive effort to implement accessible technology in the largest four-year higher-education system in the U.S. She has a law degree from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree from University of California, Santa Cruz.
Monir ElRayes is founder, president and CEO of NetCentric Technologies, a company that provides document-compliance solutions designed to enable government, educational institutions and corporations to ensure the accessibility of electronic documents and their compliance with a variety of standards. ElRayes holds a master of engineering (electrical) degree from Cornell University and a bachelor of science degree (electrical engineering) from the University of Iowa.