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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Advocacy Resources Bridges Blog Educational Resources Employment Resources Series: Self-advocacy September 2021

Self-advocacy September: Making PDF Documents Accessible

PDF documents are widely used in schools and in employment, but all PDFs are not created equal in terms of accessibility for blind/low vision individuals. This week, the Free Bridges Helpdesk explores PDF documents in terms of self-advocacy for accessibility.

What are PDFs, and why do we use them?

PDF documents are both common and misunderstood. PDF stands for “portable document format,” and it was developed to improve the transfer of documents by allowing people who use different software programs to view files on their computers without losing the original formatting. Adobe provided the free Adobe Acrobat software to facilitate this file-sharing mission.

Unfortunately, accessibility was not a high priority as PDF documents grew in popularity. Many PDFs consisted of photographic “snapshots” of text and graphics. Thus, in the process of creating a PDF, the document creator actually removes accessibility from the otherwise accessible text portion of the document.

Myths about PDFs

“All PDFs can easily be used by everyone.” While widely believed, this is not a true statement. Many PDFs are created as images and are not immediately readable using screen reading software. Additionally, PDFs that are poorly created can cause a screen reader to read the text portions of the document out of order (such as reading the third paragraph on the page before reading the first paragraph.

“All PDFs are inaccessible.” This is not true either. This myth has likely come about as a result of the proliferation of inaccessible and poorly formatted PDFs.

“For screen reader users, it’s always better to avoid PDFs and just use Word documents.” Again, this is not true. For one thing, poorly formatted Word documents can be inaccessible, too. For another thing, screen reader users have the right to enjoy the benefits of accessible PDFs.

Creating accessible PDFs

Like Word documents and PowerPoint slide presentations, PDFs can be created in an accessible manner from the beginning. See the Bridges Blogs “Making Word Documents Accessible” and “Making PowerPoint Documents Accessible.”

There are multiple ways to make PDF documents.

Working with inaccessible PDFs

Of course, you will almost certainly encounter inaccessible PDFs, especially when those documents have not been downloaded or purchased from outside sources. While you definitely have the right to have accessible PDFs, you also need to have access to as much information as possible. The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has prepared Prevent Document Frustration: JAWS and PDFs, a document that outlines several ways to independently access (at least the text portion of) information on an inaccessible PDF using the screen reader JAWS.

Advocating for accessible PDFs

Regardless of whether you are getting inaccessible PDFs at school or at work, we have the right to request, and receive, accessible materials (see the Bridges Blog “Changes in Rights to Accommodations and Modifications.”

In addition to the advocacy tips found in that post, please consider using the information contained in this post in your advocacy. Most people want to provide accessible materials, they just don’t know how to make materials accessible (or what accessibility even is). By showing them how inaccessibility keeps you from using the materials efficiently and showing them how to make the materials accessible, you are empowering them to do what you need.

Reach out to us at the Free Bridges Helpdesk

Let us help! We are here to support blind and low vision transition-age students in Maryland, and we are available to you anytime. Whether you need self-advocacy support one-on-one or you want us to support you in your communications with your teachers (or parents), please know that you are here for you!

We can also help your teachers (both regular education teachers and teachers of blind/low vision students) learn about and implement accessibility best practices. We do not make judgments or criticize anyone. Instead, we meet people where they are and provide support and resources to help them get to where they want to go.

Self-advocacy is a lifetime journey. Please allow us to join you.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Advocacy Resources Bridges Blog Educational Resources Employment Resources Series: Self-advocacy September 2021

Self-advocacy September: Making PowerPoint Documents Accessible

PowerPoint slide presentations can be an exceptionally useful tool. They have been used throughout the education and business community for years, and the shift toward remote and hybrid instruction has accelerated their use in school settings. While PowerPoint documents can be made to be accessible, many are not. This week, we will discuss

It seems simple: if information in a document is important, you need to be able to access it. But, sometimes making that happen is not so simple. This week, the Free Bridges Helpdesk explores accessible slide presentation documents (like Word) in terms of self-advocacy.

Accessibility, disabilities, and the law

For a review of what the term “accessible” means for individuals with and without disabilities and references to legal requirements relating to accessibility, please see “Self-advocacy September: Making Word Documents Accessible” in the Bridges Blog.

PowerPoints shared using distance technology

As a preliminary matter, please note that documents shared using “screen share” tools on distance technology platforms convert the shared file to a video. In doing so, the accessibility features of the shared document are lost to users of accessible technology, like screen reading software. Thus, screen sharing, alone, does not provide accessibility to blind/low vision individuals using accessible technology, so the relevant document or documents should be sent directly to those users. Alternatively, the original, accessible document could be placed in a shared folder on the cloud, and the link to the document could be shared in the distance technology chat room.

How to self-advocate for accessible PowerPoint documents

Successful self-advocacy for accessibility goes beyond simply asking your teachers for accessible PowerPoints. While accessibility is the goal, many teachers don’t understand the barriers inaccessible PowerPoints pose. They also might be using inaccessible materials that were provided by a publisher, and they might not have any idea how to remediate the inaccessible aspects of the PowerPoint.

First, communicate with your teachers that you understand that they use PowerPoint documents to provide information. Gently let them know that when information is not fully accessible and/or easy to use, the purpose of the document cannot be fulfilled. In other words, you want accessible PowerPoint documents because you want access to the same information other students are receiving.

Next, share that PowerPoint has a built-in accessibility checker. This tool can help identify accessibility problems. Even better, PowerPoint’s Accessibility Checker provides help and guidance for correcting the accessibility problem!

Common issues that impede the accessibility of PowerPoint documents

Missing slide titles

  • This makes the document difficult to navigate.
  • Additionally, sometimes the PowerPoint looks like it has a slide title, but the title was inserted improperly, so accessible technology cannot identify the text as a slide title.

Duplicate slide titles

  • Sometimes there are two, three, or more identical slide titles.
  • This impedes navigability because the user cannot easily navigate up and down the document.
  • This can be easily remedied by adding “part 1,” “part 2,” etc. at the end of each duplicate slide title.

Missing alternative text

  • PowerPoint documents often have MANY graphics.
  • Graphics, alone, are not accessible.

Sometimes, graphics contain only text.

  • Instead of using the graphic, the PowerPoint document should simply set forth the text.
  • If the graphic is important, the teacher should add alternative text (alt text) the sets forth the content of the graphic.

Sometimes, graphics contain a table.

  • Instead of using the graphic, use PowerPoint to create an accessible table.

In general, non-text graphics should contain alternative text “alt text.”

  • Alt text allows one to use words to describe what is in the graphic.
  • In some cases, the graphic is merely decorative, and it should be marked as such.

In many cases, alt text, alone, is not enough.

  • Test: would the alt text, alone, be enough information for sighted students; in other words, would you feel comfortable taking ALL the graphics out and leaving only the alt text in the document?
  • If no, blind/low vision students should also receive tactile or enlarged graphics so that they may fully access the information conveyed in the graphic.

Reading order

  • Sometimes, PowerPoint documents look fine, but errors in creating the slide cause the slide to read text out of order.
  • It can be quite confusing when the slide reads from bottom to far left to top to middle, etc.

Tables

  • Need a properly-coded header row.
  • Tables should not include split or merged cells.

Quick-and-easy steps toward accessibility for PowerPoint documents

While actual accessibility requires FULL accessibility, here are some best practices to get started:

  • Use built-in templates: They are located in the ‘Design’ tab (Alt+G)
  • Use slide layouts: The layouts provided include titles and other items you can add. Do this when creating a new slide select one of the available slide layouts to fit your needs. Do not make a completely empty slide and then add your content.
  • When using tables make sure you identify row and column headers.
  • Make sure the reading order is correct (Alt+F10).
  • Slide titles: Every slide title must have a unique (and descriptive) name that is not to be repeated.
  • Avoid “eye candy” (information that is not useful)
  • Make certain colors used provide sufficient contrast based on WCAG standards. You can use the Web AIM Color Contrast Checker
  • Provide Alt text: Alt text provides information about what is contained in a non-text content
  • Group graphics together: If you have multiple graphics in a slide, grouping them together at the end of the slide can make your slide more accessible
  • And, of course: use the PowerPoint Accessibility Checker.

Check out great accessibility resources from the TVI Portal Maryland

Make and Take: Accessible Slide Presentations—Secrets Revealed! YouTube video recording

Resources for creating accessible PowerPoint documents:

Use the Free Bridges Helpdesk

Let us help! We are here to support blind and low vision transition-age students in Maryland, and we are available to you anytime. Whether you need self-advocacy support one-on-one or you want us to support you in your communications with your teachers (or parents), please know that you are here for you!

We can also help your teachers (both regular education teachers and teachers of blind/low vision students) learn about and implement accessibility best practices. We do not make judgments or criticize anyone. Instead, we meet people where they are and provide support and resources to help them get to where they want to go.

Self-advocacy is a lifetime journey. Please allow us to join you.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Blog Live Chat

I AM: Monday, September 20, 2021

Jade Gingerich, MD Department of Disabilities’ Director of Employment Policy will provide an Overview of the Impact of the Workforce I (WIOA) Changes on Maryland Employment Services. This session provides you a better understanding of what changed, why the Federal partners thought the changes would be beneficial, and how the disability community can educate key partners regarding their concerns.

Recording of the Independence Amplified Maryland event from September 20, 2021.

Don’t forget to visit our registration website to donate to support these events or register for upcoming calls!

Categories
Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Advocacy Resources Bridges Blog Educational Resources Employment Resources Series: Self-advocacy September 2021

Self-advocacy September: Making Word Documents Accessible

It seems simple: if information in a document is important, you need to be able to access it. But, sometimes making that happen is not so simple. This week, the Free Bridges Helpdesk explores accessible text documents (like Word) in terms of self-advocacy.

What is accessibility?

At its core, accessibility is a simple concept: something is accessible if a person can get to it and interact with it. For example, when a classroom is locked, it is not accessible to anyone without a key. Similarly, a password-protected computer file (like a worksheet in class) is not accessible to anyone without the password.

As you can see, accessibility is not tied to disability. While individuals with disabilities typically run into more accessibility barriers than the nondisabled, any barrier to access for anyone is an accessibility barrier.

What about disability-related accessibility?

In the world of disability, both federal and Maryland state laws require that reasonable accommodations be made to allow individuals with disabilities the opportunity to interact with something in a manner that is as efficient, as effective, and for as sustainable a length of time as others. In fact, Maryland has a specific law that requires each school district to ensure that its digital learning materials “… comply with WCAG 2.1 Level AA (June 5, 2018) … [in order] to provide equitable learning opportunities for all students.” COMAR section 13a.06.05.06.

How to self-advocate for accessible text documents (Word, etc.)

It can be frustrating when text documents (in Word, etc.) for school or work are in a format that is not fully accessible and/or easy to use. Sometimes it can feel like a big “ask” to have these documents be provided in an accessible form.

A crucial first step in self-advocacy for accessible Word documents is to explain that EVERYONE needs accessibility and that nondisabled students get fully accessible documents every day. In other words, you are only asking for something every nondisabled student is already receiving: the opportunity to use the document.

Next, explain that accessibility is not difficult to achieve, especially in a Word document. Word has many accessibility features built into the program, and simply using these features makes a document accessible to blind/low vision individuals.

Quick-and-easy steps toward accessibility for Word documents

While actual accessibility requires FULL accessibility, here are some best practices to get started:

If in doubt, copy it out.

  1. Sometimes we get Word documents that have “invisible” accessibility hurdles, and it can be time-consuming to make sure each is eliminated.
  2. A quick way to eliminate these is to take the document, select all text (Control + A), open a new document (Control + N), and paste the contents into the new document UNFORMATTED (Alt + H, V, S, U).
  3. Now, you have unformatted text without lots of hidden stuff.
  4. Please note that this also removes important formatting (including embedded hyperlinks, automatic numbering, etc.), so you will need to add those back in.

Don’t use text boxes.

  1. Text boxes force a screen reader user to “jump into” the text box to read the text and then “jump out” of it.
  2. This is like a sighted user being forced to jump to a hyperlink to read the text and then being forced to go back to the original document.
  3. This process is inefficient for any user, so it is better to simply refrain from using text boxes.

DO use headings; do NOT use text effects.

  1. Headings provide navigability to a document.
  2. Sighted users typically use text changes for navigability (larger text, bolded/italicized/underlined text, colored text, etc.) for this purpose.
    • NONE OF THESE TEXT CHANGES ARE ACCESSIBLE for a screen reader user, and many create difficulties for individuals using screen magnifying software.
    • NONE OF THESE TEXT CHANGES comply with WCAG guidelines, and they are therefore unacceptable under Maryland law.
  3. Bonus: by using headings, it is WAY easier to change the “look” of the heading for sighted users: instead of finding each instance, you can make the change once and update the heading. Word will make the rest of the changes for you!

Make Word work for you!

  1. Use automatic columns (so much easier than adding tabs or spaces).
  2. Use automatic numbering.
  3. Use automatic bulleting.
  4. Use embedded hyperlinks and make certain that the selected text is meaningful standing alone:
    • No: “here”
    • Yes: “find out more about hyperlinks”
  5. Use Word to create tables accessibly

Remember to pay attention to graphics!

  1. In general, graphics should contain alternative text “alt text” to describe what is in the graphic. You may add alt text to a graphic by:
    • Right-clicking on the graphic
    • Selecting “Edit Alt Text” from the drop-down menu
    • Typing a description of the graphic into the Alt text box
  2. In some cases, the graphic is merely decorative, and it should be marked as such. You may mark a graphic as decorative by:
    • Right-clicking on the graphic
    • Selecting “Edit Alt Text” from the drop-down menu
    • Clicking the “Mark as decorative” check box
  3. In many cases, alt text, alone, is not enough.
    • Test: would the alt text, alone, be enough information for sighted students; in other words, would you feel comfortable taking ALL the graphics out and leaving only the alt text in the document?
    • If no, blind/low vision students should also receive tactile or enlarged graphics so that they may fully access the information conveyed in the graphic.

Use Word’s built-in Accessibility Checker!

  1. YES! Word has a built-in accessibility checker!
    • It is not perfect, but it is helpful.
    • It will miss issues like text boxes and most text effects, so make sure you’ve addressed these issues first.
  2. There are several ways to access the Accessibility Checker:
    • Use the “Review” ribbon and choose “Check Accessibility” and choose “Check Accessibility” from the drop-down menu
    • Type Alt, then R, then A and 1, then A
    • Go to the “Tell me what you want to do tab (Alt + Q),” and type “Accessibility Checker”

Check out great Word accessibility resources from the TVI Portal Maryland

Word Document Accessibility Resource page

Accessibility For All Video series from the Maryland State Department of Education

Use the Free Bridges Helpdesk

Let us help! We are here to support blind and low vision transition-age students in Maryland, and we are available to you anytime. Whether you need self-advocacy support one-on-one or you want us to support you in your communications with your teachers (or parents), please know that you are here for you!

We can also help your teachers (both regular education teachers and teachers of blind/low vision students) learn about and implement accessibility best practices. We do not make judgments or criticize anyone. Instead, we meet people where they are and provide support and resources to help them get to where they want to go.

Self-advocacy is a lifetime journey. Please allow us to join you.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Blog Live Chat

I AM: Monday, September 13, 2021

The Maryland Mortgage Program has numerous programs that provide assistance for down payment and closing cost assistance to future homebuyers. The Home Ability Program (one of their many programs) offers up to $45,000 in assistance for people who have a disability or for people who are the primary caregiver for a person who has a disability. This program may be right for you!

Our speaker was Amy E. Wolff, Senior Loan Officer for Direct Mortgage Loans

Recording of the Independence Amplified Maryland event from September 13, 2021.

Don’t forget to visit our registration website to donate to support these events or register for upcoming calls!

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