Citizens with disabilities in Windsor, Ontario will soon be able to access important online information such as bus schedules and calendars for recycling and collection. What’s more, this is just the first phase of a project to convert documents that these citizens could not previously access, into an accessible HTML and downloadable EPUB format.
For all companies and organizations in Ontario, Canada, accessibility is a requirement that must be considered in all projects, and for good reason. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), became law in 2005, and has a goal to create a fully accessible province by 2025. Included in the AODA are rules that all businesses and organizations must follow to identify, remove and prevent barriers to accessibility in Ontario. One important standard included in the AODA is the Information and Communication Standard, which defines the requirements for both Internet, intranet websites, and associated content.
The Act states that as of January 1, 2014, all new websites and web content, or significantly redesigned websites, published by large businesses and non-profit organizations are required to comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A. Starting on January 1, 2021, all internet website and web content will be required to be fully accessible under WCAG 2.0 Level AA. Businesses, organizations and all levels of government need to examine their websites and develop plans to become compliant.
Like many cities in Ontario, the City of Windsor had started investigating ways to make many of the PDFs found on its website accessible. PDFs offer a fixed structure and do not allow any customization. They do not provide navigation, semantic structure or accessibility features that are necessary for print disabled readers. Windsor is a city located across the Detroit River from the U.S. city of Detroit, and serves a population of 233,000 citizens. It had already implemented measures so that its website would be more accessible to its constituents with disabilities. The website’s accessibility features included text-resizing, high contrast capability, simplified view, translation, narration and magnification, but there remained the issue of documents and content to which the website pointed.
One area where accessibility had been problematic was PDF documents that resided on the website. Remediating PDF documents in order to make them accessible to people with disabilities was proving to be very time consuming and not very cost effective. Complex documents that consolidated different reports were difficult to convert and didn’t include a logical structure, which enables the navigation that is so important for accessibility. By introducing a meaningful tagged structure, content becomes immediately more accessible.
MediaWire, a software solution provider that had recently launched a solution called Inclusive Docs, had contacted the City of Windsor’s accessibility team. MediaWire is an Inclusive Publishing Partner of the Daisy Consortium, an initiative that supports the production of mainstream digital content accessible to all readers, regardless of their ability. Inclusive Documents conform to the W3C’s EPUB 1.0 Accessibility Specification and the EPUB checking tool (free and open source) Ace by DAISY is used as a validation tool.
MediaWire proposed a new software solution that could transform PDF documents into accessible documents quickly, easily and cost effectively. The software was able to handle typically problematic areas of PDF conversion, such as complex tables and poorly formatted content. Inclusive Docs was compatible with keyboard navigation and had a graphical interface that was able to convert images and infographics by adding alt text. Perhaps the best part was that the organization’s workflows did not need to change. This meant that no additional resources would need to be added and existing processes could stay in place.
The City of Windsor agreed to implement a pilot program that would use Inclusive Docs to convert a portion of its online PDFs. The city decided to convert their online calendar for recycling and collection services, as well as a weekly bus schedule for fourteen of the districts within Windsor.
The pilot project recently finalized and the documents are ready to go online. Inclusive Docs provides four reading experiences for visitors to the City of Windsor website, that offer different levels of accessibility:
1) A traditional browsing view PDF. This type of reading experience is ideal for anyone who wants to simply browse the pages before delving in and reading. This format typically lays out a two-page spread where the reader can flip pages but needs to zoom in order to read the text.
2) Reflow-able HTML with accessibility features. This reading experience offers some level of accessibility for readers who experience colour blindness, dyslexia, or low vision. This mode is easier and more accessible than a PDF format and it allows the reader to customize the text through a variety of options, such as background colour, type and size of font, letter case and line height.
3) Downloadable EPUB 3. EPUB 3 is a distribution and interchange format standard for digital content that offers the most accessible user experience for all readers. A high level of support for complex layouts, rich media and interactive features means that EPUB 3 offers a richer user experience for all readers, whether print disabled or not.
4) Screen reader mode. This mode is developed for the blind and is compatible with most popular screen readers, such as JAWS, NVDA and Voiceover on Mac. Screen reader software is used by people who cannot see screen content or navigate a website. From an HTML format, the software “reads” the text out loud using a voice speech synthesizer.
The city was surprised at how quickly and efficiently its documents were converted and expects to have calendars and schedules posted on line shortly. With this pilot project completed, the City of Windsor is now looking at converting other documents and publications using Inclusive Docs, including Bylaws, Meeting Minutes and Council Agendas. “The team at Inclusive Docs was very responsive to our needs and eager to help us achieve our goals,” said Gayle Jones, Accessibility & Diversity Officer at the City of Windsor. “This is really a unique solution that gave us much better timelines, and most importantly, provided a better end result. The EPUB document offers a better reading experience for people with poor vision or someone whose mother tongue may not be English, and the city has to consider the needs of all its citizens,” she added.
“We believe that all levels of governments will find that the ease of use and cost effectiveness of Inclusive Docs represent huge benefits”, said Clifford Hoffer, President of Inclusive Docs. “The deadline for compliance is not that far away and there are still thousands of online PDFs that need to be made accessible. Our goal is make that task quick, easy and affordable,” he added. For more information about Inclusive Docs, please visit www.mediawiremobile.com.