Accessibility Workflow in Higher Ed vs Federal Agencies

We’ve been trying out a few products to accessify documents, particularly PDF documents. We have to admit the products work and the vendors are very supportive, but I have been struck at how vendors are assuming a particular model for an accessibility workflow – one that works well for governmental agencies, but probably NOT so well for higher education.

What Vendors Assume

Governmental agencies produce many PDFs, including the kind that are educational, and vendors assume the following steps in the production:

  1. Create initial document in Word/PowerPoint/Indesign
  2. Trained document specialist adds tags to PDF
  3. Trained accessibility expert adjusts and tests PDF depending on source of document (8+ hrs in training)
  4. Document posted online after an approval process

What Happens at Penn State

For what it’s worth, the process above can work well….but is probably not what happens at a lot of Penn State units. I rather think it’s like one of these below:

  1. Instructor teaches class (or is taking a class if he or she is a TA)
  2. Instructor creates/revised class materials the night before class
  3. Instructor prints to PDF just before class, maybe with some tags

Or maybe this happens:

  1. Staff person receives report from manager
  2. Staff person told to post as a PDF by the end of the day
  3. Staff person prints to PDF, maybe with some tags

The pattern is that, in many cases, document preparation is very fast paced, much faster than the ideal workflow for accessibile documents would allow. Documents have also been prepared and posted by individuals with a wide variation in technical know how and knowledge of standards.

We can move towards a more structured version of PDF document production, but that requires a major cultural shift – just ask anyone involved in developing an online course.

In the meantime, I would ask vendors to SERIOUSLY think about product usability. The day when most Penn State document authors will still still for an 8-hour training session in the complexities of document accessibility are still in a very distant future.

We need solutions which produce accessible documents with a minimum number of extra steps, none of which are buried in the “Advanced” features. Dreamweaver, Microsoft and ANGEL have been taking that approach, and it makes training much faster (90-120 min usually) and implementation much easier.

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