By Joydeep Dey.
With an estimated 650 million differently-abled people in the world, accessibility has presented itself as a real challenge for the information technology industry.
Many countries are instituting legislation (such as the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States) that makes access to information, products, and services mandatory for individuals with special needs. In these countries, government and academic institutions are required to purchase and support technologies that maximize accessibility. For example, in the United States, Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act requires all federal contracts to include solutions for employees with disabilities. The international community of people with disabilities is also successfully causing companies to sell accessible software.
Building software that can be accessed by all is not only a legal requirement, but also makes prudent business sense. Software with rich accessibility features increase sales besides providing potential benefits beyond enabling people with disabilities. For instance, software with mnemonics and keyboard shortcuts are significantly much faster to use than software that supports only mouse-based navigation, thus making users more productive. In addition to the software, for a truly accessible experience, accompanying help systems and documentation also must be made accessible.
In this blog post, we discuss how Adobe FrameMaker 10 supports accessibility and helps author accessibility compliant user documentation and online help systems.
Authoring accessible content
When authoring content for accessibility, it is important to understand how to make content available for people who cannot see, hear, or touch. To create truly accessible content, you must provide text to describe graphic objects, add audio and metadata for specific output formats, and include special accessibility templates as required by different output formats.
Here is a list of guidelines you must consider when authoring content for accessibility:
- Ensure that documents are clear and simple
- Provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content
- Don’t rely on color alone to convey information
- Use markup and style sheets and do so properly
- Use markup that facilitates pronunciation or interpretation of abbreviated or foreign text
- Ensure that tables have necessary markup to be transformed by accessible browsers and other user agents
- Ensure that pages are accessible even when newer technologies are not supported or are turned off
- Ensure user control of time-sensitive content changes
- Ensure direct accessibility of embedded user interfaces
- Design for device-independence
- Use interim solutions
- Use W3C technologies and guidelines
- Provide context and orientation information
- Provide clear navigation mechanisms
Select the right tool
The first step towards creating accessibility content is to identify the right authoring tool that provides features you can use to conform to the guidelines. Amongst the various tools available in the market, Adobe FrameMaker 10 comes bundled with basic accessibility features such as keyboard shortcuts, zoomed document views, and high-contrast displays. The FrameMaker authoring environment can be made more accessible by leveraging its new integration with operating system-specific accessibility features. See Accessibility Features in FrameMaker 10.
You can also further customize FrameMaker to meet specific accessibility needs by using the free FrameMaker Developer’s Kit (FDK). FrameMaker 10 also offers powerful features for document authoring and collaboration. Collaboration efforts benefit from the built-in collaboration features as well as the complete XML support provided with FrameMaker.
FrameMaker 10 support for accessibility
Most people with visual and hearing impairments use alternative ways to access software and print or online documentation. The following table describes these methods, and how FrameMaker supports these methods.
|Accessibility Features||Description||FrameMaker 10 Support|
|Text-to-speech (TTS)||People with serious reading disability use text-to-speech programs to access printed or online content. Talking programs are also useful for print disabilities other than visual impairments, such as dyslexia. Additionally, text-to-speech is used by those who cannot speak, in place of their own voice.||Allows you to add alternative text descriptions to images in PDF and XML documents exported from FrameMaker.|
|Tagged PDF||Tagged PDF allows you to save your content into Rich Text Format (RTF) or XML with additional metadata relevant for accessibility technologies. Both these formats are supported by Braille and audio conversion software.
Tagged PDF also enables screen readers and other browsers and devices to access your document. Because tagged PDF lets you define the proper sequence of the document, screen readers can read content in a sequential flow as intended by the author.
|FrameMaker supports creating tagged PDFs. See Tagged PDF.|
|Magnification||People with low vision can view text and graphics using a larger font, a built-in high contrast theme, or even just an extra large screen. Screen magnification programs that allow zooming are widely popular. Screen magnifiers also have some built-in text-to-speech features and ability to filter text and images through various color palettes, such as black on yellow for high contrast, or green on blue for low contrast.||Uses system colors to draw window backgrounds, text, and other graphics. Users who have trouble discerning colors or variations in contrast, or who have low visual acuity, can set high-contrast color schemes and custom text and background colors. This setting makes the information in the user interface easier to view.|
|Braille||A method widely used by blind people to read and write. Braille comes in the form of hard copy Braille printed on Braille embossers, or from a refreshable Braille displays.||Supports post-processing of XML output that can be fed into Braille production systems. Using FDK, XML/DITA content can be sent to Braille translation software, such as Duxbury or MegaDots. The Braille translation software reads the markup in the files and translates the tags into the codes used in their systems.|
|Audio||People who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can find it easy to work with software that can be configured to use visual cues in place of sounds, or increase the volume level of program and system sounds.||Allows easy conversion of documents to audio version through XML output. XML document types such as VoiceXML and SSML continue to evolve, providing ever greater potential for presenting documents in audio format.|
Consuming Accessible Content
FrameMaker is renowned for its pristine PDF output. Users can use the free Adobe Reader X to read PDF documents created using FrameMaker. Adobe Acrobat X, and the free Adobe Reader X both have excellent accessibility features. Some of these are:
- Read out loud
- View documents in high contrast mode.
- Navigate documents using the keyboard.
- Zoom in on text and reflow to fit any size view when working with tagged Adobe PDF files.
Although accessibility continues to be a real challenge, affirmative steps taken by the government and industry have gone a long way in improving the quality of life for differently-abled people. In this blog post, we looked at some useful accessibility features that FrameMaker supports. We’re sure you’ll use the pointers in this post to design and deliver content that lowers barriers to accessibility for people with disabilities (visual, hearing, motor, physical, cognitive, and neurological).
All the best!
Joydeep is an information architect with Oracle. He has been actively involved in several projects to design and create accessibility standards using FrameMaker. You can email Joydeep at firstname.lastname@example.org