Document is Empty: How Inaccessible Online Documents Impact Screen Reader Users – In Their Own Words

The Opening Video from Actuate’s Automation and the Changing Landscape of Section 508 event

I’m excited to finally be showing this here.

Imagine if you opened a web page or a PDF and the screen was blank. You scrolled all around the screen, hit several keys on your keyboard, wiggled and jiggled your mouse, even closed the document and opened it again. Where is the content that is supposed to be on this page? Where is the information I need that is supposed to be in this document? Well, that’s exactly what it’s like every day for screen reader users when they attempt to read documents that are not tagged for accessibility.

For the longest time we have wanted to voice the frustrations that the blind and visually impaired encounter every day to those who have never experienced it. This past December we debuted a video at Actuate’s accessibility event in DC called the Automation and the Changing Landscape of Section 508. The video opened the event, which by the way was well attended by more than 100 people, including those who were blind or visually impaired and those who were not. For effect, we cut the lights and set the stage for those who had never used a screen reader program before to experience it firsthand. The laughter rolled as the audience, who instantly recognized the unmistakable default voice of Freedom Scientific’s screen reader JAWS, began announcing that the document was empty while showing just a black, blank screen. For the next several minutes individuals including a business owner, a student, a homemaker, a screen reader product manager, a 508 SME, a 508 tester, an advocate and others brought you into the world they face every day struggling for the same access and independence many of us don’t recognize we have. More importantly they share the impact. The feedback we got from attendees on the video was even more positive then we’d hoped it would be. I think we hit this one right on target.

Now I finally get to share it with all of you. I’ll let you hear it straight from the people who are impacted most when it comes to accessible content – those that use it. Watch the video below to hear what they have to say. And, I’d love to hear your feedback!

Document is Empty: The Screen Reader User Experience is the result of months of traveling North America, speaking to people from the visually impaired community. The goal of the video was to help organizations understand frustrations and impact of inaccessible information from the user’s perspective – a true UX. What many organizations don’t know is that there is technology that solves this issue, affordably and nearly effortlessly with automation. Actuate’s automated PDF remediation technology allows high volume and repeatable customer communications like statements, bills and notices, to be generated as accessible PDFs. This could be a real game changer according to those in the video – but you decide after you take a look.

Those appearing in the video are consultants and accessible technology experts, but also regular people who aren’t involved with the technology issues at all – except that they live it every day. Like everyone, they use the web to go about their business, from accessing their benefits and health information to checking their financial information. And like everyone, they want to do that privately, without waiting weeks for a hardcopy accessible version they can read, or having to get a sighted person to look at it for them. The difference is that when organizations don’t provide this information in accessible online formats, they can’t do that. Their screen reader can’t access the information accurately, or often not at all. In popular screen reader parlance, the document is empty – or at least that’s how it appears to those relying on screen reader programs to read and consume documents that aren’t accessible.

Creating accessible online documents – whether you’re a private company or a government agency – it’s not merely about meeting legislative compliance. It’s not simply checking all the right boxes to make sure you meet the regulations for accessibility. It’s about truly providing equal access to all of your customers, constituents or recipients who receive your services– including those who are blind or visually impaired.

Screen reader user quote

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