Accessible forms, oh brother!

As part of my summertime project, I worked on converting Word forms to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible forms in both Word and PDF.  While the concept seemed easy enough in the beginning, the differences between converting general documents to an accessible format versus converting interactive forms proved to be quite large.  Given the section 503 requirements for making web pages and documents accessible (and logical) to screen readers, born-digital document producers have not addressed the issue of forms.  But, as I found out, only the vendors of the popular screen reader, JAWS, and Adobe Acrobat Pro 9 (sorry, version 8 just doesn’t have quite the capability, although it tries really hard), have any information about making forms accessible.  Therefore, to save us all a lot of headache, I thought I would share my resources with you all for when you are creating course materials for that information literacy course or creating general documents for the library to share.

At the same time, I might as well share a few of my thoughts on the experience and the potentially awesome value of interactive forms in general.  As a student in an online program, having TA’ed for an online course, and soon to be a professor for my own whole course, fillable forms can solve a lot of the headache surrounding correct/incorrect file formats for assignments (you’d be surprised how many grad students can’t follow directions).  At the same time, forms allow the downloading and exporting of assignments or form responses into an Excel file.  Ever wanted to be able to analyze which questions students struggled with the most?  Now, you should be able to get that all into one file without retyping or sorting through piles of paper.  Survey responses would work the same way.

Accessible Forms in Word
http://www.freedomscientific.com/Training/accessible-forms-in-word.htm

Accessible Forms in Excel
http://www.freedomscientific.com/Training/accessible-forms-in-excel.asp

Accessible Forms in PDF
http://www.adobe.com/accessibility/best_practices.html –>To be honest, the important notes for general forms can be summed up as:

1) Go to ‘File-> Properties->advanced->Reading Options->Language->English. Save (This is a must)
2) Expand the side bar and click on ‘Pages’ (usually when you expand it is already selected) It will show you thumbnails of pages. Select all thumbnails. Right Click –>Page properties–>Tab Order–>Use Document structure (For selecting all thumbnails click on one and press ctrl+A). Save
3) Go to Menu Bar on top ‘Advanced->Accessibility->Full Check’ See what errors it give.
4) Also to ensure all the paragraphs are marked in correct order go to ‘Advanced->accessibiltiy->Touch up reading order’. A new box will open named touch up reading order. In that select ‘show order panel’ from below.(Now there are two boxes) You will see all the paragraphs will be marked 1,2… etc; on the page. Check if that is in correct order. Sometimes the topmost para is marked 2nd and the reader reads it later which is not correct. If you want to change the order in the ‘order panel’ select the page you are working on it will have summary. You can drag the content to up or down to change the order. Example if your heading is in 2nd place drag it above content marked 1 actually for 1st place drag the content at 1st place down(this is a bit tricky sometimes).
5) Also using touch up order you can select any para/figure/table(just click on the numeral assigned to the content) and then in the in the touch up reading order select the appropriate Tag. You can also click on the numeral and then right click.
6) Save your document and again go for ‘Full check’. If it does not give error. Go for Reader and listen everything is read properly and in order otherwise follow above step to change order. Always Save

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