Accessibility in a Digital Age: Adam Spencer Discusses How You Can Make Your Documents, Website, and Videos User-Friendly for Those with Impairments

Navigating a website, reviewing a document, and watching videos online may seem like mundane tasks to most. However, for those with visual impairments, consuming digital information is not always easy. In fact, a person using a screen reader to consume digital information may find it nearly impossible to do so if the content does not utilize accessibility tools. With the help of technology, anyone can create documents, websites, and videos that are accessible. With access to accessibility tools in this digital age, individuals and businesses alike should focus on optimizing their content so that it is accessible to all users.

As one of the top international experts in PDF and PDF accessibility technologies, Adam Spencer can attest to the importance of creating accessible content and the ease with which it can be done. Adam is the vice chair of the Standards Council of Canada for PDF and PDF accessibility. He has also been an active member of the standards authoring community for eight years and contributes to ISO 32000–1/2 and ISO 14289–1/2 to help improve accessibility technology. As the president of AbleDocs (based out of Oakville, Ontario), Spencer has devoted his career to reshaping the PDF accessibility industry. He strives to do this through investment and the development of exciting and innovative approaches. He shares some of his top tips for creating accessible documents, websites, and videos.

Person typing on their laptop on a wooden table.
Adam Spencer from Oakville, Ontario, on Accessibility in a Digital Age

Establish Document Properties

To ensure that those using screen readers can properly consume documents and other content that you create, it’s important to provide detailed information in the document properties. Whether you are creating a PDF, spreadsheet, or presentation, the program you’re using will offer the ability to edit these properties. Here you can provide helpful information that lets the reader know what your document is about, who the author is, as well as other helpful information. At a minimum, Adam Spencer urges content creators to provide a title, author, language, and relevant keywords in the document properties.

Add Alt Text to All Visual Content

Alt text, or alternative text, is a valuable source of information for those using a screen reader. This information allows the reader to provide an audible description of all visual aspects of a website, document, or video, making the content accessible to everyone. For example, the data provided within alt text can tell the reader what an image or photo is of, what information is contained in a chart or table, the general topic of an article or webpage, and more. Adam Spencer notes that adding alt text to your content should be as easy as right-clicking on the object and selecting the format option. For alternative methods of inputting this information, consult the help center in your program.

In addition to optimizing your content for those with impairments, adding alt text can also help with the search engine optimization of a website. That is, websites with optimized alt text will experience higher positions in search results, leading to increased traffic.

Create Descriptive Hyperlinks and URLs

When adding hyperlinks to your text, be sure to use descriptive language. Your anchor text, or the text that will be linked, should describe where the link will take the user. For example, if you would like to create a link from a webpage or document that takes the user to a job application, use descriptive language to establish what the link will do. Use anchor text like “Complete a Job Application” rather than a generic phrase such as “Click Here”.

Adam Spencer suggests that the same is true for website URLs. While it can be easy to simply accept automated URLs when creating a webpage or uploading a document online, these web addresses are often long and arbitrary. To help screen readers, and those with impairments, be sure to create URLs that are short and descriptive. For example, the URL should contain a keyword representing the main topic of the content. Much like adding alt text to your content, using descriptive hyperlinks will also help with search engine optimization.

Utilize Document Styles

When preparing a document, or web page, you can help to ensure your information is accessible to everyone by including styles in your content. For example, include title and heading styles so that a screen reader can determine the various sections of your content. In addition, using bullet points will help the reader express that the information contained in that section is in a list format. Adam Spencer points out that it’s important you use only the typical round bullets for lists, as other formats are often not recognized by common screen readers.

Adam Spencer from Oakville, Ontario, is the CEO and Founder of Able Docs. AbleDocs specializes in document and electronic accessibility.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store