The Information and Communications Standards of the AODA state that organizations must create, provide, and receive information and communications that people with disabilities can access. This mandate includes the need to present printed information in accessible formats. Accessible formats, sometimes called alternate formats, are ways of presenting printed, written, or visual material so that people with print disabilities can access it. When people think of accessible formats, they may picture elements of buildings, such as Braille elevator buttons or large-print signs. However, there are many other ways to make printed information accessible remotely. As a result, organizations should commit to making information available in accessible formats in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Accessible Formats in the COVID-19 Pandemic
Braille is a way of writing the alphabet using a system of raised dots that readers feel with their fingers. Braille was invented by a young blind teenager, named Louis Braille, over two hundred years ago. Many young children who are blind learn Braille while their sighted friends are learning print. People who become blind later in life can also learn Braille.
Many books and magazines are translated into Braille and are available to buy or borrow. Moreover, some businesses offer information in Braille, such as:
- Bank statements
In addition to hard-copy Braille, people can now use Braille displays to read their computer or phone screens in Braille. People can also print documents in Braille using translation software and Braille printers. As a result, technology has made Braille easier to produce than ever before. Furthermore, people can create information in Braille remotely. However, people can do so far more easily if the computer files they are working with are accessible.
People who are visually impaired often read print that is 18-point font or larger with good colour contrast. Large-print copies of books, signs, and other media are sometimes available. In addition, people may read standard-sized print by using a magnification device. However, print may still not be large enough, there may not be enough colour contrast, or people may only see a few letters at a time. Alternatively, people may read print on computers or mobile devices using:
- Large fonts
- High-contrast settings
- Screen magnification technology
- Large monitors
- Website settings that allow users to enlarge text and images
Computer Files and Accessible Web Content
People can read digital text files and accessible web content using screen readers, software programs that read aloud most text on the screen of a computer or mobile device. For instance, screen reader users can read information in:
- Microsoft Word files
- HTML files
- Text messages
- Websites that comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA
In these formats, people can read online or emailed versions of documents such as:
- Bank statements
- Bills and receipts
- Brochures, menus, and event programs
However, not all print on computer or phone screens is accessible. Screen readers can interpret text-based information, such as Microsoft Word files or HTML, and some PDFs. However, screen readers cannot interpret image-based information, such as:
- A copy of an article made from a picture of the text
- Information on a poster in a JPG file
In addition, many websites and apps do not interface well with assistive technologies, such as screen readers or screen magnification. For example, many websites include buttons that only work when they are clicked with a mouse. As a result, people who operate their computers using keyboard or voice commands cannot click these buttons.
Therefore, organizations creating new web content should ensure that it complies with WCAG guidelines, international standards for web accessibility. Moreover, organizations should ensure that all potential visitors have access to web content that does not yet comply with WCAG. For instance, organizations can support customers by phone, through reading web content aloud or clicking the buttons customers request. There are many ways that organizations can present information using accessible formats in the COVID-19 pandemic.