Column: Bloomington botches accessibility of document about accessibility

In a news release issued on Monday evening,  the city of Bloomington announced that it is inviting feedback on its ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Transition Plan.

ACCESSIBILITY GUIDELINES FOR DOCUMENTS ON THE CITY WEBSITE All files uploaded to the City website, or otherwise electronically distributed to the public, need to be fully accessible. Accessible includes, but is not limited to,readable by assistive technology, images have captions and/or alternative text descriptions, and the use of high color contrast when placing text over an image. ACCESSIBILITY CHECKLIST Before uploading your file, or distributing it electronically, complete this checklist to ensure the document is accessible. ADD DESCRIPTIVE CAPTIONS OR ALTERNATIVE TEXT FOR ANY IMAGE(S) IN THE DOCUMENT. In Word 2013: Add alt text Right click on image and select "Format Picture." Select the "Layout & Properties" icon and choose "Alt Text." Enter appropriate alt text only in the Description field (not the Title field). Add caption: Right click on image and select "Insert caption." Enter caption. In Google Docs: » Add alt text: Right click on image and select "Alt Text." Enter a title and description for the image. Click "Ok" USE AN ACCESSIBILITY CHECKER TOOL In Word 2013: Open file Click on "File" in the upper left-hand corner. On the Info page, click on the down arrow next to "Check for Issues" Select "Check Accessibility" Correct any issues found in "Inspection Results" In Adobe Acrobat Pro (paid version): Open file Click on "Tools" On the Tools page, locate and click on the Accessibility tool under"Protect & Standardize" Click on "Accessibility Check" on the right side of the screen. Click "Start Checking" on next screen. Correct any issues listed in the report.
This image, with no digital text included, is part of the city of Bloomington’s draft ADA Transition Plan.

But the city does not seem to be interested in feedback on the document from anyone except those who can see perfectly well.

The ADA is all about making the world accessible to everyone. Many accessibility efforts are familiar, like installation of sidewalk curb ramps at intersections or designation of parking spaces near building entrances.

But making the world accessible is supposed to include making electronic documents readable for those whose vision is not good enough to see the words.

That’s done by ensuring that any of the word images in a document have a digital counterpart that can be read by text-to-voice screen reading software.

One approach to making documents accessible is to use some kind of OCR (optical character recognition) software to add digital text to word images.

Here’s a simple test of a document’s accessibility: If you mouseover an image with text, are you able to highlight the text, copy it, and paste it into a different document? No? Then the document is not accessible.

The city of Bloomington’s draft ADA Transition Plan fails that simple test. To be fair, it does not fail that test for every page.

But one page that does fail the test makes for some thick irony.

Failing the test is a page that displays a checklist for ensuring the accessibility of documents posted to the city’s website—it’s just an image of the list, with no digital text.

Here’s a link to a version that The B Square has run through OCR software: OCR’d draft of ADA Transition Plan.

That OCR’d version is still not great, because OCR software sometimes does a bad job with two-column formats like the one the checklist uses.

While the irony here is unique, it’s common for city documents to fail basic accessibility tests. I base that contention on more than three years of experience navigating information packets created to support boards commissions, and the city council.

Here’s an item I would add to the checklist:

  • Manually spot check every page in the document to verify that the steps you followed actually worked to create an accessible document.

Whose job should it be to ride herd on all that?

In a column I wrote at the end of June, I suggested that it should be one of the responsibilities of a new position that would be called the records/meeting officer:

A performance metric of the records/meeting officer will be to ensure that all pages of meeting documents posted to the city’s website for any board or commission are accessible—that is, are not merely scanned images, but include digital text.

It did occur to me that instead of writing a column, I might instead use the online feedback form  the city has set up to gather input from residents on the ADA Transition Plan.

But as of Tuesday morning, when I click on the link, here’s what I see:

Screen reads as follows: ""You need permission. This form can only be viewed by users in the owner's organization. Try contacting the owner of the form if you think this is a mistake. Learn More.""
“You need permission. This form can only be viewed by users in the owner’s organization. Try contacting the owner of the form if you think this is a mistake. Learn More.”

When I hear from the city that the document has been made accessible and that the feedback form is functional, I’ll update this column.

[Added on Sept. 13  at 5:06 p.m. The link to the feedback form is now fixed. And according to special projects coordinator Michael Shermis, the URL in this link goes to a version of the plan that has been made accessible: ADA Transition Plan.]

6 thoughts on “Column: Bloomington botches accessibility of document about accessibility

  1. Oh my gosh… Thank you for your due diligence, Dave. I think some people at COB could really learn a lot from you!!

  2. Keep’em honest, Dave! At the least, nobody tried the link as a user. Whether you call it proofreading or idiot-proofing, it’s part of quality orientation that needs to be internalized by everyone who serves the public. “If there was an error, how can I change my process so that this never happens again?” is the quality mantra I learned as a program manager, and it served me well.

  3. I was on the committee, and raised the question “What about accessibility for senior citizens?” They did not want to hear it and said this is for people with disabilities not seniors. I dropped of the committee.

    1. This disappoints me. My Grandparents are in their 90s and want to be included as well. ADA accessible documents are very helpful to them.

    2. As a senior, and as someone who works with one of the biggest organizations in Southern Indiana that works with Intellectually and Developmentally Disadvantaged (IDD) citizens, I am appalled that this would happen in this day and age. James, thanks for your attempt to do it right.

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