Practicing digital accessibility in the workplace
In 2023, accessibility must be front and center on organizations’ agendas as we enter an age when many Americans adapt to permanently hybrid or fully remote roles. Much of our work is done online, and businesses have a responsibility to ensure all team members can perform at their best. From collaborating on shared files to conducting research, to communicating with internal and external teams, organizations must adopt the foundations of digital accessibility early and often.
Accessible digital documents allow people with disabilities to access information and understand the documents presented. Accessible documents should be used by everyone in your organization, regardless of ability: from the CEO who deals with legal documents and strategic plans to marketing managers who interact with customers daily.
We wanted to understand the difficulties employees face in the workplace regarding digital document accessibility, so we took to Reddit, an anonymous social media platform in which users often share their candid experiences across community forums called subreddits. We scraped nine disability communities, or subreddits, for keywords relating to digital document accessibility to discover what American workers struggle with the most in terms of accessibility.
We also took a deeper dive into the accessibility of websites across industries — wanting to highlight the sectors that practiced accessibility in their website creation, and ran accessibility tests across the top business sites in the US for eight major industries.
- Documents are discussed the most in disability and impairment subreddits, with over 1,000 posts + 750K comments
- ADHD Reddit users report having the most difficulty with reading — 1 in 4 posts discuss reading
Reddit users with disabilities reveal the truth about digital accessibility
Many people turn to Reddit for advice, insight, and experiences. So it’s no surprise that people with disabilities and impairments discuss digital accessibility and their workplace on the popular forum site.
Among the different impairment and disability subreddits we scraped, having accessible documents and assistive technology were among the most discussed topics.
You have ramps and wider walkways, but what about your digital workplace?
While businesses might take the proper steps to ensure their workplace is physically accessible (i.e. ramps and elevators), are they taking the steps necessary to make their digital workplace accessible?
Accessibility goes beyond the physical. Everything from document color, font size, and language can be detrimental to those with impairments if those documents are not accessible. In a world that has gone digital, those with disabilities might feel left behind. How can you make your digital documents more readable and accessible?
The use of r/ indicates the specific forum that was scraped on Reddit, otherwise known as a subreddit. r/ is the natural start for all subreddits on the platform.
Here’s some tips from users on r/colorblind on making documents more user-friendly:
“Using color alone to convey information is never optimal for us.
“Do not use red, it will be very hard for some people to distinguish that from black. While everybody will still be able to see it on white, they won't get the highlight effect.”
“There isn't any one color that will work. Use bold, italic, underline, or background highlights.”
Users on r/dyslexia shared these insights on how they manage documents at work:
“Text to speech for life, otherwise I fall asleep”
“The main issue I have at work at the moment is the inconsistency of finding information. We have so many channels and file systems that are used that it’s really difficult to follow as there’s no specific process for information sharing. So different information about the same thing will come through chat channels, emails and be saved to shared files.”
Here’s what people on r/ADHD shared about their experience with documents in the workplace:
“There is no way to just search for keywords…I have been trying to read this for months and finding it next to impossible... Even when I actually manage to concentrate on looking at the document I then start falling asleep or I don't absorb the words.”
“Text to speech is a GREAT productivity tool, especially for people with ADHD.vIt helps me understand the content more thoroughly, especially if I'm reading alongside it speaking! But more importantly it makes those super long boring readings more bearable.”
So what industry has accessibility on their mind?
Accessibility features provide users with disabilities the ability to navigate, read, and interact with the website. Without accessibility features, certain users may be unable to use the website or access its content. So how many websites take accessibility seriously? We ran the top sites across 8 US industries through an accessibility checker to find out.
Across all sites we analyzed, all industries struggled with passing the interactive controls accessibility test -this means forms such as text input fields, check boxes, combo boxes, list boxes, and buttons are not optimized to be accessible.
The site contrast was the 2nd highest struggle among all industries, with 20 percent of all sites failing that test — Automotive sites need the most attention on contrast on their sites (27 percent failing).
Features, such as high contrast modes, can make websites more readable for users with vision impairments and help users who find reading text on a bright screen difficult. Additionally, features, such as keyboard shortcuts, can benefit all users in navigating the website quickly and efficiently.
How to be more digitally accessible?
According to 2022 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 21.3 percent of persons with a disability were employed in 2022. With such a large percentage of people with a disability in the workforce, they must be given the same access and accessibility to their digital documents as everyone else.
Adobe Acrobat’s free online PDF editor is here to help you make your business PDFs more readable and accessible to all.
Here are a few tips from Adobe Acrobat for making sure your PDF is accessible:
- Ensure your text is searchable and use a font that allows characters to be extracted to text.
- You can use Adobe Acrobat to edit a PDF online to ensure your document language is correct and you have proper title indication and overall formatting.
- Ensure you have the proper reading order. If you need help, you can easily rearrange PDF pages with Acrobat online.
- Include interactive features when possible. This can be through hyperlinks and/or navigational aid.
- When using non-text elements, such as pictures, provide alternative text descriptions.
- Convert to PDF when sharing documents to maintain all formatting, style, and image information from the source file. PDFs have the most reliability in ensuring your documents are displayed correctly, no matter what type of device you use.
Having accessible documents is just as important as having the tools available to those who need accessibility features to read digital documents. Having a PDF do a read-out-loud text-to-speech conversion can benefit those who may have visual impairments. Having a tool to display PDF text in large type and to temporarily present a multicolumn PDF in a single, easy-to-read column can make documents more accessible to those who have visual impairments as well.
Take a look at the difference in readability a few simple edits can make:
Document sharing in the workplace
When making digital documents accessible, it’s best to follow the WCAG 2.1 guidelines provided by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (WCAG). When creating PDFs specifically, the PDF/UA (ISO 14289-1) is a great resource to have. Adobe Acrobat is here to help you with digital accessibility.
Adobe Acrobat is here to help with digital document accessibility at every step. All versions of Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Acrobat Standard and Acrobat Pro provide support for the accessible reading of PDF files by persons with disabilities. Check out more PDF Accessibility tips here.
Adobe scraped 9 subreddit forums with over 2 millions followers and 750K comments, analyzing posts and comments that spoke about key accessibility issues such as; Workplace difficulties, Document color, ADA Compliance, Accessible Documents, Digital Inclusion, Section 508, Accessible PDFs. From this we are able to rank these issues and understand which problems affect certain groups the most. The data was collected in Feb 2023.
Using ARC Toolkit which helps in identifying accessibility problems and features, we also scraped 74 websites across 8 industries and 7,200 technical issues. The number of tests varies as some sites have larger homepages and things like on page widgets and applications (such as image carousels etc) so they need more tests than the smaller sites. From this we were able to analyze the industries with the most critical accessibility issues for WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1, EN 301 549, and Section 508. The data was collected in Feb 2023.
Fair Use Statement:
Now that you know the importance of making your documents accessible, feel free to share this data. We ask that you do so for non-commercial use and provide a link to this original study page, so that your audience can explore the research in its entirety.