Cliff Knows Word… and Accessibility

If you don’t know what this is about, you can learn below.

Tools for creating accessible Word documents

Folks have been asking me for this stuff:

How did these come about? Well, that begins with ancient history — way back to shortly after the Y2K panic fizzled.

Tom, Wayne, and I decided: Accessibility was easy; finding tools was hard

After a rigorous day at Knowbility’s AccessU, Tom Jewett, Wayne Dick, and I were enjoying beers at Opal Divine’s–Penn Field when the subject of how we could get people to create accessible PDFs came up.

It wasn t easy, we agreed. And it was, and still is, an important issue, because much of the world still operates as if we are creating documents primarily to be printed:

  1. We use a word processor to make the document look right on paper.
  2. We take that document and turn it into a PDF so everyone who looks at it sees it the same way we created it.
  3. Because the PDF will be posted on the Web, we worry whether it’s accessible.

At that point, achieving accessibility is a piece of work. An expensive piece of work.

But if the document prepared by the word processor is accessible to begin with, most, if not all, of those accessible features can be brought straight into the PDF created from it.

So authors were not doing all they could do to create accessible documents, we agreed.

But, one of us pointed out, how could we blame the authors? By far, most of them used Microsoft Word. And at that time almost every feature Word had that could help authors create accessible documents was hidden. Indeed, those features were scattered among the more than 30 other toolbars Microsoft thought you might need.

What was front and center? Tools you could use to change the way the text looked and to cut and paste blocks of text all around, often screwing up how it looked in the process.

The overall effect was like trying to create polished reports with the tools we had in kindergarten. (Kindergartners have much better tools today. This was at least two years before the iPad!)

We decided to make it easy

What we needed, we opined, was a toolbar that would:

And a year later, that toolbar was still a dream. Each of us thought one of the others was going to create it.

Eventually, I did

It became the Word 2003 Accessibility toolbar. I shared it with at least 50 governmental agencies and universities, from the East Coast of the United States to Alaska and from Minnesota to Texas and California. I even shared it with technical writers in Australia.

When the state agency I work for moved to Word 2007, I improved the interface a bit, partly because of things I had learned about Word, and partly because Word had introduced new features. One of those features was the ribbon.

Even though you could still use the Accessibility toolbar in Word 2007 (it appeared under Add-ins), I drew up specs for the Word 2007 Accessibility tab and had our IT guys create it for me.

And it was shared just as widely.

People pestered me for more

But people kept asking, “These are great tools, but isn't there a URL where I can send folks to get them?”

No, I had no personal website.

Then this spring, I worked with accessibility experts and Word gurus from several other state agencies here in Texas to develop a tab with more and better features for helping folks create accessible documents. The result of that collaboration is the Word 2010 Productivity tab.

We don't call it the Accessibility tab any more for two reasons:

So here they are

And this weekend, my friend Char James-Tanny asked me once again for a URL where she could tell folks to download these tabs.

I love ya, Char, so here you go: Get ‘em while they’re hot!

And tell your friends you got them here.