Keep it Simple

Written by Evan Burnett

Does it matter? In the world of accessibility, especially electronic documentation, this question holds a level of importance that may be overlooked in many cases.  Despite the growing number of tools and techniques that allow developers to explore their visually creative genius, the question still remains, does it matter?  We must keep in mind the user, who will not care much about the glitz and glamour, but about the information, they expect to receive.  An elaborate book cover is only as useful as the content behind it, and being cognizant of this will benefit the most important person in this equation, the end user.

PDFs, and any other type of electronic documentation have vital information and therefore must be treated the same as a webpage in regards to accessibility.  For most, this concept is hard to grasp since a web page in comparison to a PDF document is similar to a chess player in a checkers competition.  Although, if the chess player underestimates their opponent, a bruised ego may be in order.  Content such as animation, extraordinary fonts, embedded media and customized scripting can cause major accessibility issues for the end user, who is most important.  There should always be some questions that come to mind when developing electronic documentation for remediation:

Question 1: Is this content useful?

College would last a year and a half if professors asked themselves this question, but we can’t solve all the problems of the world.  In terms of PDF accessibility, the concept of “less is more” applies a great deal.  Will the list with customized bullet points that are graphics of a puppy dog face be beneficial to the user?  Believe it or not, the default bullet point is just as cute and adorable if viewed from the right angle.  Giving the user the essential information in a format that is easy to understand will prove to be a better method in the long run.

Question 2: Is this content stimulating other than visually?

By now you’re probably wondering, “Who is this blog post writer, and why are they this boring?” On the contrary, I can be quite the party animal when naps are involved.  But this isn’t about you and me. The only person of interest is the end user, and if the content can’t be conveyed any other way than visually it doesn’t belong in the document. Before you embed that animal bloopers YouTube video, think about how that transcript would read to the end user.  I’m assuming not so well.

Question 3: Is the content simple in appearance?

I believe this question speaks for itself.  Depending on the content, it can be a challenge to comprehend on its own, so complicating things will only discourage the end user.  Yes, nothing will be more visually enticing within your life span than a nice piece of WordArt, or Skittle colored text, but we must resist the urge as that type of content can cause issues in PDF accessibility.  Using preset heading styles and dark colored text is always the more accessible option. 

Question 4: Is the point of the content being made with additives?

This question is especially important when dealing with graphs and charts.  A well-manicured, detailed car with no engine is only useful for the showroom, not the daily commute.  If it’s possible to avoid intricate, colorful graphics to describe a graph or table, it will take more burden off of the end user.  It would be deemed inaccessible if only color or graphics are used to convey a value without having a text alternative, so are they necessary?  All of these questions are interrelated and all encapsulate the initial concern, does it matter? 

Our dedication to accessibility should make us think beyond our or the developers’ desires. We should primarily care about the experience of the end user.  Keeping the document simple will benefit the end user and make it easier for everyone to obtain the information being conveyed.  This is not to discredit the creative integrity that each one of us possesses, but the goal is for everyone to gain the knowledge that is considered public. If someone cannot do this, we have done society a disservice.  

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