One inevitable trend of the move to e-business is a move from paper statements, delivered through the post, to electronic versions—e-statements—available on-line. The benefits are speed, reliability, flexibility, potentially better customer service and, of course, a reduction in cost to the supplier.
Although not everyone will be pleased with this move as receiving a statement through the post can be very convenient, anyone with a print disability should be delighted. Print disability is a term that covers issues that makes the use of printed documents difficult. Besides people who are blind or have a serious vision impairment, which makes it impossible to use a printed document, print disabilities also include: limited use of hands and arms, dyslexia, some cognitive difficulties, functional illiteracy and people who use another alphabet.
This collection of people will only be delighted if the electronic version is delivered in an format that supports their requirements, which can be divided into the following areas:
- Navigation: good navigation enables a user to quickly find the information of interest to them. Examples are going to the section of a mobile phone bill that shows the roaming charges, or finding a transaction for a particular day in a bank statement.
- Vocalisation: where the computer will read out the sections of interest to the user in a comprehensible manner.
- Extraction: this provides the user with the ability to extract information from the report so it can be used with other tools, especially spreadsheets.
- Annotation: paper documents will often be annotated, for example to show that transactions have been checked off or have been queried. This facility should be available to people using an electronic version.
There are two main technologies that can be used to deliver some or all of these requirements: Rich Internet Applications (RIA) or Accessible PDF.
RIA has the potential to provide these functions but my experience of using them is that they are difficult to use and they rarely produce a report which looks as good or as simple to read as the a printed version.
Creating Accessible PDF documents for high volume transactional output has been difficult up to now, but the latest announcement of Xenos Axess will make it practical. The product takes transactional print streams and automatically creates properly tagged accessible PDF. Xenos became an Actuate Company in February this year.
The impetus for the development of this product was the desire by banks, and telecom companies in particular, to provide accessible statements with minimal effort and cost. Currently, customers with a disability have to request special formats; this increases the cost of processing the request and their creation and delivery in the required format (creating and delivering paper Braille, or large print, is significantly more that normal printed statements and even more than electronic statements).
Besides the extra cost and effort this is not a good solution as far as the client is concerned, it can be distressing to be singled out as disabled and people with a marginal disability may not consider asking for special treatment even though they could benefit from it.
Having an accessible PDF as a standard electronic format for all clients removes the cost of special processing and makes the benefits available to any client who wishes to take advantage of them. Some examples of how an accessible PDF can be used are:
- A blind user would use the screen reader JAWS to navigate around the statement as well as having the content read aloud.
- A person effected by dyslexia and using Adobe Reader can alter the colour of text and background as this can make the text easier to read. They could also use the Read Out Loud feature to read specific areas of the document.
- Someone who has weak eyesight could use the reflow function of Adobe Reader and then enlarge the text to 40 point.
- A person who is functional illiterate (and would probably not admit this to the supplier) can have the Read Out Loud function read the information of interest.
- Anyone who wishes to check the transactions and highlight any they wish to investigate further can now do this using the Adobe Reader tool 'Comment and Markup', this is a relatively new feature of Adobe Reader and its benefits are only just being realised.
- A person who has no effective use of their arms and uses a head mouse can just point at a bookmark to navigate directly to the relevant section of the statement.
- If there is a requirement for some of the transactional information to be transferred to a spreadsheet, or similar program, this can be done by copying the relevant transactions and pasting them directly into the spreadsheet. In a accessible PDF statements the transactions will be laid out as a table and the copy function correctly extracts the individual cells so that they can be posted into the spreadsheet cells.
This list of examples shows that the ability of Axess to create accessible PDF not only meets the requirements of the vision impaired but also provides benefits to other people with disabilities and to people who have no disability but can process the report more effectively.
The supplier benefits by:
- Removing the risk of being sued for not providing accessible services.
- Reducing the cost of providing a service to all users.
- Improved customer satisfaction, leading to increases in customers and revenue.
- The ability to exhibit a positive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Accessibility is important; it brings benefits to all parties but improving accessibility is not always easy or cheap. Axess is an easy way to improve accessibility in an important area.