CEN, the European Committee for standardization, recently produced a report CWA 15778:2008 Document Processing for Accessibility. This report provides guidelines on integrating accessibility approaches and workflows within the document management and publishing process rather than as just a specialised additional service.
When it was complete it was realised that the report itself had not been produced to be accessible. One of the team working on the report used his best endeavours to improve the accessibility of the final PDF document, it was a significant improvement but still did not adhere to all the requirements of an accessible PDF. I suggested that this was not really good enough and CEN persuaded Adobe that they should create a fully accessible version. This has been done and will be available soon.
So far so good but it raised a bigger question relating to all the other documents that CEN produces. I would suggest that now this report has been published that CEN itself needs to abide by its findings and be an exemplar to industry. The initial response from the CEN publishing department to this idea is disappointing. They said :
- To make all their documents accessible will be very costly.
- Furthermore, it may even not be just a matter of cost. CEN has standardized on a format of Adobe with its Members because all 30 National Standards Bodiess need to have it. This adds to the problem, CEN cannot easily change their approach.
I am convinced that although both these arguments maybe true today they cannot justify any inertia in moving towards fully accessible documents for all CEN output.
Firstly I find it difficult to believe that there is anything in the Adobe standards used at present that preclude the documents being accessible as well. If there is then I am sure that the NSBs could be quickly persuaded to agree to any required change.
In relation to cost the publishing department needs to understand what the issues are and modify the processes so the cost is minimized. I am sure that CWA 15778:2008 itself will help them in that process. Everything I have seen so far suggest that if accessibility is built into the document creation process that there is very little extra cost, if any, involved.
I recognise that any changes in the process of creating standards will take time to implement but I feel that there is no justification in not moving quickly towards an environment where all documents produced by CEN are accessible.
I have also raised this issue with BSi, the UK standards body. The BSi recently ran a one day workshop on accessibility and during that day it was announced that the BSi board recognised the issue and intend to resolve it. I hope that as part of this process BSi raises the issue with CEN and other standards bodies .