Signature Assignment Topic

I’m hoping this assignment could become part of the online course I’ll be developing for the MicroMasters capstone, which will be something along the lines of “Digital Accessibility and Universal Design in Canvas.”

Topic: Remediating a PDF in Adobe Acrobat DC

Goal of Instruction:

  • Define basic digital accessibility terminology in Adobe Acrobat DC including tags, metadata, and embedded fonts.
  • Classify types of tags such as “paragraph,” “header,” “figure,” “list,” and “table.”
  • Appraise accessibility of PDFs (Portable Document Files) according to the PDF/UA (Universal Accessibility) standard.
  • Construct tag trees for PDFs that are legible to screen readers such as JAWS or VoiceOver and preserve a logical reading order.

Rationale: There are no federal laws that set out standards for what makes a PDF accessible. The law that comes closest to dealing with PDF accessibility is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which states that all media in “places of public accommodation” must be made accessible. It neither defines exactly what such a “place” is, nor what the standard for accessibility is, nor does it mention PDFs. Websites are usually understood to be places of public accommodation. However, even this is ambiguous, as evinced by the recent controversy over whether the Domino’s Pizza website needs to be accessible!

Academic institutions, especially small colleges with limited funding, face both an absence of clear federal or legal guidelines and a dearth of resources with which to meet recommended standards like PDF/UA. Even Adobe’s support documents on remediation are dense and unwelcoming at best. So, when you (or faculty you support) need to place PDFs in an online instructional setting, how do you ensure those PDFs are accessible to all students? This module is intended to equip staff in a small instructional design/technology department with the skills needed to help PDFs meet some basic benchmarks of accessibility drawn from the PDF/UA standard.

The 20-minute module will focus on the tagging workflow in Adobe Acrobat DC. Tags are markers added to each unit of content in a PDF—headers, paragraphs, figures, lists, tables, and more—that let screen readers identify the document’s reading order and allow visually-impaired users to navigate the document in a meaningful way. The module will also touch on adding metadata to a PDF, embedding fonts, and using Adobe’s accessibility checker.

It’s in the best interest of staff and students to get in the habit of making PDFs as accessible as possible before it becomes a legal requirement to do so. Schools that don’t do this may someday find themselves with a massive backlog of inaccessible media and not a lot of time or resources to fix it. These practices take time to develop, and this module will provide only the first few steps, not a full primer on PDF/UA. But, it’s a good place to start.

Description / Background of Learner: Staff at a small college who have a background working with instructional technology but want to learn more about digital accessibility, or implement their own remediation workflows.

Performance Based Assessment: To assess performance, the module would provide several models of unremediated PDFs—perhaps a scanned book chapter, an electronic article downloaded from a library database, and a marketing infographic—and ask participants to perform various parts of the remediation process on them. Then, participants can use Adobe Acrobat DC’s built-in accessibility checker to check their work. Finally (if there’s time) participants can save their remediated PDF, test it in a screen reader like VoiceOver (free on Macs), and document their experience.

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