Last Updated on July 19, 2015.

Four Principles of Accessible Digital Documents

Adobe PDF files, Microsoft Power Point presentations and Microsoft Word documents are the most common formats for digital documents. To be accessible, they must be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. These four principals are identified within the new WCAG 2.0 Accessibility Guidelines.


Your digital documents must be perceivable. That is, visible to any person’s one or more senses, even if she is a blind user, or one with low vision.


Digital content must be operable. That is, any user should be able to perform the necessary interactions with it. This most often involves interactive forms and navigation.


Information presented must be understandable by those attempting to use the information. That is why it is important to anticipate user-interaction. Targeted users should include people with learning disabilities and people with cognitive limitations.


Digital documents should be designed for presention to people with disabilities using different, current and future assistive technologies.

Last Updated on July 19, 2015.

Excuses, excuses...

Over the years, I have noticed that many content creators have more difficulty making accessible digital documents than building accessible Web sites. Digital documents are easily created and and shared with the public and internally with employees through E-mail, the Web, on disc, print media and various alternative formats. However, making them accessible can be time consuming and require some technical skill beyond the skillset needed to create them.

Since 2002, when I first got involved in accessible E & IT, I have seen a greater awareness slowly spread throughout government and private businesses on the Section 508 Standards. Despite a greater level of awareness, inaccessible content continues to be published on the Web and distributed electronically.

The most common excuses I hear are that:

  • There is no training budget available to address accessibility.
  • Production deadlines don't allow enough time to test, remediate, and implement changes to make the content accessible.
  • The document won't be used by anyone with a disability so it is not necessary to make it accessible.
  • It costs too much to make digital documents accessible.

These excuses alarm me! Accessibility is the law and should be considered within each planning process and budget as a priority.

IT and non-IT staff - throughout each organization who create digital content - should be trained about accessibility and their role in creating accessible information.

Once digital documents are produced, it is impossible to assure that they will never-ever be viewed by someone with a sensory, cognitive, or motor skills-related disability. Ignoring accessibility can be a very costly risk.

Going back to fix accessibility issues usually takes more time than designing ahead with accessibility in mind.

Need more information?

Contact the Section508Guru to discuss your training or publishing needs.