Accessible PDF: Digital Documents without Boundaries
Accessibility - not only a matter for people with disabilities. Why political correctness is also becoming increasingly important in business terms.More
In fact, it's about up-valuing content and documents to intelligent information media. In the final analysis, data is the raw material of any digital transformation – including and especially in document and output management. Beginning this fall, public-sector authorities and organizations must make their communications universally accessible. A current EU directive requires they do so. Thereafter, any content in paper and electronic documents, on websites and apps must be generally accessible, understandable and robust.
Even if universal accessibility were reduced solely to equality for the disabled, the demand for universally accessible information is not restricted to the needs of the physically or mentally disabled. Strictly speaking, the topic of inclusion is a sidebar in the discussion. Yet barrier-free communication has multiple facets. At its core is one thing: content now must be generated and made available as intelligently as possible. That also includes the language (comprehensibility, syntax, multilingualism).
In other words, the demand is for documents that are not only "enriched" with the structural information required by the Barrier-Free Information Technology Ordinance (BITV) and other statutes, but also with meaningful data that can be extracted and linked as desired, for example to conduct highly complex and targeted information research.
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The fact is that a document's semantic quality plays an important role regardless of what the law requires. Take omnichannel communications as an example. Nowadays, the recipient dictates the communications channel. Hence, businesses not only need to separate document creation from delivery, they also have to let go of page size (A4 metaphor) so the content can be easily conveyed via other media. But that's not possible without adding detailed information to the document in route to output. That information means the IT-savvy twenty-something can read and sign a credit agreement on her smartphone; the senior gets his current pension notice via regular mail, the way he wants it; and, of course, the sight-impaired can have the screen reader read their recent power bill out loud.
It's all about "breathing intelligence" into communication: digital accessibility automatically means inclusion. Embedding structural information is known in the jargon as tagging. Creating multichannel-capable, and therefore responsive, documents also takes care of the universal accessibility issue, practically as an afterthought.
This fact alone should be enough to motivate companies to face the issue head on. In light of big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and other current technologies, every digital transformation worth its salt already focuses on gathering and using actionable data. A discussion of standardization and automation in document and output management is useless if the needed data isn't available. If you are still rendering your pixilated documents readable via optical character recognition, you're a long way from creating intelligent documents.
The ultimate goal is not only the availability of the document itself but also the data it contains. There is ample awareness of this across industries and countries. Meanwhile, the specialist departments and even the customers themselves are setting the bar high. Marketing and sales, for example, demand increasingly detailed information so they can appeal to customers in a targeted way (automatic, selective campaigns). AI methods can be used to easily generate the data needed – provided it is available. Nowadays it's not enough to just retrieve documents from the archive and display them. To put it bluntly, you need to be able to do something with the content – like generate specific answers to specific problems, quickly and automatically.
But the real world still has some catching-up to do. Companies still have any number of "data sinks" where some documents are stored as image files without actionable metadata. Many content themselves with rendering the archived documents readable, but do nothing to up-value the data. A "wait-and-see" attitude still prevails – which is surely also due to legacy structures in document creation. Who wants to part with proven applications and processes? Some shy away from the expense of tagging existing documents after the fact. That's one concern that is hardly unfounded.
Still, data and its application are a valuable commodity that can earn a lot of money. It forms the foundation without which digital technologies cannot unfold their potential. Data is the new oil for universal accessible communication. Google is leading the way. The company uses its new Dataset Search engine to bundle the countless providers of scientific datasets on the web to make research easier for scientists, journalists and students. Behind it lies the phenomenon of the "semantic web." It's about having available not only the text itself but the content as data that can be automatically correlated.
Only then is ongoing information research over multiple levels possible. Instead of manually searching through a document for a specific piece of information, the web readily provides the answer. These are not just simple search results but complex results that can only be generated by linking different data. If you want to know the population of Berlin in 1920, you can certainly find it on the web. But if you want to know how many inhabitants were male, female and under the age of 25, you need smarter search methods.
The semantic web is still among the most undervalued topics. But rest assured that it will permeate our entire lives in several years. German universities are already offering programs in barrier-free communication or universal accessible communication, such as the one launched in the winter semester 2018/2019 at the University of Hildesheim.
But it's high time to rethink document generation. The new approach: Documents are data sources that provide companies with the raw material to tap into new markets. The needed technologies are available. In the meantime there are enough applications and IT solutions that support intelligent document production. So why wait? As far as universal accessible communication is concerned, you'll also be on the safe side. The approach may differ from one company to the next (complete overhaul of document generation, later inclusion of structural information/metadata or both). Only the time to start is now.
An interview with Harald Grumser, CEO, Compart
Mr. Grumser, the demand for barrier-free communication is not new. But why is there still so much reluctance in this area?
Grumser: It's certainly because for many companies the issue boils down to the aspect of inclusion. The authorities are now required by law to render documents and content accessible to the disabled. But the situation is hardly optimal.
Even if every ministry fully complies with the requirement for universal accessible communication, why should a company press ahead if it's not obliged to? For many companies being sued by the blind is considered a low risk because they don't have access to all content; the risk is deemed acceptable. So the topic gets put off.
There is a certain amount of overall inertia in this respect. Although they may not fully appreciate it, some are surely aware that the requirement for generally accessible documents presents an opportunity to think in general about modernizing document creation. Key word: multichannel capability. If you generate your documents for output on all channels, regardless of medium, display size, etc., you have to deal with data. Then, the issue of universal accessibility and inclusion is, in principle, a by-product.
Many companies are working with document generation systems that are 20 years old and older. So that means they are facing the question of whether to completely modernize document creation or make existing documents more intelligent. What do you recommend?
Grumser: Companies need to decide that for themselves. There is no patent solution no matter where they are starting from, but start they must. They need to set a date to start creating documents only according to the defined criteria. There are sufficient applications available. HTML5 and other standards are suitable methods for generating accessible, structured, and intelligent content for all media. Compart's DocBridge® Impress is also a suitable solution.
The problem is what to do with the old documents. You could go back and tag them; there are powerful tools available, such as DocBridge® Mill Plus, although such processes are always prone to error. The affected documents need to be available in electronic form and the content decrypted so it is readable and accessible. I think that most companies, with a few exceptions, have digitized their paper archives.
But keep in mind that this method is extremely cost-intensive. So is the effort worth it? Or is it better to forego the possibilities that structuring and "upvaluing" will offer and just let the unstructured documents be.
The question is what relevance do these documents have, that is, what is the statistical probability that they will be needed for targeted information research. It depends. Adding intelligence later isn't always the only right way.
Apropos DocBridge® Impress: What does the Compart solution offer in this context?
Grumser: While it does support subsequent tagging, the critical advantage of DocBridge® Impress lies in the new approach. From the beginning, every document is created for output and display on all media; it is universally accessible and can be "enriched" with enough metadata for further processing via the semantic web. We call this the "design once" principle, meaning the document is created in a single source format and "enriched" with data such that it is multichannel-capable and universally accessible – ergo intelligent.
With DocBridge® Impress, users create digital accessible documents practically "in passing," because the solution supports all the popular output formats such as HTML5 and PDF/UA, the internationally recognized standard for universally accessible documents per the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
"Accessible documents are also multichannel-capable documents: Make a virtue of necessity!" Under this motto, Compart recently launched a campaign to create universally accessible documents according the WCAG PDF/UA standard. All German authorities are required by law to make their customer communication completely barrier-free by the fall of this year, thus precipitating the campaign. A current EU directive requires they do so. It mandates that the content of paper and digital documents, on websites and apps be understandable for every recipient or user.
The goal of the campaign is to demonstrate how the legal requirements can also be used as an opportunity for updating output management from the ground up. It revolves around creating documents such that they can be output on virtually all the currently available analog (paper) and digital media, thus also making them accessible and barrier-free. Compart's software for universal document design, DocBridge® Impress, can play a major role.
The tool was developed in response to changes in the communication behavior in society and the private sector that demand the use of a growing number of electronic channels without neglecting the traditional media (letters, faxes, e-mail, etc). Compart's campaign therefore addresses companies and organizations in all sectors.
For more information on the campaign, see Create Universal Accessible Documents