Workplace Inclusiveness—It Counts! 

 In Articles, Compliance, PDF Accessibility

Four coworkers talk across a conference table, one of them is in a wheelchair

Disabilities: Let’s Start with Some Statistics

The International Labour Organization(“ILO”) estimates that there are more than 1 billion people in the world today — or 15% of the global population — with a disability, either permanent or temporary, that affects, for example, their visual, mobility, hearing, cognitive, speech and/or neural functions.  And even though study after study shows that companies benefit from a diverse workforce, including people with disabilities, these individuals can face significant employment barriers.

How Accessible Is Your Office…Really?

You’ve made sure that your office environment is physically accessible for everyone, which is great.  But now let’s get into the nitty gritty of the day-to-day tasks. What happens when an employee who is visually impaired or has a cognitive disability needs to read a document on your website? Are they able to? And we’re not talking about just your website, which hopefully is accessible, but also the content on it, specifically your PDFs—are they accessible? Can they be read by people with disabilities? Your office may send documents to your employees’ home computers. Are those PDFs accessible? What about company on-boarding or training materials? All this information needs to be accessible. And now, more than ever, employees are reading information and working from their tablet and/or mobile devices; the need for PDF accessibility extends to those devices as well.

What’s Happening with Your Intranet?

More and more, standard office information is becoming digitalized, but is the information accessible? And just as important, do all your employees have equal access to all your information? If your office uses an intranet for internal communication, how accessible is the content that employees use which are in PDF format—requests for leave, pay and healthcare information—the list could go on and on. Consider the forms you ask employees to complete that might be found on your intranet. Everyone, including people with disabilities, should be able to fill them out electronically. We refer to this as, “Fill then Print,” and it provides much more accessibility than “Print then Fill.”  If any of your employees need to print out the form and then write their answers on the paper, that’s not an accessible form!

Other PDF Accessibility Key Considerations

Think about it. Are your PDFs tagged properly so that assistive technology like screen readers can read the document in the order in which it was meant to be read?  Is the color contrast such that employees who are visually impaired are really able to see the document clearly? If the document contains images, is there alternative text to explain/ describe those images? When you’re using a table, is it performing the function of a table or is it just a design element? It makes a difference and complicates tagging as well as readability. And if your table is really meant to be a table, is it tagged, let alone tagged properly? If not, assistive technology won’t read it correctly. These are just a few considerations. There are many more—a full checklist can be found on the website.  Even if you don’t need to make your PDFs conform with the HHS criteria, their checklist provides easy-to-follow guidelines to help make sure your PDFs are accessible!

What Should Be Your Course of Action?

Select Your IT Vendors Carefully

Whatever the size or nature of your organization, it makes sense to think about accessibility when getting new technology, revamping your website, redoing your intranet, etc. When selecting an IT vendor, be sure they can prove their mastery of and compliance with accessibility standards, for example, by self-certification or by accreditation from an independent source.

Get Your PDFs’ Accessibility Ship-Shape

The PDF Universal Accessibility (PDF/UA) standard “defines how to represent electronic documents in the PDF format in a manner that allows the file to be accessible.” This basically means that if you follow its standards, your PDF formatting—and tagging—shouldn’t be the source of any accessibility issues. When writing new documents and/or reviewing your existing ones, consider getting help from someone who knows the standards inside out. CommonLook, for example, offers a variety of products, services, and training, and they will work with you to ensure your PDFs are accessible to everyone.

Become a First-Choice Employer

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “a person’s environment has a huge impact on the experience and extent of disability. Inaccessible environments create disability by creating barriers to participation and inclusion.” As we’ve noted, that environment also includes the daily office procedures and tasks that many of us take for granted, but can have a great impact on the happiness, inclusion, and success that a person with disabilities may experience. How accessible your organization’s documents are also says something about your culture to existing and future employees. How inclusive is it? How much does diversity matter to you? Knowing that your organization actually cares about, and works towards, creating a positive work setting for people with disabilities can lead to an upbeat workforce and improve your reputation as an employer…one for whom people will want to work.

If you have questions, concerns, or you’d like to know more about CommonLook and how we can help, please contact us at