Is automated accessibility the Answer?

I recently saw a post about an amazing automated solution which would allow financial institutions to make credit card statements accessible to vision-impaired patrons, as a seamless interface with their existing software. I thought: “Great! It would appear as though financial institutions have taken our need for accessibility to heart! It makes me want to become a patron of financial institutions who are prepared to do that!”
So then I read the blog post in its entirety, realising that it was authored, not by the financial institutions who were, by its own account, the subject, but by the software developers for the remarkable automated solution. I began pondering the recent plethora of automated accessibility solutions–the panecea for all our troubles in the modern, information-obsessed world. Let someone else do the work, devise the software package; and we’ll just purchase it and click, hey presto! Our material is accessible.
When we started valleys WordWorks, we had some idea of working in language translation, as well as Braille transcription. But we soon discovered that companies who want to pay for translation usually want it at very few pennies per word; and insist that you use computer-assisted translation software. Some of these products are very good and can assist in the translation process significantly. But if the human translator simply lets the programme do the work, because the sub-sub-sub-contracting company is only paying 3p per word, the end-product will be as sub-standard as the pay.
Search Engine Optimisation is the same. If you rely on a basic set of criteria to do the work for you, trusting in the wisdom of automated keyword searches, you will certainly achieve more results than if you did nothing, but employing someone who specialises in SEO will reap specific and increased benefits for you, the company owner.
This is equally true when the subject is accessibility. Adverts for braille software or Braille printers, (we call them embossers), can sometimes fall into the trap of selling a promise of eased accessibility provision, with no background knowledge needed. Undeniably, without the embosser, I can’t produce Braille, unless of course I wish to use a slate and stylus.
And naturally if I want to convert a document from Microsoft word, to be able to emboss it, I likely need a translation software package. I favour particular ones, so will steer clear of advertising some and not others, but both the embosser and the translation software, (or the interface software between the embosser and Word) rquires human knowledge of what the end-product is supposed to look like, to ensure that the Braille copy is accurate, readable and indeed tailored to the needs ot the Braille user.
If the PDF credit card statements have been created on financial software which has been tested for accessibility, there’s a fair chance that the PDFs it generates will also be accessible. If it has not, then no solution in the world, apart from a human being sitting at the computer screen and diligently retyping the entire set of data, is going to magic that inaccessible document into something that speech screen reading software will make sense of.
We need to be mindful of accessibility; we need to place accessibility in the priority cue with cost, benefits, timeliness, relevance, … all of that. But let’s not be lulled into thinking that an automated solution will be a quick fix for a problem we don’t know how to address otherwise.
If your company needs to make accessible documents, call us on (01443)828815 or . We can help.