Organizations are often surprised by the number, complexity and pervasiveness of forms in their organizations. When they start to do an audit and assessment of what needs to be changed to comply with the accessibility regulations in their jurisdictions, they often realize that the primary customer facing web-based content are forms and documents that are generated for the users from back end systems.
While not all forms fall under the regulations, many of the most used customer facing documents, data gathering tools and approval methods are all covered and must be made compliant.
But this can be a tremendous challenge. Forms can exist in many formats each of which requires a separate process and effort to make accessible. For example:
- Is the form used in a “print, fill and send” style?
- Is the PDF form used for “fill, print and send”?
- Is the PDF form used for “fill and submit”?
- Do you provide multiple formats (e.g. HTML and PDF and Paper) for a single form?
- Is the form used for a physical “wet” signature?
- Is the form assembled using back end data?
- Is the form assembled from multiple “sub-forms” based on the data?
In addition to the different styles and uses for the forms and documents, organizations face the challenge of how these documents and PDF forms were created. Often the original “source” for the forms was not a forms design tool or web content tool but was rather a generic tool such as Word or Excel. These generic tools have very little capability to add in accessibility features which requires the organization to convert the formats into something that can allow them to add accessibility features to meet the regulations.
In other cases, the forms were originally developed as part of the software and require significant re-coding and even new development in order to make them compliant. This is often the case when older, back-end systems have had new web-based front ends created. The front ends solved the problem of web-based presentation of the information, but usually lack any accessibility features and so require significant development efforts in order to become compliant.