Throughout the world, governments at all levels have recognized the importance of providing an open and accessible environment for all citizens. Over the past few years this move to broader accessibility has expanded into the online content that businesses use to communicate and interact with their customers. Almost all jurisdictions around the world have mandated deadlines for businesses to add accessibility features to all of their web-based content.

The guidelines for accessibility are clear and often provide significant benefits for non-disabled users. But implementing these requirements can be difficult, time-consuming and sometimes impossible using the current technologies used by organizations.

But while many organizations have made their customer facing websites accessible, they have often completely missed or completely failed on making the customer and user facing forms accessible to persons with disabilities or even usable to fully abled people.

Examples of these failures are many:

  • Telling users that Adobe Acrobat Reader will read PDF documents is true, but then they put an image of the form into the PDF – which Reader cannot read – resulting in the disabled user unable to use the form
  • Forcing users to download and physically fill out the form makes it very difficult for disabled users to know which fields are required and where they are located on the forms and is a generally bad experience for any user.
  • Providing fillable PDF forms is good, but many organizations force the user to download the filled version and print the form, then scan it and send it via email. This forces all users, disabled or not, through unwanted steps and results in a much higher rate of errors and incomplete forms.
  • Providing PDF forms that are fillable online and can be submitted without printing is better, but then organizations fail because they do not include effective help or field information to guide the disabled user through the form completion process.

There are multiple reasons why organizations have failed at providing a better customer experience for all their users when it comes to forms:

  • Many organizations are still using PDF based forms that were originally created 15 years ago in Word and have never been updated. They are not compliant today and making them compliant will require re-building them entirely.
  • Many organizations believe that the form has to be in paper “because it has a signature”. This is false. Most forms do not actually require a signature if submitted online and those that do can be addressed using fully compliant and secure digital signature technology.
  • Some organizations do not understand the scope of the problem. They believe that they only have a small number of forms. Most medium and larger sized organizations have in excess of 1,000 forms and they have never had a complete count of all of them.

For these organizations the requirement to add accessibility to all of their online content is an opportunity to re-think how they use forms, how they gather information from their users and customers and to implement a comprehensive and powerful architecture that allows them to comply now and in the future. This new architecture will also help the organization eliminate manual activities, link front and back end systems more effectively and reduce operation costs – all while improving customer experiences and customer satisfaction.


Accessibility Title

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.


Accessibility and Digital Transformation Title

Accessibility is good business. Not only because it allows your organization to do business with a wider range of customers, but because it provides multiple improvements in your custom experience for all users and all consumers of your web content.

By removing or reducing the number of paper-based documents you require from your customers, and by moving more of the transactions online, you will improve the experience for all users. And moving to a more online based process for all your transactions will substantially reduce your operating costs. And a comprehensive, modern form architecture allows you to eliminate or reduce manual processing and data re-keying. By linking the accessible, web-based forms with your back-end systems you can transform how you operate and make all of your customers happier.


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