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While automation has made creating accessible documents more efficient, testing is still a vital step in the process. However, it's a component that is less familiar to many organizations. When we talk about testing accessible documents, we tend to use the terms quality assurance and quality control interchangeably, but in reality, they are different things.

According to ISO-9000:2015,

Quality assurance (QA) refers to the procedures that must be followed to ensure that a product meets certain standards or customer requirements. Quality control (QC), on the other hand, refers to testing and reviewing the final product to ensure that there are no problems or errors.

Both QA and QC are necessary and important elements of document accessibility, but in this article, we will focus on QC, or testing the final product.

The Requirements for Quality Control

QC is the phase in the process where you ensure that your documents comply with current legislation, including the recent Section 508 refresh. It's also essential to get a sense of how the end user will experience the files. That’s why it’s so important to test with screen readers and to verify technical accuracy, particularly with accessible PDFs and accessible HTML5.

Each of the accessible formats has standards, guidelines, and best practices that must be followed to achieve technical accuracy. For example, braille has both code and formatting rules. Code rules tell which symbol to use, while formatting rules tell how to arrange elements of text (such as lists and headings) on a page. Similarly, large print has industry standards regarding fonts, spacing, and many other aspects of page layout. In both cases, the best way to verify technical accuracy is to have someone well-versed in the appropriate standards to read through the files. For braille, this person should be a certified braille proofreader. Regardless of the format, the person who transcribes or remediates the files should not be the one who proofs them.

Verifying Technical Accuracy

Verifying technical accuracy and the end user experience is particularly important for accessible PDFs and accessible HTML5. If you’re going to test your documents in-house, you’ll need to test for both.

When it comes to technical accuracy of accessible PDF files, you can use tools such as Adobe’s Accessibility Checker, CommonLook PDF Validator, or PAC 2.0. These tools provide reports that tell you if your file meets a series of success criteria for accessibility. There are similar tools that perform the same function for accessible HTML5. We call this type of testing machine verification. On the other hand, human verification of these formats involves a subject matter expert reviewing the file to verify that each element has either been properly tagged or changed into an artifact. Both machine and human verification are important. Even if an automated checker verifies the format, it can’t tell if alt text descriptions make sense or are helpful and if the read order is logical. In other words, a file can “pass” when verified by machine but fail to communicate all of the content in the document properly.

Evaluating the End User Experience

Once you’ve determined that your accessible PDF or accessible HTML5 documents are technically accurate, they need to be tested with a screen reader. These programs (such as JAWS, NVDA, and VoiceOver) are designed to convert text into speech. It is critical to note that Adobe Read Aloud is not a screen reader. It does not function as a screen reader, so it will not reflect how the end user will interact with your files. It’s also essential that the tester is proficient with the screen reader used for QC purposes. This means knowing the keyboard commands that enable the end user to navigate the file and access specific information. Without thorough knowledge of these commands, the tester is not able to replicate the end user experience.

We always recommend both machine and human verification for accessible PDFs and accessible HTML5. We also recommend testing with at least one of the available screen readers. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of them, but that's a topic for another time.

QC is a vital step in ensuring your documents are truly accessible for everyone who wants to use and gain value from them. It is an important process within the workflow that will help your organization achieve the dual goals of maintaining regulatory compliance and meeting your customers' needs.

Ernie Crawford is the President/CEO and founder of Crawford Technologies. Ernie has more than 30 years of senior marketing and management experience in the high-volume electronic printing market.