Avoid creating documents in PDF format.

That’s one piece of advice that inclusive design consultant and disability advocate Greg Alchin has for those who want to adopt more inclusive practices within their working environment.

“PDFs are designed to be read on a desktop or laptop. It doesn’t really flow on mobile devices, and screen readers are not able to pick up text effectively,” said Alchin, who has more than 30 years of experience in the sector and is a certified Apple Accessibility Consultant.

PDF documents (short for portable document format) have long been considered to be the bad guys when it comes to accessibility. Many files created in PDF format are essentially images of documents, which present a big problem to people who rely on basic text-to-speech technology: there’s no machine-readable text in there for the software to read.

Alchin thinks publishers should always be an alternative version of the PDF document. Formats include the Microsoft Word document, html or ePub format, an international standard that allows users to alter the text size, colors and have the screen reader read out text without glitches.

People need to rethink the idea of accessibility because it really doesn’t take up a lot of work if we think ahead. When done right, it usually leads to an overall better product or service that empowers greater participation among people, with and without disabilities.

He said: “There are very simple proactive strategies we can learn to make things accessible. What we do have to do is to think better at the start. It’s only costly if we do it as an afterthought.”

Technology becomes an equalizer when they go mainstream

With so much potential in mainstream technology waiting to be unleashed, people can rely leverage on assistive technology, instead of expensive bespoke technology to do more.

Mobile devices have become great equalisers in today’s assistive technology landscape. Alchin said, “Because assistive technology is built into a device, those with learning differences can use the same mainstream, socially inclusive devices, just with different apps”.

For instance, someone with communication impairment could use Proloquo2Go, a symbol-supposed communication app to promote language development and grow communication skills.

Another example is the KNFB Reader, an app that harnesses the power of digital photography to make printed materials accessible. Give it any printed text and it will automatically scan and read it. Apart from the visually impaired, this app can be useful in aged services as well.

Then there is the Voice Dream Reader, which allows users to personalise how they interact with the content by adjusting reading speeds and reconfiguring screen layout, line spacing and color. It’s suited for those with dyslexia, ADD or simply anyone who wants to have their documents proofread.

“There is a huge, untapped potential in the different groups of people,” he said. “With these new innovations, people are empowered to participate as equals and this helps to raise expectations. When we raise expectations, we then raise opportunities.”