Riverdocs is currently focusing on providing an end-to-end document conversion service.
This information is provided to assist existing software users only.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is web accessibility required by law, and if so, does the legislation apply to all web sites?

The situation varies internationally – however, many developed countries have introduced social inclusion legislation that covers web accessibility, including the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act, the British Standards Institution’s Publicly Available Specification 78 code of practice and the US Rehabilitation Act, Section 508. For more details on international accessibility policies, go to www.w3.org/WAI/Policy/


Does web accessibility compliance relate to Sarbanes-Oxley or other corporate governance legislation?

No. A web site achieves web accessibility compliance by conforming to applicable disability legislation and to the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. It should be noted that full compliance with WCAG 1.0 involves human usability testing, as automatic testing may not pick up all usability issues in an otherwise compliant site.


Does e-accessibility mean the same as web accessibility?

Yes, the two terms are virtually synonymous and are closely associated. The European eEurope 2002 Action Plan contains a number of other “e-” words such as e-research and e-education – the e prefix simply indicates the concept of making services and content available through all electronic means on the Web or other browsable networks. The e-accessibility page of the Action Plan has the subtitle “Participation for all in the knowledge-based economy” and links to the W3C WCAG 1.0 guidelines. The term “web accessibility”, which is part of the name of the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative, emphasises the implementation of e-accessibility on the Web in a socially inclusive way.


Does web accessibility add to the cost of a site?

To some extent, but accessibility includes usability, which is a key element of best practice in web design. A fully accessible site should also be highly usable. Accessibility is more a matter of design than quantity of resources, and according to the Norman Nielsen Group, research indicates that “the cost of usability doesn't increase linearly with project size.” The widespread adoption of Cascading Style Sheets has facilitated the economical introduction and maintenance of web accessibility by allowing site-wide control of presentation.


Is there a return on investment for redesigning a website for accessibility?

Probably. A Norman Nielsen Group study of 42 sites before and after redesign concludes that redesigned sites can be expected to deliver strong improvements in sales/conversion rate, traffic, user performance/productivity and use of specific features.


Are there any official standards for web accessibility?

No, but much current legislation recognises the W3C’s 1999 Recommendation document Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 as a de facto standard. The UK’s Guide to Good Practice in Commissioning Accessible Websites (PAS 78), sponsored by the Disability Rights Commission, is a Publicly Available Specification, a BSI format that is a stage in development towards a full BSI standard.


Can a user tell whether a web site is accessible?

Some accessibility features are not visible to the eye, but many basic ones are. Web accessibility ultimately means that the content or services provided by the site are available conveniently to any user, including those with disabilities. Some accessibility features are easy to test – for example: Is the site as a whole usable? Sometimes only the welcome page is usable. Do images have alt text, a brief description of the image that displays when you hover your mouse over it? These allow the screenreader software used by visually impaired users to identify the purpose of an image. Do tables have summary text, which has a similar purpose to alt text?

If these features are missing, the site is non-WCAG 1.0 compliant.


I want to make all my PDF documents web accessible. Some of them already seem to be accessible, as they have clear text and layout and alt texts and descriptions for image and table elements. Do I need to use RiverDocs Converter, since I already have a PDF-to-HTML converter?

Yes, especially if you have a large number of PDF documents to convert. Apart from the fact that RiverDocs Document Converter combines accessibility testing and conversion in one operation, not all accessibility issues are visible to the eye – for example, RiverDocs Converter can highlight such common but invisible issues as non-linearised tables, which are confusing to for screen reader users. RiverDocs Document Converter can also render documents that had been presented in chunks as a single, continuous document, adding further accessibility.


Is there a convenient test of web accessibility?

There is no fully automatic, comprehensive software test, because some aspects of accessibility require human assessment.

Many accessibility issues can be detected automatically, and the W3C provides a means of doing this through its HTML validator. You can check whether your site’s HTML code is valid under the W3C WCAG 1.0 Guidelines by visiting http://validator.w3.org. However, as a RiverDocs Converter user you do not need to do this, as the Document Converter incorporates the Validator and carries out automatic web accessibility testing during its conversion process. You can preview content and correct residual accessibility issues after conversion.


How can you make a document or other resource web accessible?

Essentially, you need to ensure that all users, including the disabled, can access and use the resource conveniently. This means that information is conveyed clearly with due consideration for all the different categories of user, and that the level of usability is as high as possible for all the various technologies used to access the resource. Requirements for ensuring web accessibility for the disabled are covered in detail in the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which have become the de facto standard.


I need to make sure that colour-blind users can read my documents – can RiverDocs Converter help?

Yes. You can set RiverDocs Converter to detect and correct foreground-background colour combinations likely to make text illegible for colour-blind or other visually impaired users. During conversion it then replaces these with one of the 16 approved combinations. Note: The above refers to text and page background – RiverDocs Document Converter does not correct colour combinations within images.


Which document format is the best to use to achieve web accessibility?

RiverDocs recommends HTML or XHTML.


What makes an image web accessible?

It should be optimised so that the image file loads quickly on most systems and can be viewed conveniently. If a large file has to be provided, it should be accessible via a fast-loading smaller thumbnail or compressed version of the image. The file properties should include an ALT text, which is a short description of the content that clarifies the role of the image for the screen reader user.

If the image contains text, especially important information, the choice of colours used should take account of the various forms of colour blindness, providing sufficient contrast to ensure legibility for all users.


What makes a table web accessible?

It should be clear when viewed in a browser. Its properties should include a summary, which is a brief text description that allows screen reader users to understand the purpose of the table. Disabled users should also be able to identify and interpret the column and row data of the table.

An important requirement for accessible tables is correct linearisation. Tables that display normally may nonetheless be linearised incorrectly, making them confusing for screenreader users.


Is web accessibility an issue for many web users?

Yes. In the sense that it includes usability, it affects us all! With regard to the special needs of disabled groups, it is worth noting that because of the pervasive use of the Internet, their numbers are very large – for example, of Europe’s 387m Internet users, 39m are estimated to have special web accessibility requirements.

Web accessibility is often construed narrowly in terms of familiar and obvious disabilities such as blindness, but it also covers such issues as the need to provide clear documents for sighted but colour-blind users and those with limited literacy.

Increasing life expectancy is another important factor, as many users are likely to acquire some form of sensory, motor or cognitive deficit as they get older.


Can you tell whether a document is web accessible by viewing it in a browser?

You can assess some accessibility issues, i.e. whether the document loads quickly, has a clear layout and readable text, whether any images and tables display ALT text when you hover the mouse over them, and in the case of longer documents, whether it is easy to navigate. Detecting and correcting the full range of accessibility issues manually is a time-consuming process – however, some issues, for example failure to achieve maximum feasible clarity of style, require human intervention to remedy them.


Are there any accessibility issues that RiverDocs Converter does not correct or detect?

Yes, RiverDocs Converter does not correct or detect failure to comply with WCAG Guideline 14 on clarity of language. However, it does allow you to preview the document output and make any changes you consider necessary for compliance with that Guideline.

There are a few other issues that RiverDocs Document Converter detects and flags but which require human intervention to fix, for example when the alt text of an image is missing.


Does web accessibility apply to or affect non-disabled users?

Yes. As research has indicated, (see qus 4 and 5) a web site designed or redesigned for accessibility is likely to be more usable and hence more effective. The valuable side-effects, of accessibility include cleaner, faster-loading code, better search functionality greater browser compatibility, and more consistent design and navigation. Accessibility has therefore become an essential part of best practice in web design.


What is a VPAT?

The US Information Technology­ Industry Council (ITI) developed the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, or VPAT in ­partnership with the US government to help federal purchasing agents comply with the accessibility requirements set out in Section 508 of the U.S. Workforce­ Rehabilitation­ Act of 1973. VPAT is designed to provide a useful and convenient­ mechanism for identifying commercial­ "electronic­ and information technology"­ products and services­ with accessible features. It has since been applied at US state level and by some international governments­, and by some corporations that employ people with disabilities.­ Today, a number of manufacturers routinely produce­ VPATs and post them on their company websites.

For VPAT information, see the ITI site at http://www.itic.org/archives/articles/20040506/faq_voluntary_product_accessibility_templatetm_vpattm.php


Does complying with accessibility guidelines offer any significant general benefits other than improved usability?

Yes. Web sites redesigned for accessibility have been shown to deliver worthwhile ROI via improved marketing performance (see qu. 5). Although implementing accessibility involves initial investment, the result can be significant cost savings as a by-product of improved usability and technical factors, especially where large volumes of documents are involved. For example, Dutch government sites experienced volume reductions of up to 60% by using validated, accessible code, with consequent reductions in server load and bandwidth.

Changing a web site can also cost less once CSS has been adopted, as changes are then made via style sheets rather than by multiple changes embedded in individual HTML pages.

CSS entails separation of content from its presentation, which has other business and development advantages – for example, other websites and media, e.g. a site for mobile phone users, can access the same content as browser users.

Search engine robot software can also access and index accessible sites more quickly, which has further potential business benefits.

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