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LongDesc for documents, not websites


From: Bevi Chagnon | PubCom
Date: Apr 19, 2011 9:30PM

This question comes up every time I teach my 508 classes to government
What’s the best way to handle Alt-text for complex graphics in MS Word and
PDF documents (not websites)?

My government clients have very complex graphics such as charts, graphs,
maps, technical drawings, floor plans, and flow charts. Standard Alt-text
isn’t sufficient to describe the details of the graphics.

The LongDesc attribute doesn’t work for these documents for these reasons:

1) The attribute requires that my clients know what the final website
location of the LongDesc webpage is, and this is impossible for them to know
while they are creating the M.S. Word or PDF file.

2) There is a lengthy approval process for all documents (usually months
away) so it’s not possible to know where the document will live on a file
server, website, or intranet while it’s under construction.

3) The I.T. department usually controls where the final document is stored,
not my clients who are making the document, and I.T. will not tell them 2-3
months in advance where that location will be. (Note, Federal security
requirements often affect this, too.)

4) There are often hundreds of these complex graphics in a document.

Writing the detailed description into the narrative of the document often
doesn’t work. The description alone can take up an entire page of narration
for very complex graphics, and therefore a long narration impairs sighted
readers (they’ll quickly lose interest in the document).

One idea we had was to repeat the complex graphics at the end of the
document along with a detailed narrative. In the main body of the document,
the graphic can have a normal text link to the back where the detailed
narrative is located.

Main body of the document <Figure>
Pie chart shows growth of x-y during 2010. <live link to the back page>Text
description of this chart is at the end of this document.

There are two significant drawbacks to this method:

1) It's very time consuming and impractical to construct this, especially
given the immense number of revisions that a government document goes
through before it is finalized. The live text links will eventually get out
of whack during the normal editing and revision process.

2) In these graphic-intensive documents, it could easily add a hundred or
more pages to the document because the graphics will appear twice, once in
the main body of the text and again in the back section with the detailed

Any suggestions? Remember, these are Word and PDF documents, not websites.
Thanks in advance for your words of wisdom!

--Bevi Chagnon

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Bevi Chagnon | PubCom | <EMAIL REMOVED> | 301-585-8805
Government publishing specialists, trainers, consultants | print, press,
web, Acrobat PDF & 508
April-May Classes: www.pubcom.com/classes Section 508 Accessibility for
Word, InDesign, and Acrobat PDF
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