A Promising Practice: Social Security Administration's ADAPT Technology

"Recently, we accepted the challenge of finding an innovative solution to deliver course material that meets everyone's needs, including those with severe vision loss.

"Traditionally, our course material has been developed using a column format that is user friendly for those not having a visual impairment. A column format with headings in the left column leaves more white space that is more pleasing to the eye and allows a person to scan the left column quickly for headings they are looking for. In addition, we use different font attributes and styles such as bold, shadow, italic, etc. that draws the attention of the reader. This same format creates problems for visually impaired employees. Many of our visually impaired employees use screen reader technology to have the computer speak what is on the screen to them. In most instances the screen reader cannot interpret column formats so it reads the text as if it was being displayed in single column format. What the visually impaired employee hears is garbled information. Also, many of the font styles and attributes used to highlight information for a non-visually impaired employee can be difficult for someone with low vision to read, particularly when it is magnified.

"We pursued several different options [for making our courses accessible to those with visual impairments]. First, we tried to convert our course material to ASCII text. This eliminated much of the special formatting, but we found it was also deleting sections of course material. Next, due to limited in-house resources, we hired a contractor to convert one of our courses. This cost SSA $23,000 and it took almost three months to have the work completed [for one course] . . . .

"We knew we had to find an innovative solution for [our remaining courses]. That solution was ADAPT (A Document Accessibility Program for the office of Training). ADAPT is a software program we created that automates the process of converting our training course material into an accessible format for our visually impaired employees. ADAPT reformats text that is developed in column format to linear text. It also strips out tables, eliminates special font effects such as shadow, emboss, sets margins, and changes numerous other formatting issues that impact accessibility. ADAPT also analyzes course material documents to determine if our course material standards are being followed. If ADAPT finds formatting that does not follow the standards, a document is created noting any inconsistencies so course material authors can make any necessary corrections.

"The same course that cost us $23,000 and took approximately 3 months to complete can be converted to an accessible format in less than 4 hours using ADAPT."