requiring typing into PDF forms + trying to email them by their own button

Technical obstacles that can happen if you try to fill in a form on a PDF document then to email it by a button provided within the form.

– These are bad enough, that it is excluding and wrong, against public accessibility, for a consultation to ask for use of such a form. They will have anyway to take ordinary email responses built around the form’s questions from folks for whom the actual form does not work. But the danger is of respondents not having the confidence to do that, so that they just never get a response in, never get their say, after they find that the way they have been literally instructed to do it, with the form, does not work.

This is the position for this consultation, whose time ends this week, on the new SIGN guidelines in Scotland, the medical reference guidelines for handling and treating autism. As you see on the page setting out the consultation (if it’s still there when you read this), they literally ask you to return the form which they provide in a PDF link, and this either to a postal address, which means a lot of spend per page on printing it, or “using the email button on the last page of the form.”

On at least some computers, this button produces no visible sign that any sending has happened. Wht do you do then? If you don’t get back any acknowledgement, you don’t know that the form has sent. Obviously your only option then is to resend your contribution in an ordinary email, built around the form’s questions copied into it, but not the actual form.

If you need to take time and thought to compose your answers, if they don’t all come to you with quick spontaneity as you sit at the screen reading the consultation, and if you have a lot to say, then you will have your answers saved somewhere outside the form, most likely in an email draft, where you composed them. Then it is more sensible just to be able to send them in that form, email – the way that most consultations in recent memory have accepted and expected submissions. The PDF form is not a welcome burden when you find: that the PDF form will not save with your answers, that if you save it as either a file or an email attachment then when you return to it any answers you had put in it are gone and only the blank form had saved, and when copy-+-paste does not work in it either. Yet this is what happens if you are on Chrome! popularly thought the most advanced browser. Then, if you are under instruction to use or try to use the form, you have to type all your already composed answers into it longhand. Without saving. That you can only do if you have continuous uninterrupted computer access for the typing’s duration, an hour or more, and without your web connection going down. If you have to leave the task unfinished, you may as well not have started, your work is wasted.

If after all that it seems a waste lf time anyway because the promised snding button does not work – then this is a process actively discouraging and losing folks unless they are particularly motivated to persevere. This is not a public user-friendly accessible way to do it. That is unjust.

On computers equipped with the 2 commonest browsers now, Chrome and Explorer, the technical position is curiously the reverse of what you might expect from their reputations. It’s Chrome where the form will not save with its content. Saving it as either a file or an email attachment, when you next open it you find that only the blank form saved and any answers that were already in it have disappeared. Copy-and-paste does not work in the form either, and finally, all effort is wasted because the send button just does not work, nothing happens. But in Explorer, a browser that some now regard as out of date, copy-and-paste and saving with content all do work! But the form still fails to send. The send button at least produces a result, asking you to select an email send address. But either this is followed by “An unknown error occurred while uploading the attachment”, or it allows you to sign it into your email account then has the unknown error.

Firefox, also got the experience of it allowing me to select an email address then giving the unknown error. In Firefox too, copy-and-paste and saving worked, when you try to send it allows you to select an email address then gives the “unknown error” message. Anyway, sending does not work on any of the 3 prominent browsers.

26 Jul 2016

They did answer this problem decently, and accept submission by email, Aug 22:
Thank you for taking the time to comment on our booklets and I apologise that you had so many problems with the online pdf form. Some others had problems with this and others were able to complete and send it without any problems. We will take all your comments on board in relation to the technical difficulties and for the next consultation we will advise people that they can submit comments in an email or on paper if they are having difficulty with the online form. We can also send hard copies of the declaration of interests form and the consultation form by post to make this easier for people.