PDF and Accessibility
Jeffrey Zeldman’s comment about the new tutorial on Web Accessibility Guidelines by the State of Illinois in PDF format prompted me to update and refresh my information on PDF accessibility issues. How accessible friendly are PDF documents now? Off I went to explore my bookmarks and the Adobe site.
Here’s some of what I revisited or found and a few thoughts tossed in.
Adobe Acrobat Reader:
A free downloadable version that includes support for screen readers via the Microsoft Active Access API (MSAA).
Online Conversion Tools:
Convert PDF documents into either HTML or ASCII text, which can then be read by screen readers. This allows anyone to view a PDF file in either PDF format, ASCII or HTML.
Then, at the Acrobat solutions for accessibility page, Adobe points out the following benefits, features:
- "Read Adobe PDF documents with Microsoft® Windows® based screen readers from vendors such as Freedom Scientific and GW Micro.
- Use keyboard navigation.
- View documents in high contrast mode.
- Zoom in on text and reflow to fit any size view when working with tagged (accessible) Adobe PDF files."
Adobe is making positive strides in accessibility for PDF documents. While it’s great that they’re accessible to screen readers and other devices, reading them could still involve an extra step to convert them to a format that screen readers and other devices can read. That extra step turns into two extra steps if the viewer hasn’t previously downloaded the free Adobe Acrobat special reader. For many, this can bring on a few grumbles.
The other issue here is that PDF format is proprietary to Adobe. They’ve now added the free plug-ins to help provide accessibility. While I like PDF for a variety of reasons, especially working with a textbook publisher client for our private use, my focus for this short article is on accessibility issues and Web standards (and not the value of PDF documents).
Next, what about those of us who create PDF documents? What do we need to know and do to make PDF documents as accessible as possible?
The Make Accessible plug-in is a free tool that will convert untagged PDF documents into tagged, and thus accessible, PDF documents. A tagged PDF document will provide the page content in a logical read order, identify word boundaries, map font encodings, and provide a structure tree with a standard set of tags. This allows the PDF document to be read by a screen reader, provides document reflow, and the ability to be saved as an RTF document.
So that’s it for a quick overview of the latest with accessible PDF documents, both in accessing them and creating them. For more information, check out Adobe Acrobat’s Accessibility section.