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RE: Acrobat PDF & Accessibility

From: George Kerscher <kerscher@montana.com>
Date: Thu, 20 Dec 2001 20:27:39 -0700
To: "Access Systems" <accessys@smart.net>, "WAI List" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <LNBBIBPIJNIHAGLGACIKIELOFFAA.kerscher@montana.com>
Dear All,

PDF, as I understand it, is a specification controlled by Adobe. Microsoft
Word is a file specification that is controlled by Microsoft. Many companies
have file specifications for their proprietary applications. Even if these
are published, they are not developed or maintained in the same way as
standards setting bodies, such as the W3C, maintain and develop

I frequently find that changes in file specifications of proprietary
applications are modified without public notice and companies that attempt
to support these published specifications are frustrated in their attempts
to support the file specs.

There is a process within the W3C where recommendations are reviewed for
accessibility, but I do not know that file specifications of proprietary
specifications are ever reviewed for similar accessibility concerns.

I believe that access to PDF is provided by converting the PDF into
something else, like HTML. This may be explicit, as in the conversion filter
that Adobe graciously provides, or it may take place in memory of an
adaptive piece of software. In either case, the PDF is not natively
accessible, but the conversion that takes place *may* make the document

In my limited knowledge of PDF, many documents can be converted
successfully. Others fail miserably. The use of Marked PDF is a good attempt
to provide more semantic information about the structure and content of the
document (a basic premise of XML and other descriptive markup languages such
as SGML) to assist programs that manipulate the PDF as it is transformed.
However, consider extremely complex documents that need to be presented to
persons with print disabilities. Will PDF ever present semantically rich
documents  to persons with disabilities? There is an activity in the W3C
moving towards the semantic web. I feel that PDF will not be used for such a
forward thinking use of information.

I personally feel that PDF is great for what it does and I applaud Adobe for
their efforts to make their proprietary specification more usable by persons
with disabilities. I also congratulate those providers of Access
Technologies for making Microsoft Word and other types of applications
accessible. However, I think it is important to recognize the difference
between this type of access and the inherent accessibility that is designed
into information standards such as those developed by the W3C and other
standards setting bodies.


George Kerscher, Senior Officer, Accessible Information
Recording For the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D)
Project Manager to the DAISY Consortium
Chair Open eBook Forum (OeBF)
Co-chair WAI Steering Counsel
Email: kerscher@montana.com
Phone: +1 406/549-4687
Received on Thursday, 20 December 2001 22:23:05 UTC

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