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From: Jesper Tverskov <jesper.tverskov@mail.tele.dk>
Date: Tue, 17 Aug 2004 11:43:16 +0200
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <000001c4843e$9f257f10$440bc650@tversdatg7y7vv>

How the proposal for WCAG-2 deals with pdfs is also a telling example of
the very problematic nature of the new approach to making guidelines.

Let us start with the pdf-issue in WCAG-1.

In WCAG-1 pdfs are mentioned several times but in an unclear and
insufficient manner, as in "Guideline 11: Use W3C technologies and
guidelines: "When inaccessible technologies (proprietary or not) must be
used, equivalent accessible pages must be provided."
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Pdf in WCAG-1 was mostly wrong since the main problem is not the use of
pdfs when equivalent HTML is easily also provided but when it is not the
case. It is sometimes necessary to use pdfs exactly because equivalent
HTML files don't exist or is too expensive to make available.

In my latest article, "The logo should not link to the homepage",
www.smackthemouse.com/20040719#note-1, I provide a pdf-file as a last
resort because the original HTML file has been deleted. When I read in
WCAG-1 that I must not do that unless I also provide a HTML file it is
an insult to common sense.

Very often we need pdf files because they are an easy and handy way to
make a lot of important information available to most users at almost no
additional costs. Think of archives from The Second World War written on
a typewriter with hand written comments in the margins, handwritten
dairies, etc. You can make such material available for most users (99%)
in its original historical look and feel at almost no costs. We can make
fast and dirty pdfs as easy as using a copy machine.

Making the same material available also in HTML, the material would not
only loose all its historical authenticity, making the material
available in the newest brand of accessible tagged pdf files, is also a
multi million dollar project.

Pdfs in WCAG-1 was also far from ideal since we still have a lot of
material that is pdf in origin. Just think of glossy annual paper
reports, fact sheets about products, etc. With almost no extra costs
such material, originally used as print files, can be served also on the

In a few years the same material will exist in XML that can easily be
transformed with XSLT into both pdf and XHTML, but we are not there yet.
Such material has a lot of pictures, a lot of data tables, and a lot of
graphs and descriptive statistics still difficult to convert to
accessible tagged pdfs in an automated process or into accessible XHTML.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

It should be clear that we are much in need of accessibility guidelines
on a higher level than just stating: you most not serve a pdf if you do
not also make the same information available in the HTML-format. We need
some rules of thumb that can help us in the decision making process when
and how and during what circumstances it is acceptable in the final
analysis to serve a quick and dirty pdf even without an equivalent HTML
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The above is just an example showing that we need the use of pdfs to be
clarified in WCAG-2 making our lives as web page authors or consultants
in web accessibility easier.  

How then has WCAG-2 clarified the use of pdfs? Are we getting new and
better guidelines that can help us out in our daily work for a more
accessible internet?

Nothing at all. The original pdf-issue has even died without a whimper,
and is no more to be found anywhere in the accessibility guidelines
proper or in the supplementary documents about HTML and CSS.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Was the pdf-issue dropped as a result of a decision making process, as a
result of new experience, arguments and analysis? The pdf-issue was
simply forgotten because we now have a new approach to making
accessibility guidelines.

The pdf-issue is not generic enough to be included in the accessibility
guidelines proper where spell-checking and grammar issues have taken
over, and the additional documents, "HTML Techniques for WCAG 2.0" and
"CSS Techniques for WCAG 2.0" are not geared to deal with complex
problems that cannot be reduced to elements and attributes in HTML and
selectors, declarations, etc. in CSS.

There was no natural place for such a basic accessibility pdf-issue to
fit in. So it was just left out.

Best regards,

Jesper Tverskov

Received on Tuesday, 17 August 2004 09:43:16 UTC

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