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Re: PDF accessibility guidelines. WAS: Re: PDF's and Signatures

From: Duff Johnson <duff@duff-johnson.com>
Date: Mon, 26 Jan 2015 09:03:22 -0500
Message-Id: <AB0AF6A7-5965-4917-B045-413E74F8597E@duff-johnson.com>
To: WAI Interest Group <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Hi Adam,

Happy Monday to you!

>> <For over a decade PDF's success has *nothing* to do with Adobe's
>> "strategizing and marketing" and *everything* to do with the simple,
>> unadorned fact that PDF meets a wide variety of needs.>
> That may be the case, but these needs may turn out to be illusory and more
> cheaply, easily, and accessibly fulfilled by an open alternative.

Sure, it may turn out that way… but this seems like a good time to point out that if a frog had wings it wouldn’t bump its ass when it hops! :-)

FYI: PDF is “open”. The file-format specification has been owned by ISO since 2008. It’s supported by thousands of developers worldwide. All sorts of free / low-cost tools are available.

>> <As the late Christopher Hitchens once said: "What can be asserted without
>> evidence can be dismissed without evidence.">
> Hheheh ... good for Christopher. Feel free to enumerate the use cases for
> PDF on the web and fill this evidence hole

You made an interesting (if unproven) assertion - it’s up to you to provide some evidence for it!

I don’t have to prove PDF has a zillion use-cases on the web - they are everywhere you look.

>> <I don't really know what you mean. It's true that accessible PDF has been
>> around for a while, albeit poorly supported by most. That can change.>
> and that's the point - it can change, but it hasn't and it is unlikely to.

Actually the situation is changing quite rapidly, with more and better tools emerging. Since PDF/UA was published in late 2012 lots of vendors now offer support for tagged PDF. To take but one example: major banks are starting (Citigroup and Bank of America being two already doing it) to deliver statements online as tagged PDF files.

Some data on PDF/UA adoption by software developers: http://duff-johnson.com/software-supporting-pdfua/

> PDF might be accessible on paper, but it offers up a miserable user
> experience on the web and not just for assistive technology users 

If PDF really was that bad… why would it be so popular? Why would it still be gaining in popularity? 

Data: http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=pdf

>> <Or, developers simply make the necessary (and relatively modest) effort to
>> support tagged PDF - which is not (unlike HTML/CSS) a moving target, and
>> it's "job done".>
> If it was so simple and modest, surely it would be ubiquitous?

Well, they’ve got people like you telling them not to bother… ;-)

I’m serious: the accessibility community is a major part of the problem here. Instead of asking for “accessible PDF” far too many in the a11y world spend their PDF-related energy simply hating on the format itself rather than demanding improvements from software vendors.

> And why not
> just use HTML and CSS in the first place? 

1. Because HTML/CSS does not equal PDF’s value proposition in terms of portability and reliability

2. Because you can’t make HTML/CSS reliably from *any* source, as you can with PDF

3. Because HTML/CSS does not include standardized models for a variety of very common needs in documents such as:

- Annotations
- Metadata
- Redaction
- Offline workflows
- Digital signatures
- Device-independent color

>> <We'll see. I'm all for using technologies such as EPUB where appropriate. I
>> have yet to see EPUB files gain a significant toehold on the web.>
> The question is whether we want to see more *files* on the web.

I’m not sure that’s really the question.

> For me,
> that's part of the problem - the web is often understood as one giant
> electronic corkboard.

…and accurately so in many cases.

> IF PDF offers features that people need and/or want,
> let it be built into the basic structures of the web and not added as a
> second-rate afterthought 

What “basic structures” would those be? All the web is files and databases on servers. The only meaningful difference with PDF in this context is:

- The PDF is self-contained; it doesn’t break when someone screws up the CSS
- The PDF is static, and thus, fosters accountability

As it turns out these are important features for many people. Why would you try to wish them away?

IMHO, instead of arguing that PDF should go away, which is fruitless, it would be more constructive to do some good by emailing your contacts at Adobe / Microsoft / Google / Apple, etc. to insist that they fully support tagged PDF.

Duff.
Received on Monday, 26 January 2015 14:03:55 UTC

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