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Re: Accessibility of PDF documents

From: Kynn Bartlett <kynn-hwg@idyllmtn.com>
Date: Wed, 06 Oct 1999 14:15:17 -0700
Message-Id: <>
To: "Christine A. Quinn" <cquinn@stanford.edu>
Cc: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
At 02:05 PM 10/06/1999 -0700, Christine A. Quinn wrote:
>I apologize if this has been discussed on this list before, but I need
>to know if PDF documents can ever be considered accessible.   
>Are there means for speaking browsers to read these, for instance? 
>I did peruse the W3C site and found two links to documents 
>about PDFs but both links were bad (one was to yuri.org, the
>other to adobe.com).

You might want to check the archives for this mailing list, the
issue has come up before.

PDF is generally not accessible, although Adobe has done some work
on trying to improve this.  There is a service at access.adobe.com
that can be used to extract the textual elements of a PDF file,
via the web, and that can be read aloud by a speaking browser.

In general, PDF _alone_ should be avoided in all cases; PDF with
an additional accessible format version of the same content (such
as HTML) is acceptable, though.  At Harvey Mudd College, when I 
was the web administrator, we arrived at the decision that we
would _only_ use PDF in a case where the content needs to make
a school -> electronic -> user -> paper -> school round trip,
such as financial aid forms.  In these cases it's necessary for
the user to print them out, and is necessary for the format to
be received in a standard format by the people who do the data
entry.  In any other case, such as the student handbook, PDF was
avoided and HTML was favored.

Any link to a PDF file should list the size of the file and give
two links:  One to the Acrobat Reader download page, and one to
the access.adobe.com site.  Needless to say, each link's purpose
should be described.

Kynn Bartlett <kynn@hwg.org>
President, Governing Board Member
HTML Writers Guild <URL:http://www.hwg.org>
Director, Accessible Web Authoring Resources and Education Center
Received on Wednesday, 6 October 1999 17:25:06 UTC

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