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RE: PDF Alternatives?

From: Waddell, Cynthia <cynthia.waddell@ci.sj.ca.us>
Date: Tue, 1 Aug 2000 14:07:44 -0700
Message-ID: <0A005268C8DED311A23E0008C75D1EFF476770@sj-exchange.ci.sj.ca.us>
To: "'Joyce Kennedy'" <joycek@usm.maine.edu>, w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Cc: WebAIM accessibility forum <webaim@mailservice.cpd.usu.edu>
The following exerpt on PDF is from the USDOJ April 2000 IT self-evaluation
report on the State of Federal Accessibility
<http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/508/report/content.htm> :
"Adobe's Portable Document Format (pdf).(16) Many components mentioned in
their evaluations that many of their Web pages
included pdf files. Other agencies and components were more specific: 46
component evaluations and 3 overall agency reports
noted that the presence of pdf files made certain pages useless to testers.
In 24 other component evaluations and 3 agency
reports, agencies also identified the accessibility problems created by pdf
files and agreed to remedy these problems by
including accessible content and, in some cases, removing pdf files from
their Web sites. Other components, such as the
Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, frequently post pdf documents
on their Web sites but routinely ensure that they
are accompanied by accessible versions of the same document (usually in
accessible HTML).(17) Other inaccessible formats in
which some federal Web site information is presented include PowerPoint.(18)
Adobe's pdf format, however, due to its sheer
popularity, presents one of the most commonly-encountered and difficult
obstacles for users with disabilities of federal Web
pages.(19) A very high priority should be assigned to addressing this issue
throughout federal agencies.(20) 
Based on the information presented by Adobe and the Department of Education,
agencies should refrain from posting files to
their Web pages exclusively in pdf format. Agencies should accompany all pdf
documents with accessible versions of the same
document (i.e., in accessible HTML). Whenever possible, agencies using pdf
are encouraged to use the "print" command rather
than creating a pdf document by scanning it. If scanning is used, agencies
are encouraged to use optical character recognition
(OCR), where the document contains text.(21)" 
Footnote 20 states as follows:
"20. In its July 22, 1999, overall agency report, the Department of
Education summarized the accessibility challenges faced by
agencies choosing to put documents in Adobe Acrobat's pdf format: 
     The Portable Document Format (PDF) has provided one of the most
controversial accessibility problems of the
     decade. PDF documents, by the nature of the medium, are portable,
cross-platform, generally tamper-proof, and
     render in exacting detail, representations of the original print
document's fonts, formatting, etc.
     Unfortunately, documents displayed by the Adobe suite of products are
totally unusable by those using screen
     reader technology to retrieve information from a computer display.
Approximately three years ago, Adobe
     released a beta version of a plug-in, designed to convert PDF documents
into text/HTML, thus rendering them
     available to screen reader users.
     Unfortunately, this plug-in, despite numerous claims, often crashed,
was difficult to install and use, and produced
     unreadable text, except in the simplest of documents which had no
columns, tables, or other complex formats.
     The availability of the plug-in has unfortunately misled many
individuals into believing that PDF-only posting of
     documents is an acceptable means of providing documents in accessible
formats. This is simply not the case, and
     we have, through our Internet Working Group, established a general
policy of posting documents in PDF and
     HTML, or PDF and text as appropriate. 
     We understand that over the next year or two, this bleak prospect for
the accessibility of PDF documents should
     change. With the release of PDF 1.3 in Acrobat 4.0, the PDF format will
now contain metadata that will provide
     more information on the document's logical structure so that
accessibility conversion tools can render a more exact
     representation of the original document when converting to text or
     However, this will take some time, and will not happen until authors
begin to utilize this increased logical structure
     metadata, and the accessibility conversion tools incorporate the
ability to interpret this metadata in a meaningful
     Ideally, the accessibility plug-in will eventually be built into
Acrobat Reader, enabling a smooth and seamless
     utilization of the Reader by sighted individuals and those using screen
readers, without the need for intervening
     plug-in software. Until these things take place, we must judge the
Acrobat Reader as inaccessible and not in
     compliance with the intent of section 508. 
Department of Education's Overall Agency Evaluation." 
I hope this was helpful.
Cynthia Waddell
Cynthia D. Waddell   
ADA Coordinator 
City Manager Department 
City of San Jose, CA USA 
801 North First Street, Room 460 
San Jose, CA  95110-1704 
(408)971-0134 TTY 
(408)277-3885 FAX 

-----Original Message-----
From: Joyce Kennedy [mailto:joycek@usm.maine.edu]
Sent: Tuesday, August 01, 2000 12:45 PM
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Cc: WebAIM accessibility forum
Subject: PDF Alternatives?

Please see the text below the line of asterisks before reading the following

Question: Is there an alternative format which could be used for creating
electronic forms that would be more easily accessible to all potential users
of those forms? 

The plan is that existing paper forms will be scanned and converted to pdf
and put on the web so that people can print them and fill them out. 

The real issue (aside from accessibility) is the ease of getting existing
paper forms out on the web. Note: we are not talking about interactive forms


Below is a passage from another Adobe web page 

(http://access.adobe.com/access_faq.html) specifically referencing PDF 

form accessibility: 

"5. I tried to convert a form that was in PDF but the resulting file was 

unusable; what can I do? Answer: Check to make sure that the form is not 

an image-only PDF, that is, a bit-map image contained in a PDF file. Many 

organizations convert their old forms to PDF files by simply scanning them 

into Acrobat, rather than creating a PDF with searchable text. These 

documents can then be printed, completed and sent back to the 

organization, but they are not convertible because they do not really 

contain any true text. Unfortunately, there is no way to get around the 

problem. Only text elements can be converted." 


Joyce Kennedy

Adaptive Technology Specialist

University of Southern Maine

144 Luther Bonney

Portland, ME 04104-9300


(207)780-4029 / fax (207)780-4565

Received on Tuesday, 1 August 2000 17:09:01 UTC

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