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

This conversation has been a real eye-opener for me. As much as our
content providers and instructors will HATE the ambiguity involved, I am
excited to see the conversation and recognize now that some instructors
need to be encouraged to use HTML instead of PDFs. This is especially true
when they are using resources from library databases and have a choice in
format or when it is something they are creating themselves.

At this point, our accessibility initiative is starting with our web sites
and will soon move to a focus on the instructional materials housed in
Blackboard. A query I ran a couple of weeks ago showed 650,000 PDFs in the
Blackboard system. For older, scanned materials that are images of text,
we are telling them to, at a minimum, run OCR within Acrobat (available
across campus) and check the results. We also encourage them to run the
accessibility wizard within that tool. I will look into PDF/UA and some of
the tools that exist to help with this.

For web content, we are aiming for WCAG 2.0 AA. I have been asked for a
comparable checklist (yes, I understand that checklists do not equal
accessibility, but people need somewhere to startŠ) for PDFs and other

Again, thanks for the great discussion of this. It is a lot to digest and
I am sure I will have other questions along the way. This is a great
community and Iım glad to be a part of it.


Dr. Rachel S. Thompson
Director, Emerging Technology and Accessibility
Center for Instructional Technology
University of Alabama

-----Original Message-----
From: Duff Johnson <>
Date: Monday, January 26, 2015 at 8:03 AM
To: WAI Interest Group <>
Subject: Re: PDF accessibility guidelines. WAS: Re: PDF's and Signatures
Resent-From: <>
Resent-Date: Monday, January 26, 2015 at 8:03 AM

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
> cheaply, easily, and accessibly fulfilled by an open alternative.

Sure, it may turn out that wayŠ but this seems like a good time to point
out that if a frog had wings it wouldnıt bump its ass when it hops! :-)

FYI: PDF is ³open². The file-format specification has been owned by ISO
since 2008. Itıs 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
>> 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 - itıs up to you to
provide some evidence for it!

I donıt 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
>> 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

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:

> 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 badŠ why would it be so popular? Why would it still
be gaining in popularity?


>> <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, theyıve got people like you telling them not to botherŠ ;-)

Iım serious: the accessibility community is a major part of the problem
here. Instead of asking for ³accessible PDF² 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 PDFıs value proposition in terms of
portability and reliability

2. Because you canıt 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.

Iım not sure thatıs really the question.

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

Šand 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 ³basic structures² 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 doesnıt break when someone screws up the
- 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.


Received on Monday, 26 January 2015 15:01:15 UTC