PDFs and Accessibility Seminar
I will be running a public seminar on accessibility and PDFs in Melbourne on January 18th. For more information see the Melbourne Web Accessibility Meetup Group.
The Australian Government’s study into the Accessibility of the Portable Document Format for people with a disability
I have finally had a chance to read through the extensive AGIMO study into PDFs. It’s a comprehensive review of PDFs and their accessibility, and the authors should be commended for completing such detailed testing while still being able to explain the findings in plain English. It is the most thorough review of PDFs that I have seen, and it confirms some of my previous statements.
I recommend that you read the report, even if you don’t have time for all the supplementary documentation. This post will be dealing with the conclusions of the report. A future post will discuss the assistive technology testing in more detail.
The study focussed on PDF files, as more complaints are lodged with the Australian Human Rights Commission about PDF than any other format.
“Overall, the Study found that there is insufficient evidence to establish that the development of the Portable Document Format and improvements in assistive technologies have advanced enough for PDF files to be considered accessible for people with a disability, particularly for those who are blind or have low vision.” (quoted from the Executive Summary).
The study discussed three important issues that contributed to the inaccessibility of PDFs (quoted from the Executive Summary):
- the design of the PDF file by the document author to incorporate the correct presentation, structure, tags and elements that maximise accessibility;
- the technical ability of the assistive technology to interact with the PDF file (via the relevant PDF Reader); and
- the skill of the user and their familiarity with using their assistive technology to interact with a PDF file.
The study also mentioned that there is no agreed definition as to an “accessible PDF”, although some work in this area is being undertaken.
“Until further data is available on the characteristics of an accessible PDF file and there are Sufficient Techniques available to support the conformance of the PDF technology to WCAG 2.0, the Australian Government position recommending that alternative file formats be provided whenever PDF files are used should remain unchanged.” (quoted from the Executive Summary).