More and more these days, documents for download on the web come in PDF formats.
It is seen by their authors as a good way of protecting their material from
people trying to alter them in any way or damaging their content. Documents
such as a PDF tutorial for a household appliance, a musical instrument of electronic
form, PC software such as device driver instructions or teaching tutorials are
The author chooses how they wish their document to be protected and it is during
this process that it can become inaccessible to a blind user.
Recently, in my own country (Republic of Ireland), our Government held a referendum
on how Europe was to proceed in the future. They decided to post a PDF document
up to the web, containing all that we, as voters, were required to know about
the forthcoming referendum. I downloaded this file, only to discover that I
couldn't read it. Needless to say, that wasn't a great start to my faith in
the Government regarding this crucial vote, in which we were being urged to
vote in favour. I had to forget about the PDF document and rely on my family
and friends to help me understand the arguments involved.
Screen readers, such as I use, have come a long way in recent years in learning
how to deal with such files and, while still not perfect, they canwith
the help of the author of the file and the screen reader developersmanage
to gain us useful access to such files. For example, when reading PDF documents
containing form fields, my screen reader, JAWS, can speak prompt information
for active controls in two ways. It can speak the MSAA (Microsoft Active Accessibility)
information contained in the fileif the author of the file has taken time
to add such information. Or, if MSAA information has not been included, JAWS
states: "MSAA information is not available" and then speaks any text
that appears to the left of the active control. This text is spoken as the prompt,
if the active control is an edit field. It does not attempt to "guess"
the prompt text for other active controls, such as check boxes, radio buttons,
One of the first Adobe Acrobat programs I used was version 4.0. All
this was new to me and when I first loaded up a PDF document in this version
all I got was my screen reader saying "blank, blank, blank". There
was text on the screen, but to me there was nothing. It was then due to pressure
from different groups that Adobe introduced an access plug-in patch for version
4.0 and, once this plug-in was installed using a simple keystroke command, we
were in business and could read what was on the screen. They further improved
their future versions with new plug-ins and now have a version of their version
5 reader complete with access built in. It is still not perfect and authors
are urged to look at implementing accessibility into their documents
when they are designing them.
Further Information can be had at the following link: http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/access_info.html#training.
Adobe defines accessibility as: [quote]providing access to people with a range
of disabilities. For example, accessibility might mean providing ramps for people
in wheelchairs, or writing documents in simple English with illustrations for
someone with lesser reading comprehension. When it comes to creating and publishing
Adobe PDF files with Adobe Acrobat software, however, the range of disabilities
that needs to be addressed narrows considerably.[unquote]
Adobe claims to be [quote]committed to providing solutions that improve accessibility
to both Adobe Acrobat software and the information contained in Adobe PDF files.[unquote]
And they say that they are [quote]making strides in attaining this goal.[unquote]
These comments are from an article Adobe has on it's web site, in which they
also talk about the implementations they now have in place in their latest software
versions. You can read Adobe's complete article at this link (which is, of course,
in PDF format): http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/pdfs/accessbooklet.pdf.
Accessing some PDF documents on-line is still a problem. I had difficulty accessing
the booklet from the above Adobe link, because of some error in loading the
document, which occurred somewhere between their website and the Adobe reader.
However, Adobe also did provide HTML links to each portion of the book.
We shall await and see how far accessibility will progress in this field. But
with new pressures coming from the Federal government departments in the States
and also in Europe, I think Adobe will begin to make good strides in this area.
Let's hope so!