Many people have asked us how accessibility standards apply to documents created in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). If you or your organization publish documents electronically, it's becoming increasingly likely that these activities are covered by either Section 508 or WCAG 1.0 or by an internal accessibility policy based on one or the other. To put it simply, the Section 508 federal accessibility standards and WCAG 1.0 both require that (1) electronic documents and (2) the software needed to read them must be accessible to people with disabilities. Even if these standards don't technically apply to you or your organization, we strongly recommend that you spend the few extra minutes necessary to publish accessible PDFs since by doing so you'll increase the reach of your work.
Until recently, the practice of using PDFs posed insurmountable barriers to computer users with visual impairments who use screen-reading software or refreshable Braille displays to read electronic documents. For these users, Acrobat's greatest strength its ability to create documents that preserve the appearance of originals was also its greatest limitation. Now, however, authors can easily create simple PDF documents that can be read, in many cases, by people using screen readers or refreshable Braille displays.
Note that all the following conditions must be true, however, in order for PDF documents to be accessible.
The document was created using Acrobat 5 or later.
The person reading the document has Acrobat Reader 5 or later.
The user has a current-generation screen reader such as JAWS 4.x or Window-Eyes 4.x or later.
In other words, PDF still presents a major challenge to the principle that Web content created through new technologies must transform gracefully when rendered by assistive technologies. This chapter explores those challenges.
Acrobat is a complex tool, and PDF is a complex subject; we don't pretend to offer comprehensive coverage. We provide a brief overview of how to use Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat to create PDF documents that are accessible to people with disabilities, especially people with visual impairments who use screen readers or refreshable Braille displays. Much to our regret, the chapter also documents some flies in the ointment, that is, bugs in the software.
HTML Elements and Attributes Addressed in This Chapter
id, headers, summary, alt
Accessibility Checkpoints and Standards Addressed in This Chapter
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 Checkpoints
1.1. Provide a text equivalent for every non-text element. [Priority 1]
5.1. For data tables, identify row and column headers. [Priority 1]
6. Ensure that pages featuring new technologies transform gracefully.
Section 508 Standards, §1194.22
(g) Row and column headers shall be identified for data tables.