Burdens of the Past: Legacy PDFs and the Challenge of Accessibility

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Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
By John M. Slatin,, Sharron Rush
Table of Contents
Chapter 12.  Toward More Accessible PDFs


Acrobat 5 also includes facilities for converting older PDF documents those created with earlier versions of Acrobat, including im-age-only PDFs created from scanned documents to more accessible forms. This involves using the Make Accessible plug-in included on the Acrobat installation CD. Given the difficulty of what should have been a simple, straightforward procedure changing a couple of elements from data cells to table headers and given the lack of information afforded by the Accessibility Checker, attempting to improve the accessibility of older PDF documents on any kind of scale is a daunting task, time-consuming and expensive.

Acrobat's built-in Accessibility Checker would be much more useful if it could point to specific locations that need attention, as Bobby and many other tools do when evaluating HTML documents; it would be helpful if it could indicate where there might be problems with reading order, as the WAVE does (see Chapter 7); and it would be even more valuable if it provided interactive tools for repairing the problems, in the style of A-Prompt. Then at least well-meaning individuals and organizations that were prepared to commit some time might know where to start.

The problem of retrofitting older PDF documents is huge, and for now the available solutions appear to be quite limited. The following examples provide some measure of the scale of the challenge. Like many federal, state, and local government entities, the Internal Revenue Service makes extensive use of PDF documents, including hundreds of tax forms. Forms created in PDF do not work with the current generation of screen readers, as Adobe acknowledges in its analysis of Acrobat and Section 508. [2] The Accessibility page on the IRS Web site contains a frank acknowledgment of the major effort that will be required to make all these forms accessible; for the time being, the IRS plans to provide the forms in plain ASCII text for conversion to speech or Braille. [3] And in Texas, where the state's Access Clause makes it illegal to spend state monies to purchase automated systems that are not accessible to people who are blind and visually impaired, the state has removed Acrobat from the approved list of commodity software that state agencies can buy through the state's Department of Information Resources. [4]

[2] See http://access.adobe.com/acr508.html.

[3] See http://www.irs.gov/formspubs/display/0,,i1%3D50%26genericId%3D78861,00.html#TopNavSkip for details.

[4] Personal communication from John King, an attorney in the Department of Information Resources.

So, while we appreciate the fact that Adobe has made a genuine commitment to accessibility, the company clearly hasn't yet attained that goal. We are confident that as Adobe continues to work with the Web community and the W3C, a better solution will be available soon.


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    Maximum Accessibility(c) Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
    Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
    ISBN: 0201774224
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2002
    Pages: 128

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