WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

E-mail List Archives

Re: PowerPoint accessibility-alt question


From: Chagnon | PubCom
Date: Apr 30, 2014 10:16PM

Hi Olaf,
Sorry to disagree with some of what you state. <grin>

My points:

1. My initial post recommended using OpenType fonts specifically because
they have the potential to improve accessibility. That is, Unicode's
standardized character set, when correctly deployed by various assistive
technologies, can provide an unlimited number of characters for all
languages. Right now, the industry says approximately 64,000 characters can
represent the world's languages plus scientific, mathematical, etc.
characters, but in theory the set can be expanded and limitless.

Example: For a GIS coordinate with minutes and seconds to be correctly
voiced by a screen reader, the author should use the specific Unicode
character for minutes and seconds, not the characters for single and double
quotes nor the ones for inches and feet. With TrueType and PostScript fonts,
we stuck with just single and double quotes because the ASCII character set
doesn't have the other characters; consequently, GIS datapoints are

So in this example, there's no chance of a GIS data point being voiced
correctly if TrueType is used. None. With OpenType, there's a chance that it

As we discussed a few months back, AT doesn't yet give us voicing of most of
the Unicode character set, so a GIS datapoint won't be voiced correctly
right now, but hopefully that deficiency will be corrected in the future.
(Soon, I hope! My firm works on quite a few maps.) OpenType and its Unicode
character set is our only hope.

2. Since this is a list about accessibility, I really didn't want to bog it
down with many more reasons why OpenType should be used rather than
deprecated TrueType and PostScript fonts. Here's a short summary of other

a. TrueType and PostScript use the ASCII character set, which has limited
number of characters (approximately 127), and future incompatibility with
digital technologies. OpenType uses Unicode and therefore has an unlimited
character set (see above). UTF-8 encoding provides backward compatibility
with older technologies (in theory, at least).

b. Authors and developers who create documents for a variety of technologies
— including print, web, mobile, multi-media, and next month's new gadget
—work on both Apple and Windows workstations. Cross-platform sharing of
works-in-progress is critical. OpenType fonts allow them to share project
files between platforms and match the fonts. PostScript and TrueType fonts,
on the other hand, are platform specific, which has caused huge problems
during development for the past 30 years. This problem alone has been a
money pit for the design industry.

c. For database-generated and automated documents, fonts based on Unicode
(OpenType) can be the best way to ensure that what's in the database will
actually translate into the final laid-out document and PDF.

d. Adobe just released TypeKit, its utility for installing and managing
fonts for those using Creative Suite. Given that Adobe InDesign is used to
create the majority of the world's publications (only MS Word and PowerPoint
are used to create more documents, but they're mostly office documents not
designed publications), graphic designers are being encouraged to migrate to
OpenType fonts. In fact, Adobe took its PostScript fonts off the market over
10 years ago and now offers only OpenType fonts. There might be some
significant reasons why they did this! <grin>

Olaf wrote: "where EPUB readers do actually use embedded fonts, OpenType and
TrueType are your best bets."

I work with engineers creating EPUB technologies. Advice from them: ditch
the TrueType and PostScript fonts. It's OpenType, regardless of the flavor.
They are not actively developing their technologies for font technologies
deprecated 14 years ago that use ASCII rather than Unicode.

Olaf wrote:
"- Microsoft doesn't support PostScript flavoured OpenType fonts as well as
it does support TrueType flavoured OpenType fonts"

Would love to know what you've experienced here, Olaf. After many thousands
of documents that have been produced by my firm, we haven't had problems
with any flavor of OpenType with any MS program.

Both Adobe and Microsoft developed OpenType...together. They knew what they
were getting into. Plus, MS Windows has supported OpenType-PostScript since
2000...the same year that OpenType was released. See

If you have a sample of OpenType problems in a Microsoft environment, I'd
love to see it and learn about it. Please share, Olaf!

Olaf wrote:
"- with maximum cross platform in mind (e.g. for office applications) use
TrueType flavoured OpenType or TrueType (almost always the filename suffix
will be .TTF)"

Again, based on my firm's cross-platform work with thousands of documents,
any OpenType font (PostScript-flavored or TrueType-flavored) converts
seamlessly with no corruption or loss of characters when OpenType fonts are
used in the source document.

Used correctly, that is.

The Unicode character set used by all OpenType fonts standardizes the
characters, regardless of the platform. TrueType uses ASCII encoding, not
Unicode, so upper level characters can become garbled when the file crosses
platforms, or even between workstations using the same platform.

There are some problems that occur, but we find that they are user errors:
— Using the wrong character in the document.
Example: client inserted an accented character in MS Word, but didn't pay
attention to the font. Everything in the document used an OpenType font,
except for this one character which used a TrueType font. That character was
lost when the document was opened on our systems which didn't have that
specific font.

— Using an OpenType font with a limited character set.
Example: client's file used an accented character for an Eastern European
language that was in their OpenType font. When the file was brought into our
system, our OpenType version of that font didn't have that specific
character; our font had a smaller character set (was an older version and
the font manufacturer had released a new version with an extended character
set). We upgraded our version of the font and the problem was solved.

Bottom line from my firm: OpenType.
Don't give a rat's patootie about the flavor, TrueType-flavored or
PostScript-flavored, they work seamlessly for us on both platforms in all
software used for developing for all publishing and digital media

R.I.P. to TrueType and PostScript. <wink>

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
www.PubCom.com — Trainers, Consultants, Designers, Developers.
Print, Web, Acrobat, XML, eBooks, and U.S. Federal Section 508
Taka a Sec. 508 Class in 2014 — www.Pubcom.com/classes

-----Original Message-----
[mailto: <EMAIL REMOVED> ] On Behalf Of Olaf Drümmer
Sent: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 4:54 AM
To: WebAIM Discussion List
Subject: Re: [WebAIM] PowerPoint accessibility-alt question

Hi Bevi,

sorry to disagree with some of what you state… (and apologies for making it
even more difficult for some on this list to understand fonts any better).

Anyways, here goes my summary:

[1] Let's distinguish between
- fonts embedded in PDF
- fonts embedded in EPUB
- fonts used for authoring (whether Word, PowerPoint, OpenOffice, Indesign
or whatever else)

[2] Fonts in PDF
- always embed
- it doesn't matter what type a font is once it is embedded in PDF, as long
as it is embedded correctly (good ole' PostScript Type 1 fonts can be just
fine, and mighty be encountered even if an OpenType fonts was used for
authoring; actually, in many cases OpenType fonts will actually be embedded
as trueType or PostScript Type 1 fonts, without any loss of functionality or

[3] Fonts in EPUB
- EPUB is a very muddy area when it comes to devices and programs that
present them, and how they use fonts
- many EPUB readers use their own built-in fonts anyway
- where EPUB readers do actually use embedded fonts, OpenType and TrueType
are your best bets

[4] Fonts used during authoring
- Microsoft doesn't support PostScript flavoured OpenType fonts as well as
it does support TrueType flavoured OpenType fonts
- Adobe and Apple can handle any font type equally well
- with maximum cross platform in mind (e.g. for office applications) use
TrueType flavoured OpenType or TrueType (almost always the filename suffix
will be .TTF)
- the difference between TrueType flavoured OpenType and plain TrueType is
mostly in functionality (e.g. addressing special or alternate characters in
a font, advanced ligature like character combinations in foreign scripts,
…), but not in Unicode support

If we were to make a distinction regarding authoring between "user
- if you are in the office world, use TrueType flavored OpenType or TrueType
- if you are in the layout and graphic design world, use any OpenType or
TrueType font

Disclaimer: there are fonts that are good, and there are fonts that are not
so good - regardless what type they come in. Most fonts that come with
recent versions of operating systems or applications from Adobe, Apple, and
Microsoft are usually pretty good.

And by the way - old fonts are often available in today's operating systems
for backward compatibility.


On 30 Apr 2014, at 04:38, Chagnon | PubCom < <EMAIL REMOVED> > wrote:

> There is one heck of a lot of misinformation in that online forum thread!
> https://discussions.apple.com/thread/2803119 No one seemed to know the
> details about fonts.
> Summary for the WebAim original poster:
> 1) Use only OpenType fonts on Macs and Windows.
> 2) Stop using TrueType and PostScript fonts, both are deprecated font
> technologies since 2000. They lack extended character sets which
> contain many characters that will help accessibility. Plus, they lack
> some key technical requirements for today's publishing technologies, such
as EPUBs.
> FYI, OpenType fonts can have up to 64,000 characters and are based on
> a standardized, universal Unicode character set. That means better
> accessibility now, and definitely in the future. Hopefully it will
> minimize all those strange characters AT users run into in documents.
> 3) On the Mac, don't use dFonts as they too present problems in EPUBs
> and accessible technologies.
> 4) Always always always embed your fonts into the PDF. Did I mention
> 5) OpenType fonts come in 2 flavors: TrueType and PostScript. For
> practical purposes, this means absolutely nothing. As long as the font
> is OpenType, it will be OK to use. The TrueType and PostScript flavors
> mostly just define the original source code of the font. Example,
> Microsoft's fonts were originally TrueType so their OpenType versions are
> Adobe's font were originally PostScript so their OpenType versions are
> OpenType/PostScript. As I said before, this doesn't affect
> accessibility or making PDFs. In fact, I haven't seen it affect
> anything whatsoever except for producing a lot of hogwash on Internet
> forums. So use OpenType, regardless of the flavor.
> 6) TrueType fonts have the file extension dot TTF. OpenType fonts can
> have either dot OTF or dot TTF. Therefore, you can't always tell if
> you're using an OpenType font or not. Sighted users can see a
> blue-green O icon next to the font name for all OpenType fonts, both
> TrueType flavored and PostScript flavored. A blue TT icon appears next to
TrueType fonts.
> 7) Recent operating systems from both Apple and Windows ship with
> industry-standard OpenType fonts. Windows also includes a handful of
> old TrueType fonts, and Apple ships with a handful of dFonts, neither
> of which should be used to make accessible documents or EPUBs. I do
> not have a good reason why these 2 companies still ship their
> operating systems with out-of-date fonts.
> 8) The Calibri font mentioned in the forum is part of Microsoft's
> Cleartype font collection that were developed specifically for better
> legibility and readability on computer screens. They are installed
> with MS Windows and Office, so they're fairly well distributed on
> Windows systems. And they are in OpenType format.
> That was probably more than you ever intended to know about fonts!
> Being a former typesetter many decades ago, I couldn't give just a
> quick explanation.
> -Bevi Chagnon
> - PubCom.com - Trainers, Consultants, Designers, and Developers.
> - Print, Web, Acrobat, XML, eBooks, and U.S. Federal Section 508
> Accessibility.
> - 508 Workshop: www.workshop.pubcom.com
> - US Federal Training: www.gpo.gov/customers/theinstitute.htm
> -----Original Message-----
> [mailto: <EMAIL REMOVED> ] On Behalf Of Duff
> Johnson
> Sent: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 5:12 PM
> To: WebAIM Discussion List
> Subject: Re: [WebAIM] PowerPoint accessibility-alt question
>> On the subject of Mac OS conversion of Word/PowerPoint files to PDFs,
> we've noticed another problem that is related (I think) to the unicode
> font issue - i.e., the PDF rendering wants to use unicode font and if
> it can't find a font set that matches the one in the original
> document, it substitutes different symbol and letter combinations for
> some characters in the resultant PDF. This can make some words
> unintelligible if you're listening to the PDF with a screen reader.
>> In our experience, it seems to happen most frequently with PDFs that
>> are
> created on a Mac. We would love to give instructors and faculty
> members some simple instructions on how to avoid this problem - does
> anyone has any guidance on which fonts to use and which to avoid when
> creating MS Office documents on a Mac?
> The issue is: fonts must be embedded when the file is created. This
> applies for files created on any platform.
> For the Mac, this thread provides some tips to addressing the issue:
> https://discussions.apple.com/thread/2803119
> I hope this helps.
> Duff.