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RE: Adobe Acrobat 6.0


From: Paul Bohman
Date: May 29, 2003 3:12PM

I'm quite impressed with the strides that Adobe is making with their Acrobat
software. They've taken the initiative to push the accessibility of the
Acrobat reader into new areas. I've only recently downloaded and tested the
reader, so this is only my first impression, but so far my first impression
is positive.

One of the major innovations that Adobe implemented in Acrobat 6.0 is a
self-voicing feature. Adobe uses the built-in voice synthesizer of the
operating system (of Mac and Windows computers). These synthesizers are
generally not as sophisticated as the typical screen reader that you can buy
(e.g. JAWS, Window-Eyes), but you have the choice. If you already have a
screen reader installed, you can read Acrobat documents with that screen
reader. If you don't have a screen reader, you can let Acrobat read it to
you, using the operating system voice synthesizer.

Even beyond this, Acrobat 6 has the advantage of being able to read many PDF
documents that were NOT created specifically for accessibility. In the past,
documents had to be created with tagged PDF in order to be read reliably by
screen readers. With Acrobat 6.0, I was able to read older documents that
were not in tagged PDF format, using the operating system voice synthesizer.

This is a huge step forward in many respects, because it places less of the
burden on the document authors. On the other hand, I feel that it is
necessary to caution people that the reading was not perfect. The operating
system voice synthesizers are more difficult to understand than high end
screen readers. Also, images without alternative text are still
inaccessible. There's no way for Acrobat 6.0 to compensate for that.
Similarly, the reading order of complex documents can still be confusing.
Adobe does allow you to modify the reading order, but I wouldn't place too
much confidence in this feature. It's a great idea, but it would be
better--and more reliable--if the content authors took care of this issue
(reading order) while creating the content.

All in all, though, I'm impressed. Acrobat 6.0 still can't read scanned
documents (unless they're converted to text) or fix authoring errors (e.g.
missing alt text), but it can increase the accessibility of documents that
were previously totally inaccessible.

I would still recommend creating tagged PDF documents as the most accessible
approach of making PDF files accessible to screen readers, but it is
heartening to see that software developers are taking the initiative to fix
issues with their own products.

ONE MORE CAVEAT: I would still recommend posting an HTML version of the file
in addition to the PDF version. This gives the user a choice of formats.
Plus, not everyone will have the latest Acrobat reader. Also, some people
find the reader to be inconvenient, cumbersome or confusing (especially
those with cognitive disabilities). So don't think that all your PDF
problems are solved yet, but the seriousness of those problems is

P.S. Again, I want to emphasize that this is not an official "software
review", but it is a summary of my first impressions.

Paul Bohman
Technology Coordinator
WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
Center for Persons with Disabilities
Utah State University

-----Original Message-----
From: Carol Foster [mailto: <EMAIL REMOVED> ]
Sent: Tuesday, May 20, 2003 12:18 PM
Subject: Adobe Acrobat 6.0

Does anyone know anything about the new and improved accessibility features
for Adobe Acrobat 6.0, due out the end of this month, beyond what is on the
Adobe site, mainly at


Carol Foster, Web Developer
Internet Publishing Group, Information Technology Services University of
Massachusetts, President's Office
phone: (413) 587-2130
fax: (413) 587-2148

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