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Re: PDF vs. HTML


From: foliot
Date: May 21, 2004 2:24PM


Reading your colleague's comments leaves me with the distinct impression
that he is a pro-PDF participant.

I would offer him the following: Since the requirements for creating an
accessible PDF document closely mirror the requirements for accessible HTML
"conversion", the effort required is approximately equal. However, one is a
proprietary format, the other is an "open" and public format. One requires
a "free" downloadable "plugin or stand alone app", the other displays
natively in all HTML browsers including text only browsers and older
versions of browsers - no need to upgrade to the latest version (not that I
advocate *NOT* upgrading whenever appropriate and possible). However, this
point alone makes HTML inherently more accessible. If the goal of your web
site/organization is to achieve a measurable level of accessibility (ie:
WCAG Priority A, AA or AAA status), then I would point him to the following:
WCAG Priority 2 - 11.1: Use W3C technologies when they are available and
appropriate for a task and use the latest versions when supported. Last
time I checked, PDF is not a W3C technology, HTML is (<grin>)

The bigger question is, why is he arguing this point? Most people in the
web accessibility field acknowledge that Adobe have made decent strides in
improving their tool, but PDF files were, are, and will continue to be cross
platform PRINT files, whereas HTML is, was and will always be cross platform
monitor display mark up language. I can use the back of a screw driver or
the sole of my shoe to pound a nail into the wall, and it will get the job
done. But I would rather use a hammer.

Your colleague has done a decent job rebutting (or rather, arguing against)
the points made, however he has not (to my mind) provided evidence on the
superiority or benefit of using PDF in lieu of HTML. So to him (via you) I
ask: why? Why use PDF instead of HTML?

As we move to a more "web-centric" world, not all participants will be using
Internet Explorer with the Adobe Plugin. I know this may come as a shock to
some, but trust me, it's true. I am not yet aware of an Adobe Acrobat
plugin which works for PDAs, Cell Phones, Web ready refrigerators and car
dashboards, etc. These tools (toys?) are with us now, and will only
continue to proliferate and grow. For this reason, I personally would seek
to ensure that my content is available and accessible to everybody, not just
the people sitting at a desk with a tower or laptop. As others have pointed
out, go ahead and provide the PDF along side the HTML if a print version is
truly required, but if you are going to invest effort converting a document
from Word or Excel into a format that can be shared via the web, why not go
with the original web format - HTML?

Just my (opinionated) $.02 worth

Web Accessibility Specialist / Co-founder of WATS.ca
Web Accessibility Testing and Services
http://www.wats.ca 1.866.932.4878 (North America)

> -----Original Message-----
> From: christopher.phillips [mailto: <EMAIL REMOVED> ]
> Sent: Friday, May 21, 2004 1:20 PM
> To: WebAIM Discussion List
> Subject: [WebAIM] PDF vs. HTML
> I've been going back and forth this past week with a Director of
> Teaching and Learning Technologies at a small community college about
> the benefits of HTML vs. those of PDF. Pertaining to accessibility we
> both agree that a document needs to be properly marked up regardless of
> what format it is going to be displayed in, we disagree however on what
> format is best to publish accessible content- HTML or PDF. While I
> believe that there are definitely situations where PDF format may be
> appropriate, my opinion is that semantic HTML is a better choice for
> displaying converted Word, PowerPoint and General content online.
> During our discussion, this colleague has summarily dismissed many of
> the accessibility concerns with PDF that are raised in the WebAIM
> article:
> http://www.webaim.org/techniques/acrobat/
> I'm asking for your help for a couple of reasons-
> 1- I feel unqualified to answer some of his concerns and
> 2- I'm feeling perhaps a little too personally invested in the dialog
> we've been having to trust myself to be objective at this point-
> I've posted some of his concerns at:
> http://www.communityinclusion.org/curbcut/archives/odds_n_ends/
> 000027.html
> I know that many of you know much more about PDF than I do and if
> anyone has any words of wisdom or advice it would be greatly
> appreciated-
> Feel free to address any comments back to this list, to me individually
> or in the comments section of the blog post above- whatever you feel
> most comfortable with.
> Thanks much,
> Christopher Phillips
> Institute for Community Inclusion
> UMass Boston
> 100 Morrissey Blvd.
> Boston, MA 02125
> 435.753.3227
> Curb Cut Learning
> http://www.communityinclusion.org/curbcut/