WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

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Accessible PDF files


From: Paul Bohman
Date: Jul 1, 2000 1:05PM

To the best of my knowledge, PDF (Adobe Acrobat) files by themselves are
currently inaccessible to screen readers. One screen reader
program--JAWS--has pledged to support PDF files in the next version of JAWS.
This will be a great benefit to the many JAWS users.
But what can we do now to make PDF files accessible?
One solution is to create an HTML version along with the PDF version. This
can be a simple or a complex task, depending on the nature and length of
the document. If you do not have access to the original file in another
format, such as Word or PageMaker, you may not be able to create an HTML
version of the PDF file yourself.
The easiest (although not necessarily the best) solution is to take
advantage of a PDF-to-HTML conversion script on Adobe's Web site. All you
have to do is make a link on your Web page to the script, including the Web
address of your PDF document in the link.
For example, we have a PDF brochure on the WebAIM site at the following
The conversion script is at the following address:
To make a link which directly converts the document, I will need to connect
the two Web addresses above with "?url=", like this (note that this is a
long address and may wrap around to two lines in your email viewing
Note that the "?url=" is case-sensitive.
So, on your Web page you could put something like this:
"WebAIM brochure: PDF version | HTML version"
. . . and make the links active, of course, using the technique described
This technique is especially useful as a quick fix, when you don't have the
time to prepare a complete HTML version of a PDF file. It should be noted,
however, that this conversion utility strips the file of all of the images.
If your PDF file has a lot of images, or if it depends on the images to
convey important content, then the conversion utility will be of little use.
Hope this helps.
Paul Bohman