WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

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Re: Screen-reader updates


From: Wayne Dick
Date: Feb 23, 2006 3:30PM

My original note to the list was not
intended. This message is.

At this point I would like to make a
comment to the list on PDF.

I do not believe that the burden of
responsibility for accessibility lies
exclusively with the document author.

The first responsibility of a format
manufacturer is to enable equal access
to all users. That means everyone
should be able to read public
publications in a file format at
approximately the same cost over the
price of the user's basic system.
Now, for a disabled person, their
basic system cost is more expensive.
That just is. However, disabled
users should not have to pay extra (in
time or money) to read a file format
that is free to able bodied readers.
PDF is the worst offender in this
category. PDF reading is free for
able bodied and it is costly for
disabled. That is cost above the cost
of the basic system. Consider the
following honestly. Would PDF ever
have gotten its foothold in digital
libraries, with manufacturer's user
manuals or with governments and
businesses if users had to pay for
Acrobat Reader? Maybe Adobe should
charge $25.00 for Acrobat Reader and
use the revenue to pay for real
accommodation. Of course, a lot more
venders would choose HTML if they knew
that many users did not own a free
copy of Acrobat Reader.

Adobe has claimed that PDF is a
"default standard", but PDF does not
play by the rules of a real standard.
W3C has created real standards. The
difference is that W3C expends lots of
energy and time making its standards
effective. The PDF community has
waited for accessibility to be

The user agent, Acrobat Reader,
produced by Adobe really does not
provide equal access in quality.
Listening is good when you have no
other option, but a lot of material is
terse and requires some kind of static
medium so the information can be
absorbed at the reader's pace of
understanding. That is why static
formats like Braille and alternative
print are needed. Adobe provides only
one access for individuals with
limited or no sight, voice output.
While able bodied users can print and
annotate their documents, disabled
users are tethered to a moving show
with limited opportunity to stop and
ponder. Is that equal access?

The format manufacturer, its author,
has the responsibility to make a
format that is accessible to the level
of the highest current public
standards. It is also a
manufacturer's responsibility to make
it easier to produce accessible
material than inaccessible material.
This applies most to manufacturers of
authoring tools, but manufacturers of
file formats must take responsibility
if it is trivial to produce and
disseminate documents that are
profoundly inaccessible. PDF images
of text documents are major violators.
Adobe's excellent image compression
algorithms make this process
efficient, and it is used extensively.

My purpose is not to bash Adobe or
PDF. Adobe's contributions to
computing are among the greatest in
the industry, and PDF is a brilliant
format. I would just like to read my
information at a comparable level of
quality, effectiveness and price.
That is not too much to ask. Right
now the PDF community does not make
that possible. There is the
responsibility of document authors and
publishers, but there is also
significant responsibility from
manufacturers of PDF authoring tools
and user agents. Finally, there is
the responsibility of the author of
PDF. If Adobe wants PDF to be a
standard then it should treat it like
a real standard. PDF should be as
accountable as HTML and it should not
provide easy ways for incompetent or
cheap authors and publishers to evade
their accessibility obligations.

The truth is that Adobe should step up
to the accessibility challenge with
the same visionary effort it has given
to all its endeavors. We need their
brilliance working for us. With all
the baby boomers hitting old age, the
market for accessible reading might
just be worth more than anyone

Wayne Dick PhD
Chair Computer Engineering and
Computer Science
Director WebAdapt2Me Project at CSULB