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[Irl-dean] Accessibility of PDF Format Resources?

Joshue O Connor joshue.oconnor at ncbi.ie
Wed Nov 22 11:37:57 GMT 2006


Eoin,

> I would like to alter the thrust of the discussion slightly, to move away from
> the specific issue of PDF vs. HTML

I am also glad to as there are interesting points being discussed and as
ever, the devil is in the detail.

> I think we all agree that accessible
> is better than inaccessible, regardless of which particular format is used. 

I think we can take that as a given, or even a binding principle.

> The question in my mind is then:
> "What is the best way to publish a long report electronically on a website?" 

I would still suggest offering both formats. Would the time needed to do
this be inordinate? If working from structured content probably not, but
PDF has a disadvantage over HTML in that the tagging of the document
*must* be rigorously checked to ensure that it is correct. Thats not
_difficult_ to do via the Advanced >Accessibility>Touch Up Reading Order
settings but could be an issue depending on the size of the document and
the time available. With a large 500 page report  it may be an issue.
Its a judgement call on the part of the author as they need to
understand the requirements of their audience, but the accessible PDF
will be useless to legacy users (though officially PDF has been
supported in JAWS 3.7 and higher and Window-Eyes 4.1, just don't bank on
it actually *working*).

In terms of organisational policy, say for the Irish Public sector, its
vital that they don't get a mixed message from the experts.
Using both accessible PDF and HTML is still the _safest_ option, giving
choice for the user, even though there may be a time/skills overhead. I
agree that PDF is certainly the best format for *certain* jobs but the
advantage it offers should not outweight any potential problems using it
solely may bring. It has a layout/print advantage and as Eoin suggests
there maybe a search advantage for larger documents, though as Barry
pointed out there are also other ways to make HTML more easily
searchable. In terms of the needs of your client and the job at hand it
may be feasible to go for only an accessible PDF *but* in terms of the
message given to the public sector I have to strongly suggest that we
sing from the same hymn sheet on this one and the first line of that
should be, 'Offer both and accessible PDF and accessible HTML'. Lets not
worry about the _how_ of this one yet but I would suggest sticking to
this as a principle.

> If the report is typeset using Adobe InDesign, then preparing an accessible PDF
> version is reasonably easy to do, cheap, and within the competency of a
> typesetter (with an understanding of the issues), because InDesign supports it. 

Eoin, I have to disagree that it is as easy as you suggest. Of pretty
much all of the output methods we have discussed (using PDFMaker,
Acrobat Pro etc) InDesign (IMO in terms of skills overhead etc) is the
most needy. On the other hand it does offer a high degree of
flexibility. But there are draw backs. Creating tagged PDFs from
InDesign CS2 is enabled in the High Quality Print preset by default, but
not in any other.  For me the Achilles heel is this; To create a
structured PDF in InDesign CS2 you have to use styles that have semantic
information that a screen reader can recognize. In other words it does
not offer the structural tagged output that say Acrobat Pro does out of
the box, the user has to be aware of basic markup language (not a bad
thing but probably rare) and apply it themselves. The model is even
confusing as these styles have to be 'mapped' to appropriate elements
within the document which is time consuming. There are advanced options
to import a DTD, as well as other XML data, so that may make the process
easier but this  requires the content author to provide an XML data file
to the designer/publisher outlining the 'tree' format. In principle, for
the layout of complex documents, this is a good idea but in practice
could be a disaster. InDesign also offers limited tagging options so the
final file may still have to be imported into Acrobat Pro for final
marking up of lists etc. InDesign is also slightly different from
Acrobat Pro in that any structural changes the author may make to the
document order are only reflected in the XML output of the document and
not the final PDF itself.

Having made the above points, it is do-able, and InDesign is the best
option for designers/authors who wish to create accessible PDFs from
more complex layouts, its just not *that* easy. Also the skills needed
are probably beyond the scope of what most designers/printers would be
expected to do in a 'normal' design job. Maybe it should become a
requirement that they learn how to? Could this be done through explicit
demands during the procurement process?

> If the report is typeset in QuarkXPress, then creating either an accessible PDF
> or an accessible HTML version is difficult and expensive. Unfortunately most typesetters
> are still using QuarkXPress, although this is beginning to change. 

Certainly may print houses are still using Quark but as you rightly say
this is slowly changing as InDesign is cheaper and has greater
flexibility. The entire Adobe Creative Suite is cheaper that Quark 7.

> This is a very important issue when considering what advice to give to Irish public sector
> organisations. 

Absolutely.

>Telling them that the best delivery format for the web is accessible HTML
> isn't much use when they have a Quark-generated PDF file in their hand. 

 The move to an application like InDesign would be an improvement.

> We should focus more on getting these organisations to adopt
> publishing procedures and guidelines that will make it easier for them to
> publish information in an accessible way

Yes.

> a) ensuring that the report is prepared using an application that supports the creation
>    of accessible PDFs (whether prepared internally or externally), and
> b) considering which reports should be 'expensively' typeset using InDesign, and which
>    would be both cheaper and as accessible if done using Microsoft Word
>    (plus PDFWriter) instead. (therefore allowing more budget to be allocated to
>    creating an accessible HTML version from the Word original too). 

Good suggestions Eoin. It would be a good idea to get all our duckys in
a row on this one and maybe through a group like Irl Dean promote a
recommendation?

What does the list think?

Josh









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