Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Government study recommends accessible alternatives to PDF

"The Australian Government’s study into the Accessibility of the Portable Document Format for people with a disability" recommends the continued use of alternate formats to PDF. While in theory it is possible to create accessible PDF, in practice this does not work well enough to be relied on and so alternatives, typically HTML is required. It should be noted that the Department of Finance are practicing what they preach, releasing the report in the form of a set of web pages, as well as PDF.

One suggestion I would make would be to move the PDF link to below the table of contents for the web version of such documents. The average viewer is likely to click on the first link they see on a web page. They would then download megabytes of the full report in PDF, before realising there is a more suitable web summary available. The Finance Department should also be commended for releasing the report with a open access Creative Commons licence.

I will be covering some of this in the course "Electronic Data Management" (COMP7420), starting at ANU February 2011.

Publication Summary

When the Australian Government released the Website Accessibility National Transition Strategy in June 2010, it noted that “New technology has huge potential to make life better for people with disability, but we need to make sure that it is as easy to use as possible for all members of our community.” Online accessibility depends on the manner in which documents are presented and how they interact with the assistive technologies that are increasingly available.

The Portable Document Format (PDF), first created by Adobe Systems in 1993, now in its ninth version, is very widely used for online documents. While it has wide utility, its suitability for accessibility purposes has been criticised. In 2010, AGIMO, working with Vision Australia, and with the
cooperation of Adobe, undertook a study of the Portable Document Format’s accessibility capabilities. The study’s scope was focussed on PDF and was designed to increase understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.

Not surprisingly, the study has found that while accessibility of the Portable Document Format is improving, like most tools, it cannot compensate for poor design. Content authors need to design accessibility into their documents from the outset.

The Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy provides the necessary guidance to ensure the needs of all are reflected online. The study’s main and supplementary reports can be found below. The AGIMO Blog provides further details of this matter and the ability to participate in an online discussion. ...

Table of Contents

Executive summary
Key findings
User consultations (Vision Australia)
Public online consultation (AGIMO)
Technical evaluation
User evaluations
About WCAG 2.0
About the Portable Document Format
The legislative context in Australia
Computer use by people with a disability
Phase one: user consultation - the user perspective
Focus Groups
Encountering PDF files
Problems using PDF files
Workaround solutions
Assistive technologies and PDF files Interaction with Adobe Reader
Public online consultation
Phase two: technical evaluation - the technical perspective
Common assistive
technologies used in Australia
Vendor support for assistive technologies
Technical testing
Phase two - technical evaluation results
Phase three: user evaluations - the lived experience
The PDF test documents
User evaluation tasks
User evaluation result (measure of effectiveness)
Acceptance of time (measure of efficiency)
Satisfaction ratings (measure of satisfaction)
Problems experienced by users
Overall combined accessibility testing results
Study approach and methodology
Focus groups
Online consultation
Technical evaluation
User experience evaluations
Submissions to the public consultation
Organisations providing assistive technology data

Supplementary Report

Supplementary report
Phase one – user consultations
Phase two – technical evaluation
Phase three – user evaluations
User evaluation test results by assistive technology
Detailed test results by assistive technology
PAC Mate
JAWS 9 & 10
NVDA 2009.1
Window-Eyes 7
MAGic 10
ZoomText 9.14
Read Out Loud (Adobe Reader 9)
Read & Write Gold 9
Dragon Professional 10.1
Operating System (OS) configuration
Auslan ...

From: "The Australian Government’s study into the Accessibility of the Portable Document Format for people with a disability" , by Vision Austrlaia, for the Australian Government Information Management Office, Department of Finance and Deregulation, November 2010

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