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We appreciate your interests in Universal Design, a global movement of inclusive design practice initiated at NC State University College of Design. The Center for Universal Design is currently not active due to funding challenges. We are working to revive the Center, hopefully in the near future. We are unable at this time to provide assistance to your design inquiries.


Below are three main types of resources for assisting in the creation of Accessible PDF files. Tools are actual guidelines, suggestions, recommendations and techniques to aid in creating an accessible PDF file. The Background area has informative articles on the issues surrounding PDF and accessibility. The Personal Comments section contains a collection of "lessons learned" and personal experiences with PDF that you may find valuable.


WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)

Adobe Acrobat Accessibility Techniques

Description of some of what features Adobe 6 has for increased accessibility and a discussion of the shortcomings that still exist. It also discusses how " When people talk about the accessibility of Adobe Acrobat, or PDF files, they are usually referring to the accessibility of Acrobat to screen readers . Before diving into that topic in depth, I just want to remind people that blindness is not the only disability to be concerned with when developing Web content. The other major disability types to be concerned with are mobility impairments, hearing impairments, and cognitive impairments. It's also important to remember that not all visual disabilities are blindness. Those with low vision have needs of their own. Let's look at how to make PDF files accessible to these disability types."

ADE (Accessibility in Distance Education)

Accessible PDFs

You can use Adobe Acrobat to create Portable Document Format (PDF) files, which look and print the same on a number of computer platforms. However, these files pose some accessibility challenges. The techniques in this section describe how to use Adobe Acrobat accessibility features to make your PDFs as accessible as possible.

CEW (The Center on Education and Work)

Web Accessibility for All

More and more web content is hosted in the Adobe Acrobat PDF file format everyday. If appropriate measures are not taken, these documents may become completely inaccessible. Here is a tutorial that would help you create accessible PDF documents - it is available in text or graphic format.


How to Create Accessible Adobe PDF Files Booklet

This Adobe PDF booklet is a step-by-step guide that covers the basics for creating and optimizing Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files so that they can be made accessible to users with disabilities such as blindness or low vision.

This guide tells you how you can use Adobe® Acrobat® 5.0 software and Adobe Acrobat Capture® 3.0 software to optimize your documents for distribution as Adobe PDF files that can be read easily with the aid of Windows®-based assistive technologies such as screen readers.



Is PDF Accessible?

The article explains that . The growing popularity of PDF has created concerns about accessibility, particularly for users of screen readers. With the release of Adobe Acrobat 5.0, Adobe took significant steps toward improving PDF accessibility. Among other improvements, PDF is now able to communicate more effectively with screen readers, and PDF text can reflow when magnified or when viewed on a handheld computing device. Adobe's progress is one step toward PDF accessibility, but barriers still exist. Most notably, of the three types of PDF documents--unstructured, structured, and tagged--only tagged PDF files are optimized for accessibility. Few authors are currently creating tagged PDF files, either because this requires additional effort or because of lack of awareness. The article goes on to explain more of the issues.


PDF and Public Documents: A White Paper

This paper, published by the American Foundation for the Blind, explains the problems that surround the use of PDF documents and forms in light of the section 508 standards and draws the conclusion that alternative, accessible formats must always accompany PDF versions of information and data that are made available to the public.

Personal Comments

1. The JAWS screen reader seemed to have no problem handling some test pdf files. The main issue was that the files didn't have pauses embedded in their format and so the reader just ran everything together. So, not the best way to listen to the article. (11/03)

2. The IBM Home Page Reader could not handle pdf files . it is geared to the html and other formats. (11/03)

3. There is no OS X supported Mac screen reader though one is planned. (11/03) >

4. Discovered that the Adobe Reader itself (at least Version 6, 5/16/03, Windows Operating System) has a "Read Out Loud" function that can be accessed under View. (11/03)Secured .pdf files are a problem with many readers though newer readers like WindowEyes are addressing that issue. (11/03)

5. Secured PDF Files . "You are correct in the conversion tools and how they work. However, did you try and send a secured PDF to one of them. I'll just bet your results were a little different.. WindowEyes has just released a new version that is supposed to be able to read secured PDF. Files" (11/03)

6. Run together of columns . "You were correct in that screen readers run every thing together and news letters are incredibly difficult to read. With out the msaa (need to look this up in original or see what term means)to separate the columns you have to read two or three articles at once." (11/03)

7. Tagged PDF files easier to deal with . "The newer the PDF's the more likely a person with a visual disability is able to read them. I think the way to go with this issue is a properly tagged PDF file including book marks and logical structured documents." (11/03)

8. Billable form. "The one issue that I did not see in your research is the PDF billable form. That presents problems in it's self." (11/03)

9. Bookmarked files . "This is a file where a person using windoweyes can read it in chronological order. It is not a book marked file, but the articles are not broken up which is a good thing. I also found the articles very interesting. A book marked file would allow the person using the screen reader to go to the article that they wish to read rather than having to read the entire newsletter." (11/03)

10.Tables . "Now I can do some juggling to see those columns correctly. But it is best to avoid tables. Or hope that the material can be read in a linier fashion. Both screen readers have table mode, however, some have to be reminded to use them. Fortunately, all of the words and the numbers are links and one can use any to get to the particular location in the document." (11/03)

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    PDF Accessibility