2004 Conference Proceedings

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Sean Keegan
Web Accessibility Instructor
High Tech Center Training Unit of the California Community Colleges
21050 McClellan Rd
Cupertino, CA 95014
Phone: 408-996-6044
FAX: 408-996-6042
Email: skeegan@htctu.net

Created by Adobe Systems, the Portable Document Format (PDF) is a useful means for sharing electronic documents through the World Wide Web. With the ability to display materials on multiple computer platforms, retain control over layout and presentation of documents, and allow provisions for copyright security, the Adobe PDF standard provides an attractive method for delivering electronic materials to the end-user.

In addition to the benefits of using the PDF document format to deliver electronic information, the creation of such PDF documents is a relatively simple process. Many software applications currently exist that allow the conversion to the Adobe PDF standard; often this only requires a "one-click" conversion process. Using Microsoft Office applications (e.g., Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, etc.) and with the Adobe Acrobat application, it is easy to create a PDF document. Such functionality also extends to the Apple operating system OS X, where few mouse-clicks can also create a PDF document.

While creating a PDF document has become much easier, the creation of an accessible PDF document does require attention and diligence to the document authoring process and the final PDF result. Adobe's most recent PDF creation tools (i.e., PageMaker, InDesign, Acrobat) as well as the integration of Adobe's PDFMaker into the Microsoft Office suite do enhance the ability to create accessible PDF documents. However, it is the proper use of such tools that is necessary in order to create electronic documents that are not only accessible, but can be navigated and comprehended by individuals using assistive computer technology.

Creating an accessible PDF document requires the document author to address usability, and accessibility, during the planning stage of the document. Identifying early in the creation process if the document will have a multiple column layout, if the document will contain images within the flow of the text, or if the document will contain form input fields necessary for completion is necessary for the creation of accessible PDF documents. Addressing such issues early in the authoring process provides opportunity for developers to streamline the creation of accessible PDF materials.

In addition to planning the creation of the document, using the appropriate tools to create the PDF document is important to insure the accessibility of the electronic materials. Visually formatting a document with keyboard characters such that the information "looks correct" (e.g., creating spaces with the space bar, moving text with the tab-key, etc.), can pose major access difficulties for individuals using assistive computer technology. While the document may "look correct", errors in the underlying structure will prevent users from accessing the true meaning of the document. Using the correct style, heading, and formatting elements available in authoring applications, the underlying structure of a PDF can be developed correctly. This provides the opportunity for not only rich visual layouts and presentations, but an enhancement to the overall navigation and text flow of a PDF document for users to access document information quickly and easily.

The strategies suggested for creating an accessible PDF document also extend to creating accessible PDF forms. Most PDF form documents are simple re-creations of the paper-based form, but in an electronic format. Utilizing the correct Adobe application, it is possible to create accessible PDF-based forms that provide assistance to individuals relying on assistive computer technology, yet "look" similar to the original paper-based models. While the creation of an accessible PDF-based form can take additional time, such a time investment can provide improved usability for all users.

A major concern with providing accessible PDF documents centers on the ability to provide content and yet secure the document so as not to violate copyrighted material. Using the appropriate Adobe applications, it is possible to still provide document security while allowing for users with disabilities to still access the information contained within the PDF document. While this does require both the document author and the end-user to use the more recent versions of Adobe authoring tools and Adobe Reader, access to information can still be maintained while ensuring document security. Many PDF documents are cited as inaccessible, when in fact it is simply a matter of the incorrect security settings that prevent access to the PDF content.

This session will provide techniques and suggestions for the creation of accessible PDF documents for the beginner and intermediate level user. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about:


  1. Adobe Systems Incorporated. Enhancing the Accessibility of the Web with Adobe Acrobat Software. (OnLine). http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/access_whitepaper.html

  2. Adobe Systems Incorporated. Creating accessible forms with Adobe PDF Forms Access. (Online). http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/pdfs/instructor_forms_acess.pdf

  3. Adobe Systems Incorporated. How To Create Accessible Adobe PDF Files. (Online). http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/access_booklet.html

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