[accessibleimage] Re: Is the PDF format acceptable as an assistive technology

  • From: David Hilbert Poehlman <poehlman1@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: accessibleimage@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 30 Jan 2012 08:47:47 -0500

Before it was published, I reviewed:
It's pretty comprehensive not only providing checking info but also development 
info.  you may find it helpful.  This work is going on all the time and I'm 
sure that when things change, they will be reflected here.  Anyone who can make 
a contribution to this and other efforts are welcomed.

On Jan 29, 2012, at 5:01 PM, Vince Thacker wrote:

I'm all too familiar with the frustrations of trying to read some PDF files, 
which are a very variable commodity.

If there isn't one already, doesn't there need to be some kind of accessibility 
standard so that PDFs can be rated for accessibility level in the way that web 
pages sometimes are.

This wouldn't have the force of law, but could legitimately provide evidence 
for comments, complaints and even court action.

The problem isn't, I believe, the PDF format per se, but the level of skill and 
commitment of people who produce the files.

The problem might be deciding who sets and maintains the standards, as while 
there are bodies such as W3C who provide guidelines on the writing of HTML and 
related formats, it might be more difficult to deal with a format that belongs 
to a corporation such as Adobe.


----- Original Message ----- From: "Kaizen Program" <kaizen@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: <accessibleimage@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Sunday, January 29, 2012 9:05 PM
Subject: [accessibleimage] Re: Is the PDF format acceptable as an assistive 

> Over the years, a number of blind computer users, including me, have
> repeatedly complained about the lack of accessibility of PDF files,
> especially those that are made as image files and those that are made
> automatically (which is most of them) without regard for the accessibility
> components that the most recent Adobe program can give PDFs for people using
> the  most recent versions of screen readers. When a PDF is made, the person
> making it needs to purposefully make it accessible. It does not happen
> automatically. Of course, there are many blind computer users who cannot
> afford to constantly upgrade their screen readers, which also means that
> many blind computer users cannot even take advantage of the most modern
> improvements when they are in the most recently made PDF files. And this
> does not deal with the issue of pictures, graphs, etc.
> Image files require character recognition programs to produce electronic
> text that is readable by screen readers... Such programs are often too
> expensive for individual blind computer users.
> Even when schools have the programs and the available staff with the
> know-how to convert PDF files to accessible formats, it takes skill and
> practice and it can take a long time, so the students may not get the texts
> when they need them. This can make it difficult for students to keep up with
> their peers in classes requiring reading of the material in the PDF files.
> And the offices that assist students with disabilities often have many other
> demands beyond assisting blind students with texts, since there are students
> with other disabilities requiring other help. And there are often more
> students with other disabilities than students who are blind...
> It is an ongoing problem that has been written about on many forums related
> to blindness issues, in many magazines, and addressed to many publishers and
> the Adobe company itself directly.
> As far as I am concerned, it is an ongoing frustration both for those of us
> not studying in school who need to read material for professional work and
> for students who are still in school.
> Best regards,
> Sylvie
> Sylvie Kashdan, M.A.
> Instructor/Curriculum Coordinator
> KAIZEN PROGRAM for New English Learners with Visual Limitations
> 810-A Hiawatha Place South
> Seattle, WA  98144, U.S.A.
> phone:  (206) 784-5619
> email:  kaizen@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> web:  http://www.nwlincs.org/kaizen/
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Richard Baldwin" <baldwin@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
> To: "BlindMath Mailing List" <blindmath@xxxxxxxxxx>;
> <accessibleimage@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
> Sent: Sunday, January 29, 2012 9:06 AM
> Subject: [accessibleimage] Is the PDF format acceptable as an assistive
> technology
> In an earlier post on a different thread, I wrote:
> "... I have unfortunately concluded that a sighted assistant will almost
> always be required for the successful extraction of pictures from pdf files
> for use by blind students.
> It looks to me like it is time for some advocacy group for blind students
> to declare that pdf is an inaccessible format and is not acceptable as an
> assistive technology for providing educational material to blind students.
> One alternative that is well known, relatively easy to produce, and far
> less prone to accessibility problems is XHTML. -- But XHTML probably has
> some warts in the accessibility area as well."
> Amanda replied:
> "As you know, even if that physics book had no pictures, it would still be
> inaccessible. If a blind person needed to take basic math and all they had
> to study was the pdf, they would probably fail. I think that not only
> should the files be readable, but they should also contain labels pointing
> to separate picture files for embossing. ....
> I really want to be involved in fixing this situation but don't know where
> to begin or who to contact. I'm sure part of the problem is lack of
> awareness on the part of publishers, but that can't be all that's going on
> here. Do you have any thoughts on how I might get started?"
> --End of quotations--
> Here are some of my thoughts. First, I am able to answer many of your
> questions regarding math, physics, computer programming, and engineering,
> but when you ask questions about how to bring about social change, you are
> probably asking the wrong person. That is far out of my area of expertise.
> However, even though I don't have any answers, I do have some thoughts.
> First again, achieving change of this magnitude will probably require group
> action spearheaded by some recognized organization such as the NFB for
> example. There is probably little or nothing that an individual can do
> alone.
> Second, that organization will need to have backup from some really capable
> technical blind people, such as Michael Whapples, Sina Bahram, and John
> Gardner.
> Third, I would suggest that pictures, images, illustrations, charts,
> diagram, or whatever you choose to call them be considered a very high
> priority. Here is my reasoning for that suggestion.
> For you and your physics book, the most important accessibility problem is
> the equations, which understandably are more important to you than the
> pictures. However, you belong to a minority group within a minority group.
> I may be wrong, but my guess would be that the majority of blind college
> students are mainly enrolled in degree plans such as English, history,
> sociology, political science, etc. And (just like the majority of sighted
> students) most of those students never see an equation and wouldn't know
> what it is if they saw one one.
> However, even those students are confronted with textbooks that contain
> pictorial illustrations of material that is germane to their field of
> study. Some even have textbooks that contain pie charts, bar charts, and an
> occasional line graph, which are difficult to explain with words.
> My point is that for the majority of blind students, the thing that is most
> important to you (equations) is not important to them at all. However, you
> do have common ground with the majority of blind students when it comes to
> pictorial illustrations in textbooks. All textbooks have them and all blind
> students should be at least moderately interested in them. After all, there
> is a lot of truth to the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand
> words.
> Regarding equations, I believe that the organization that takes the lead in
> such an effort should flatly state that, while the technology for dealing
> with images is far from being settled, there are recognized standards for
> dealing with math in a way that blind students can understand. They should
> further take the position that it is simply unacceptable for textbook
> publishers to fail to follow those standards when providing supposedly
> accessible textbook formats to blind students.
> As a minimum, all textbook publishers should be prepared to provide
> separate files containing all images in a recognized, non-proprietary image
> format and should be prepared to provide separate files containing all math
> and all equations in a recognized standard format. Obviously, they should
> also be prepared to provide information that correlates the material in
> those files to the page and paragraph of the textbook.
> Going beyond the minimum, all of the content of an electronic document that
> is provided to blind students for purposes of accessibility should be
> easily extractable intact into a well-documented non-proprietary electronic
> digital format (other than voice) so that it can be subjected to current
> and future developments in assistive technology.
> Here is an analogy for what I mean by current and future developments in
> assistive technology. During the days of film cameras, you snapped a
> picture and unless you operated your own expensive and messy film
> development laboratory, what you got back from the developer was what you
> got back. You kept the good photographs and you discarded the bad ones.
> However, with the advent of digital photography, tremendous strides have
> been made in the ability to enhance photographs. Using a program like
> Photoshop, even a novice who doesn't understand the mathematics involved
> can often rescue a bad photograph and turn it into a good one. That can be
> very important if the photograph happens to be the only photograph that you
> own of your now-deceased grandmother and it was taken during her 101st
> birthday party.
> I predict that there will also be similar advances in assistive technology
> to make it easier for blind students to understand the various kinds of
> information in a textbook. I don't know what those advances will be, but I
> do know that if the information in a textbook is locked inside a
> proprietary, non-accessible format (like pdf), it won't matter, because it
> won't be possible to apply the advanced technology to the information.
> And by the way, I doubt that this problem is the result of "a lack of
> awareness" on the part of textbook publishers.
> Those are some of my thoughts.
> Dick Baldwin
> -- 
> Richard G. Baldwin (Dick Baldwin)
> Home of Baldwin's on-line Java Tutorials
> http://www.DickBaldwin.com
> Professor of Computer Information Technology
> Austin Community College
> (512) 223-4758
> mailto:Baldwin@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> http://www.austincc.edu/baldwin/

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