Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Problem with PDF Content

by Donna J. Jodhan

That's the crazy thing that so many content designers just do not understand. They continue to put all of their efforts into designing pretty PDF content but at the end of the day it is totally inaccessible to blind and visually impaired people. Why you ask? Very simple. PDF content is made up of an image that cannot be deciphered by screen readers. In other words; PDF files are image-based instead of textual-based. Blind and visually impaired persons use screen readers to surf the Internet.

More and more online forms are being designed in PDF format and as a result of this, blind and visually impaired people are being deprived of their right to privacy and confidentiality. How is this? Simple! If a form is in PDF format it means that blind and visually impaired people need to depend on sighted assistance to help them complete it. It is frustrating, scary, and a downright violation of our right to confidentiality and privacy. There is a way for all of this to be dealt with and it starts with the content developer using the appropriate tags to format the PDF content so that it is made accessible and usable.

What most content developers still fail to understand is this: if they take the additional time to tag their PDF content appropriately, they will not only be making it accessible to the blind and visually impaired; they will also be making it accessible and usable to the print disabled, the technically shy, and to those who are not technically savvy. Before you start to wonder who all of these people are, please allow me to elaborate.

The print disabled: those who are unable to read because of either physical, mental, or visual challenges.

The technically shy or not technically savvy: those who have difficulty coping with modern technology and who work better with more simple environments. In short, the millions of aging baby boomers who did not grow up with the Internet at their fingertips.

I personally find PDF content to be frustrating, a useless and time-consuming obstacle for me to deal with, and a downright insult to my right to privacy and confidentiality. Let me give you a URL that you can visit in order to learn why PDF content does not benefit the blind and visually impaired. Visit

I'm Donna J. Jodhan, an accessibility and special needs business consultant wishing you a terrific day. If you'd like to learn more about me, then you can visit some of my blog spots at:
Donna Jodhan! Advocating accessibility for all:
Weekly Saturday postings on issues of accessibility:
blogs on various issues and answers to consumers concerns:

Response to The Problem with PDF Content

by G F Mueden

I suspected Donna J. Jodhan of inaccuracy and checked with Lighthouse's Dr. Arditi. Here's what he had to say.

"In 2000-2002, while I was at IBM, I helped out Adobe a bit with their project to make PDFs accessible. Not all PDFs are accessible, and making them accessible requires a teeny bit of extra work, but the quote is incorrect in asserting that PDFs are only image-based. As [your] last line points out, searching works, so they are not totally image-based. An accessible PDF has a layer of text with tags that is mapped to the image. JAWS and other screen readers can manage quite nicely with these files. In the days of yore, PDFs were totally inaccessible, but that hasn't been true for nearly 10 years, though many continue to bash them."

Dr Arditi of Lighthouse Int'l in NY thinks this disparagement goes much too far. that great improvements have been made but they are not always implemented. I think that those who have difficulty should always give specific examples when reporting difficulties. We should try to find to whom these difficulties should be reported.

Click this link to check out Adobe's blog on accessibility:

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your friendly accessibility advocate wishing you a terrific day. If you'd like to learn more about me, then you can visit some of my blog spots at:
Donna Jodhan! Advocating accessibility for all:
Weekly Saturday postings on issues of accessibility:
blogs on various issues and answers to consumers concerns:

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