Reviewing the Australian Government’s Report on PDF Accessibility

Duff Johnson reviews a recent report on PDF content accessibility produced by the Australian federal government.

This article analyzes the recent Australian Government’s study into the Accessibility of the Portable Document Format for people with a disability published in November, 2010 by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) together with Vision Australia, a consultancy.
Cover of the AGIMO report
The Report accurately characterizes the current state of affairs for Assistive Technology (AT) users attempting to interact with PDF content. However, it does not clearly identify the reasons why most AT users have a poor experience with PDF. Additionally, the Report provides no comparison of PDF accessibility, functionality, remediation complexity or cost with alternative formats. As a result, several of the Report’s key conclusions are unsupported by the data presented.

I argue for an different perspective. The real story is that current Australian government is itself notably responsible for perpetuating the poor user experiences with PDF reported by AT-using Australians. To the extent that the Report’s recommendations bolster current policies, or influences other governments, equivalent access to content for AT users will suffer.

Finally, I outline an alternative approach to policy-making when addressing accessibility in any electronic document format, including PDF files.

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