for this. The existing business processes had already produced millions of PDF files and
continued to produce new PDF files as the final, edited format, so it was no extra work.
PDF is an open format, so every platform has a PDF reader and they all display
documents the same – you can’t send a Microsoft Word document to someone on a
different platform and count on it looking the same. Adobe has always provided a free
reader, Adobe Reader, for most users. PDFs let you keep your publications in your
corporate font and colours and style, so your manager is happy. There is an incorrect
belief that PDF files cannot be edited or changed, so people are confident that their
documents will always present their intended message. And finally, PDF gives you a way
to collect images and text together in a single file, which gave it the edge over that other
ubiquitous format, HTML, when you want to email your report.
It is likely, then, that any organisation produces PDFs as their main form of content
production, second only perhaps to their website. Often the substantive content on the
website itself is in PDF – reports, brochures, newsletters.
But while PDF is convenient for creators and distributors of content, it is not for some
consumers of content, notably people who are not in a position to use Adobe Reader to
display PDF on a standard desktop system (or print the document!) and read the content
visually off the page. People who use assistive technologies like screenreaders and
magnifiers have considerable problems with PDF, described in more detail in Chapter 2.
What can be done?
There are two options: stop using PDF and make the PDFs you produce accessible.
For the reasons given above you are probably not in a position to stop producing PDFs.
You will still be delivering files to printers. You will still be doing your final editing and
approval in PDF. The final PDF file is your canonical document for distribution. You could
change your business process: for example, when the text for your documents are
created in a word processor, before it is laid out, it is in a format that makes sense for
assistive technology – big lumps of text. But that means duplicating effort in your
business process. The flow of content from writer and artist to final document has to be
performed twice, once with PDF as the intended output and once with an alternative
format in mind. This can be expensive. It could backfire if you choose the “wrong”
alternative format. And the extra delay to produce the alternative format is likely to be a
So you are probably going to want to keep creating PDF files, and make them accessible
after the fact. There are several ways of doing this.
You can take just one step back, to the desktop publishing program that produced the
PDF, and use its ability to support accessible PDF output. For example, Adobe InDesign
lets you set reading order and created tagged documents when you output to PDF.
However, as noted above, this may not be just one step: it may be many steps. This
probably requires the most in-house investment in time and skills.
You can use another application to take the PDF and make it accessible. They vary in
terms of cost, ease-of-use, and the ability to automate the process. This can be easy or
hard but is quite cost-effective depending on the tool.
You can send your PDF files to an external agency, which will use one of the afore-
mentioned tools to make the PDF more accessible. This is the easiest but most
expensive option. Your printer may offer this service, although PDF accessibility is a