Adobe prepares accessible PDF reader

As they prepare to comply with new requirements to make Web sites readable

by visually impaired users, federal Webmasters point to a major concern — PDF files.

But Adobe Systems Inc., the company that invented Portable Document

Format, says a new version of its Acrobat Reader will be available by spring.

The new version will make it possible for screen readers to read many of

the PDF files that are now unreadable, said Rick Brown, accessibility chief

at Adobe.

"The government uses PDF for scanning in old documents" from the pre-electronic

era so they can be viewed on computer screens, Brown said. These are essentially

pictures of old pages and usually cannot be deciphered by screen readers.

Other PDF files contain text as well as images. Screen readers often

can read the text, but not necessarily in the same way it was arranged for

viewers who have good eyesight.

Adobe is designing its new reader to follow the logical structure of

each story. "Logical structure can indicate precise reading order and improve

navigation, particularly for longer, complex documents," Adobe says in a

description of its future reader. The reader "will be able to follow a

single article from beginning to end, much as a sighted person would flip

through the newspaper pages to continue reading an article," Adobe says.

The new reader will work best with new PDF files, especially those that

have been designed with accessibility in mind, Brown said. But the reader

will "attempt to make" old PDF files accessible to screen readers as well.

Adobe also is developing "some automated authoring tools that will make

it very easy to create a PDF file that's accessible," Brown said.

MORE INFO

Adobe's Accessibility Tools for PDF Documents

FCW's continuing coverage of accessibility issues

"Access.gov" [Federal Computer Week, Aug. 7, 2000]

"Comparing screen readers" [Federal Computer Week, Aug. 7, 2000]

BY William Matthews
August 25, 2000

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