PDF Expert Says Australian Government Policy Holds Back Accessibility

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"To the extent that the Report's recommendations bolster the current Australian policy, or influences other governments in their policy-making, equivalent access for AT users will suffer," says Johnson in the Executive Summary of his review.

In a new in-depth review entitled: "You Reap What You Sow: The Australian Government's Report on PDF Accessibility," Duff Johnson, CEO of Appligent Document Solutions and expert on PDF accessibility, 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.

While praising the study for detailing the plight of disabled assistive-technology users encountering many PDF files, Johnson reveals that the report misses key facts about PDF and assistive technology and makes unsupported assertions regarding the difficulty of making PDFs accessible.

Most notably, says Johnson, who founded the first organization worldwide to provide accessible PDF files, the longstanding Australian Government policy sustained by the report is itself substantially responsible for the situation faced by Australian (and other) disabled users of assistive technology.

"To the extent that the Report's recommendations bolster the current Australian policy, or influences other governments in their policy-making, equivalent access for AT users will suffer," says Johnson in the Executive Summary of his review.

About the AGIMO Study
The AGIMO study surveys end-users, organizations and vendors about their use of and support for PDF technology. The authors then analyze the performance of assistive technology (AT) software regarding PDF files, and finally, conduct trials to determine user satisfaction using appropriate software with properly-tagged PDF files.

Although they note high satisfaction with properly tagged PDF documents, the report nonetheless concludes with the recommendation to continue current Australian government policy, which advises PDF authors that usage of PDF files without "...at least one additional format." would "...risk complaint under the DDA..." (Disability Discrimination Act).

Omissions and Errors
While noting the evident popularity of PDF, the Report fails to investigate the role of PDF for organizations and users, how it differs from other formats, and the significance of those differences in real-world usage, with implications for accessibility.

The Report correctly notes that accessibility problems are largely a function of "document design" independent of format. However, the Report provides no data with which to compare PDF accessibility or functionality with other formats, and provides no data to support its claims regarding the difficulty of making PDF accessible.

Conclusion
Johnson observes that the Report's own conclusions cannot be derived from the data collected.

He goes on to offer a set of core policy recommendations for government agencies interested in promoting the accessibility of electronic documents.

Read You Reap What You Sow: The Australian Government's Report on PDF Accessibility on Talking PDF, the Appligent Document Solutions blog.

About the Author
Duff Johnson is CEO of Appligent Document Solutions, and a leading expert on PDF accessibility. Document Solutions, Inc. (DSI), the company he founded in 1996, was the first organization worldwide (2000) to provide commercial PDF tagging services. DSI merged with Appligent in 2008 to form Appligent Document Solutions.

Duff has chaired AIIM's PDF/UA Committee, the originator of ISO/DIS 14289, since 2005. ISO 14289 is expected to publish in 2011. He is an occasional consultant to Adobe Systems as well as numerous government agencies and corporations.

About Appligent Document Solutions
Appligent Document Solutions is one of the oldest and most innovative independent PDF technology companies in the world, with customers in the government, financial services, insurance, manufacturing, publishing and legal sectors, among others. The company invented PDF redaction and form-flattening, and was first to market with PDF-specific server applications for forms, stamping, appending, encryption and digital signatures, all available on the leading server OS platforms. Appligent Document Solutions created the first service bureau for PDF files in 1996, and now offers PDF forms development, Section 508 compliance, PDF document collections services and publication imaging. For more information, visit http://www.appligent.com.

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