by Penny Everett, VerseOne Accessibility Specialist
Did you know that if the source document isn't accessible then the PDF document won't be either?
Organisations are often compelled by law to publish documentation to their target audiences. Many of these documents are very long and were originally prepared in Microsoft Word. Content authors given this task often simply convert the original file to PDF, upload it to the server, and link to it from a web page. Job done!
But not so fast... This is good practice only as long as the resulting PDF is accessible and can be read by assistive technology. Impaired users, such as the blind who use screen-reading software, must also be able to access these documents.
This means that not only must content authors ensure that the content on their website is accessible, but that the linked PDF documents are too.
The process for making a PDF accessible is known as "tagging" and is very similar to the coding process for a web page. Just as the headings, tables, forms, and links on a web page require semantic coding, so do the same elements in a PDF.
This is made much easier if the originating document has been made accessible in the first place. For instance, the 2010 version of Microsoft Word has a built-in accessibility checker.
So organisations who are still using Word 2003/2007 would do well to heed this fact. They should ensure that content authors who are converting Word documents to PDF have access to this latest version of Word, be it on a spare laptop or a single dedicated PC. They can then run the accessibility checker on any source document prior to converting it to a PDF.
Then, provided they use software such as Adobe Acrobat Pro's PDF Maker to convert to PDF, they will be going a long way towards meeting the WCAG 2.0 Guidelines.