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Tagging makes PDFs accessible

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I am as enured to Portable Document Format content as anyone. I’ve come to take it for granted. But, I find PDFs irritating at times. I prefer to download and read material in HTML. And, it annoys me when Acrobat hijacks my screen after downloading a PDF. Last, but not least, I miss getting product manuals as books. PDF manuals are cumbersome. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find something new to like about PDFs recently. Anyone who reads this weblog knows I am a bookworm, with a special interest in literary fiction and sci-fi. So, when an email said free ebooks were available, I checked it out. In the process, I gained useful information about PDFs.

They come on two formats — regular and tagged. The latter category is of assistance to readers who have impaired vision, like their information organized or own a Personal Digital Assistant.

In PDF files, structure is expressed via “tags”. Tags may be generated automatically for any PDF file using Acrobat 6.0 Professional, but unless the document is very simple indeed, automated tagging alone is unlikely to produce satisfactory results, and is certainly not a quick-fix for compliance with Section 508.

A PDF file equipped with well-formed tags may be “reflowed” to fit different page or screen widths, and will display well on handheld devices. Tagged PDF files also work better with the screen-reader devices used by many blind and other disabled users. In most cases, tags are necessary in order to make a PDF file comply with Section 508.

The excerpt refers to Section 508 of the the U.S. Rehabilitation Act. Though tagging alone doesn’t address all the problems a visually impaired person may experience reading material in a PDF format, it helps by organizing the material so that it integrates with the viewing mechanism. For example, a tagged PDF will fit the smaller screen of a PDA. In addition, the better organized data is easier to follow.

Since I have imperfect vision and a PDA, I will choose tagged PDFs whenever the choice is offered from now on. In addition, I will pass the information on to a friend who works with the seriously vision impaired.

And, the ebook? A tagged PDF of Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence, will be uploaded to my Palm Tungsten C the next time I synchronize it.

Reasonably related

To learn more about Adobe‘s efforts to comply with Section 508, visit its accessibility homepage.

Note: This entry also appeared at Silver Rights.

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